AUSTRALIA CONTINUES to challenge other countries in the production of fine wine. Despite the distance that exported Australian wine must be transported, it is competitively priced and offers a whole new world for the enophile.
Unfortunately, most good Australian wine is unavailable in the United States or is sold in such limited supply that most people never get a taste of it. Australians don't worry too much about exports. But in recent years, the trickle from Down Under has grown, and eventually Americans should be sampling a broad range of stylish wine that has been a staple in Australia for more than a century.
One recent appearance on our vinous horizon, Rosemount Estate, has caused a stir. The Rosemount Estate '83 Show Reserve chardonnay was entered in a blind tasting of world-renowned chardonnays in New York earlier this year, and won over such lustrous entries as the '82 Laguiche Montrachet, the '82 Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Drouhin's '83 Beaune Clos de Mouches, the '82 Matanzas Creek from Sonoma Valley, the '82 Chateau Montlena from Alexander Valley and the '82 Hanzell from Sonoma. All are big, impressive chardonnays, and Rosemount Estate's victory amazed a lot of people.
The winery is located in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, the premier wine-producing area of Australia, although winemakers in Victoria or the Barossa Valley of South Australia would certainly argue with that assessment. The Hunter Valley was one of the first vineyards, producing wine since the 1830s. Rosemount was founded by a German immigrant in 1860 but was later turned into a cattle ranch. In 1969 the vineyard land was reclaimed and replanted. A new winery went up, with current technology, much of it pioneered by Californians.
Careful attention to detail has won medals for Rosemount, which today produces an astonishing array of wines, including a sauvignon blanc -- called fum,e blanc -- that is one of the best I have tasted, and a sturdy, flavorful red made from equal parts of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. The fum,e blanc costs about $10.50, when you can find it. The cabernet- malbec blend is about $11.50. These are not cheap, but the wines are worth the price.
Other Rosemount wines I recently tasted: the '83 semillon, with a grassy nose, nice rounded fruit and a dry finish, for about $10; the '84 chardonnay, lighter and less complex -- and less expensive -- than the Show Reserve, costing about $10. It spends four months in barrel, and displays classic chardonnay fruit just touched with oak. The Show Reserve ($17) spends more time in new oak, a big, toasty chardonnay with ample fruit that comes roaring in behind the wood.
The '82 cabernet, made from grapes trucked up from vineyards in Coonawarra, 250 miles south of Adelaide in South Australia, had a good cherryish nose and good varietal fruit, with very little tannin for such a young wine. It costs about $11. The '82 trockenbeerenauslese ($25), the dessert wine made from riesling, was deep golden in color and had an intense, honeyed flavor, with hints of acacia and other exotic flora from a land far away.