Jewels in the crown

St Hallett's vineyards in the Barossa Valley

St Hallett's vineyards in the Barossa Valley

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Earlier this year, I was somewhat surprised to find out that I needed a visa to visit Australia. Did the front page of my passport, the bit where it says that “Her Britannic Majesty requests and requires” count for nothing? But rules are rules and I managed to make a hurried application before boarding my flight to Tasmania.

When I recounted this tale to an Aussie winemaker he smiled and said: “Quite right, Australia is its own country”. And while Australia definitely is its own country, it is also part of the family, one of the Commonwealth realms with The Queen at its head and a special relationship that goes back generations.

In this family of nations, Australia is by far the largest producer of wine and so, with a weekend of Jubilee celebrations ahead, it is only right the wines should come from there – even if you do need a visa to go visit. Whether you are planning a barbecue, a big lunch or just a long session in front of the TV, here are a few suggestions.

Whites

For simple, refreshing quaffing Majestic has the lime and melon spiked St Hallett Poacher’s Blend White 2011 down to an astonishing good value £4.99 on multibuy. Admittedly it is slightly challenged at its usual price of £8.99, but this thirst-quenching, lively white, made from a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling grown in the Barossa and Eden Valleys certainly hits the spot. With just 11 per cent alcohol, it is lighter than most Aussie wines and so you can pour it all day alongside salads, fish and nibbles.

Majestic is also the place to go for the delicious, apricot-scented, citrus-backed Yalumba Viognier 2010 from the Eden Valley, down from £13.74 to £10.99 on multibuy. This is a distinct step up from the Yalumba Y version of this grape (also at Majestic, £7.59) and has the weight and character to accompany a long, Sunday lunch.

Waitrose has got the great value Virtue Chardonnay Colombard (£4.74) which is stacked with pineapple fruit and crisp citrusy flavours. The reason it is called Virtue is that the wine is shipped in bulk to the UK in special tanks which keep the wine in tip-top condition and then it is bottled in lightweight glass. The overall carbon savings for each container of wine is immense and so you can feel quite virtuous as you sip.

Perhaps slightly less green in eco-terms but definitely green and zesty in flavour is Vasse Felix Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Margaret River in Western Australia (£11.99 Waitrose). Full of gooseberry fruit, but backed with a soft honeyed texture it will partner fish perfectly and also go well with Thai-spiced dishes.

Sainsbury stocks one of my favourite Aussie whites in D’Arenberg’s The Hermit Crab Marsanne Viognier 2010 (£9.99). This balances the light apricot fruit of Viognier with the weight and herb-sprinkled flavours of Marsanne. The result is a food-friendly wine that will accompany baked fish, roast chicken or even Coronation chicken if that is on your picnic table. Also distinctive and delicious is Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Hunter Valley Aged Semillon 2006 (£9.99). Packed with toasty, citrusy lime-zesty flavours with a honey and buttery streak it has a silky, mouth-filling texture that makes it a real wine for foodies.

Reds

Tasted recently, I was blown away by the concentrated, silky, spice and deep bramble fruit of DB Shiraz 2010 (£6.99 Waitrose) which is perfect to sip while waiting for the barbecue to warm up and then to carry through to partner a plateful of sausages and spiced chicken. Also full of spice and warm cherry and berry fruit, Peter Lehmann’s Back to Back Grenache 2006 (£7.99, Waitrose) from the Barossa Valley is a cheerful glass of wine that is versatile to be enjoyed on its own or with whatever a big lunch can offer. While you are at Waitrose, look out for Moss Wood Amy’s Blend 2010 (£14.99) from Margaret River. This is a serious Bordeaux blend, and it is really tasting well at present with big, smoky plums and cassis fruit and luscious soft tannins. It is very much a special occasion wine, so may not be suited to your informal barbecues this weekend, but supplies from Moss Wood are always limited so pick up a bottle when you see it.

Sainsbury has just added McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Philip Shiraz 2009 (£9.99) to its range and I am delighted to see this respected old name back on a supermarket’s shelf. Made from grapes gathered from the Hunter and Heathcote regions as well as top notes from the cool-climate areas of Orange and Hilltops it marries dark, mulberry fruit with liquorice notes and supple tannins. It feels like it should be a blockbuster but ends clean and fresh.

Tesco has a big Wine by the Case service now and while they probably won’t be able to deliver for this weekend it is worth making a note about the Tim Adam’s wines, Protegé Tempranillo, from the Clare valley and Protegé Shiraz 2007. Both cost £66 for a case of six). Both are well made wines with deep, concentrated flavours but my preference is for the Tempranillo which has a lift of strawberry fruit and a long cherry-spiked finish. For this weekend’s drinking try Tesco’s Finest Heritage Coonawarra Cabernet 2009 (£9.99) which comes from the Katnook Estate and is packed with deep blackcurrant and plums. This will cope with anything that comes off the barbecue and is good enough to carry through to an evening sit-down dinner.

At the recent Majestic tasting I was impressed by the warm cassis fruit and supple tannins of Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from the Clare Valley (down from £10.99 to £8.79 on multibuy).

Sparkling

While Australia produces the most wine in the Commonwealth, New Zealand pips it in quality terms for fizz. Should you feel inclined to make a toast then the fizz should be the delicious crisp taste of Lindauer Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99, Majestic on multibuy) or the softer, nuttier elegant taste of Cloudy Bay Pelorus Brut (£19.99, Waitrose).

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