The self-styled first families of Australian wine have come together with the aim of promoting the country’s ‘truly outstanding wines’. Together, the twelve families have over 1200 years of winemaking experience and represent sixteen regions across four states.

As their promotional literature states, although many people around the globe enjoy Australian wines, less is known about the premium wines, and this is partly why we attended one of their tastings in London the other week. Although we got some sense of change in Australian wines during our travels in the country last year, too many years of cheap, big brands, have made me cautious about buying anything Australian here in the UK.

Australia's First Families

On the night, 72 wines were on offer – 12 from each of the families. Although we didn’t sample the full range, we tried enough to have some of our reservations reinforced but, more importantly, make some great discoveries. I include notes on a handful of wines I will particularly be searching out.

Despite my love of whites, overall I preferred the reds I tried, which was something of a surprise as I’ve traditionally shied away from what I’d perceived as big headachey Aussie reds. Frankly, I suspect a lot of the whites were served just too cold on the night, which left many strangely devoid of much flavour. One exception was a vertical of Tahbilk’s Marsanne. Of the 2007, 2002 and 1992, the 2002 drank best with a lovely, rich floral nose, but a surprising freshness.

Throughout the evening, the winemakers we spoke to repeatedly emphasised the shift from a focus on work in the cellar, for example indiscriminate use of new oak, to more focus on processes in the vineyard, such as hand picking grapes, which can only be a good thing.

The wines I’ll be seeking out include:

d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2007
The addition of 10% Viognier really lifted this wine, adding a delicate perfume to the hefty dark fruit of the Shiraz.

De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2008
A lovely, elegant pinot. Plenty of red fruit with savoury notes and just about the right amount of tannic grip.

Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Dark, intense wine. Lots of black fruit, particularly blackberry, on the palate, with a touch of mint and leather. Rich, mouthfilling tannins. Prefered this to the ‘Reserve’ Cabernet.

Tyrell’s Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay 2006
The real surprise of the night. A lovely fresh Chardonnay, with a crisp acidity and notes of stone fruit. The wine is not allowed to undergo a malolactic fermentation and spends just six months in oak, only one third of which is new. Lovely.

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