On a visit to Australia earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being entertained by the congenial folks of Orlando Wines. Now Orlando, a subsidiary of Pernod-Ricard (PERP.PA), might not be a name immediately familiar to U.S. consumers, but their two main properties, Wyndham Estate in Hunter Valley and Jacob's Creek in Barossa Valley, should be as they are among the best-selling brands in Australia, and the best-selling Australian wines in the world.
I spent a day at each property tasting their range of wines, and the experience was nothing short of revelatory.
The great Australian wine makeover of the 1970s and '80s, when the country went from specializing, if that's the word, in bad—and I mean really bad—"sherry" and "port," "burgundy" and "claret" to producing cleanly made, everyday wines at ridiculously low prices has been well-documented.
These were the wines that stormed the supermarket shelves, first in the U.K., then everywhere from Stockholm to Stockton, and they shook the old wine world to its foundations in the process.
A Shaky Start The only trouble was that much of this production consisted of wine that one wouldn't exactly describe as subtle—sticky, over-oaked whites and huge over-ripe reds abounded—and for a long time I ignored them, dismissing them as industrial cola wines.
But what I encountered at Wyndham Estate—I'll talk about Jacob's Creek next week—astounded me and changed my perceptions 180 degrees.
They make a dizzying array of wines, but the true standouts are at lower price points, like the Bin 555 range, especially the Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 2006 ($9), and yes, it's not a typo, that is the price.
That is also what makes this wine so extraordinary. Indeed, it shows rich, generous fruit, fine, elegant structure, and harmonious balance, but to achieve all this at $9 is pretty incredible. I would not have thought it possible before I tasted the wine.
I am generally biased toward small production, privately owned, artisanal wines. But the fact that a winery that bottles 2 to 3 million liters of wine a year, and which is owned by one of the world's largest drinks conglomerates, can make a wine of elegance and style and sell it for $9 a bottle shows that in at least this case, that bias is unfounded.
It also raises the question that if Orlando can pull this off, why is there so much undrinkable plonk out there?
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Half-an-hour helps but is not essential
Food Pairing: Heavier pasta dishes, BBQ, steaks
Grapes: 100% shiraz.
Appellation: Southeastern Australia
Region: Southeastern Australia
Availability: Very good.
See more wines at www.nickonwine.com
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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.