Wine of the Week

Robert Oatley: Wizard of Oz


Robert Oatley is one of the great men of the Australian wine industry. He'd already made one fortune, in coffee, when he planted the first vineyards in the Hunter Valley in 1969. At the time Australian wine was not exactly highly regarded; in fact it was barely regarded at all beyond the country's shores. But Oatley was a visionary, and he brought the same passion for quality that had led to his success in the coffee business to his new wine venture.

And in this he was similarly successful. By the early 1980s his Rosemount wines were critical and commercial hits from Sydney to London. The U.S. followed shortly thereafter. Robert Oatley, more than anyone, created the "Aussie Style" of modern, full-flavored, accessible wines.

Rosemount is now owned by brewery giant Fosters Group (FGL:AU), but that doesn't mean Oatley has settled into easy retirement. In 2006, at an age of nearly 80, he launched Robert Oatley Vineyards—intent once again on reinventing the Australian wine industry. This time he is making wines with the same easy approachability but with a more subtle and dialed-back intensity. The world's taste in wine is growing up, and Oatley's wines are evolving along with it.

I encountered his new Robert Oatley Shiraz 2007 ($18), this week's wine of the week, at a dinner at the Australian Consulate in New York and was wowed by it.

It's all jazzy fresh fruit up front, laced with a smoke-tinged spiciness. It has a full, rich body from the judicious use of new oak, balanced by the sort of crisp acidity that's all too rare in Australian reds. There's even a hint of that quintessential Oz eucalyptus mintiness.

I later drank it at home and found it powerful enough to stand up to a spicy marinara sauce over gorgonzola ravioli. But I can't help thinking how great it would taste, just about this time of year, served a little chilled with a big, juicy steak right off the grill.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Robust red meats and hearty tomato sauce

Grapes: 100 percent shiraz

Appellation: Mudgee

Region: New South Wales

Country: Australia

Price: $18

Availability: Good

Web Site: www.robertoatley.com

Nick_passmore
Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to Forbes.com, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to BusinessWeek.com. He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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