Pity the lot of Australian wine makers. The past few years have seen sales fall (19% from mid-2010 to mid-2011 alone) in response to a rising Australian currency and a debasement of the image of Australian wine by a flood of industrial grade ‘critter wines’ into the US market. Ironically, these trends have occurred at a time when the quality of the top 10% of Australian wine is arguably better than ever.
One winery that thinks it can buck the trend is Jacob’s Creek. The 165-year old winery has been in the US market for a long time with the reputation as a feisty provider of good value wines at competitive prices. In the last decade they have applied the same value-for-money philosophy to wines at a higher price point. Thus, their Reserve line sells for about $12.99/btl. at Kroger’s in Dallas, meaning it can be bought on sale for around $11. This line includes, for example, their Reserve Chardonnay which in the 2010 vintage attained 90 points in one wine publication. Their Reserve Shiraz retails for around the same price and achieves similar scores. Recently, they introduced a super-premium line of single vineyard wines priced at around $30/btl.
This week, Jacob’s Creek came to Dallas to present their wines at a dinner at Bistro 31 in Highland Park Village. I was an invited guest. We started with a Moscato (Muscat) blitz. First the white and rosé sparkling Moscatos. These are intended to confront Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that has rapidly increased in popularity in the last few years, in the under $10 category. If you are holding a party and want something to present to guests on arrival, when their palates are fresh, this would work. I found it inoffensive, rather than profound.
Next, we sat down for a first course of snapper and were served the Classic Moscato, a still wine from the same grape as the sparlers. It retails for around $8 and works as a complement to white, fleshy fish where one might normally serve Sauvignon Blanc. It is slightly sweeter, and frizzante, meaning betraying light sparkling wine qualities.
Next a course of little-neck clams and corn risotto was served with the Reserve Riesling and Reserve Chardonnay. The former is in the classic warm-temaperature Australian style. The latter has medium oak, medium intensity, medium fruitiness and is a good value in a market where good $12 Chardonnays are hard to find.
Our main course was a hearty duck breast. We tried both Reserve Pinot Noir and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot Noir has the flavor profile of a Burgundy from the Côtes de Beune with the sweetness of a California Pinot Noir from, say, the Carneros region of Napa/Sonoma. It is an excellent value at about $12/btl. in a market where, other than 90+ Cellars, there are few competitors. If you took away the modest price, I would judge it a little sweet for my palate and in need of a little more tannin. However, many people would describe this wine as fruit-forward and silky, to put a different spin on things.
The Reserve Cabernet was my favorite of the night. The fruit comes from the southerly (i.e. colder) region of Coonawarra, possibly the best part of Australia for Cabernet-based wines. This wine has a tinge of purple in the color, rather like that in the skins of blueberries. It has plenty of medium-hard tannins to stand up to fatty duck or juicy steaks. The flavors are of dark fruits such as blueberries and blackberries. I didn’t get the alcohol reading, but this is a heavy-bodied wine with great presence in the mouth.
Jacob’s Creek lived up to their promise to provide good value. Other guests were uniformly positive as well. All of these wines are in wide distribution at area wine merchants. Drink all of them on release, they are not meant for aging. Conveniently, all use screw caps, rather than corks, so no corkscrew required.