Australian wine gift ideas needed
January 3, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

I am going to be visiting a good friend in the US, and I want to give her some Australian wine. However, I am a wine ignoramus. Help me choose a good wine for my friend.

I'd like to get my friend 2-3 bottles of good Australian wine, ideally something she can't easily get in the US (but which I could get here in Sydney, either in a local shop or online). I'm kind of on a budget, so would like to spend around $100-$150.

I've asked someone who knows her, and she reportedly likes full bodied dry red wines the best. She particularly likes wine from Cotes du Rhone. However, I don't think there's any wine she particularly doesn't like, so if there is some really good or iconic Australian wine that doesn't fit that description, I could get her that.

Suggestions on what to look for or brands/vineyards/types of wine would be great.
posted by strekker to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The one I always get is a Clonakilla shiraz. It's about $30 a bottle if you don't buy it direct from the vineyard. Most good wine shops in Sydney should have it. I have never seen anyone try it who wasn't totally wowed, even people who don't think they know about wines.
posted by lollusc at 4:06 AM on January 3, 2012

Brown Brothers. The 2010 or 2009 Shiraz are quite good.
posted by nickrussell at 4:11 AM on January 3, 2012

You're going to want to look for cabernet or shiraz if your friend likes dry reds, and luckily Australia does terrific cabernets and shirazes (if you've ever heard of Grange - Australia's most famous wine - it's a shiraz blend).

The Yarra Yering Dry Red #1 (a cabernet) or Dry Red #2 (shiraz) are both a top drop - probably among the best five or ten reds in Australia - though they're a bit pricey (should be about $80 for a bottle of a recent vintage).

I'm also a fan of the Leeuwin Estate Art Series shiraz ($30-$45 a bottle, and should be easy to get); and a quick rummage through my wine stash turned up a Chain of Ponds "The Ledge" shiraz from the Adelaide Hills which I remember quite liking and runs about $35 a bottle as well.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 4:22 AM on January 3, 2012

Many mainstays of Australian wine use similar grape varietals as the Rhone reds -- grenache, shiraz/syrah, mourvèdre, etc. You can actually find 'GSM' blends that are basically Australian takes on Châteauneuf-du-Pape. So I'd look in the direction of Shiraz and GSM blends over the Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the other side of Aussie reds.

Most of the more prominent higher-end wine makers (Penfolds, D'Arenberg, and so on) export to the US, though with varying distribution from state to state, so I'd be inclined to find a shop in Sydney that specialises in smaller producers that don't send a lot of wine overseas. I like Bleasdale's wines; Eperosa makes good stuff, but may well be sold out for the year; there's Sons of Eden in the Barossa, and I'll have to check my notes and memory for a few more.

Oh, Campbell's Barkly Durif. A mongrel grape, not many people make wine with it, and this is just a fantastic and very very Australian wine.

On preview: I like Clonakilla a lot.
posted by holgate at 4:23 AM on January 3, 2012

There's been a couple of people recommending Rutherglen-area wines (Campbells, Brown Brothers), and that surprises me a bit - I grew up around there, and I was under the impression the Rutherglen wineries were only really good at fortifieds.

At the risk of threadjacking, which Rutherglen-area wineries are good at these sort of dry reds?
posted by The Shiny Thing at 4:28 AM on January 3, 2012

I recently brought a bottle of Coward & Black's Show Shiraz 2007. I liked it immensely; it was smooth and fruity. It comes from Margaret River, but I daresay you could order it online. It cost about AUD$20, if memory serves, but tastes so much better than the price suggests.
posted by titantoppler at 4:51 AM on January 3, 2012

I am not sure how easy it is to come by, but Penfolds Bin 707 is truly iconic.
posted by roofus at 4:51 AM on January 3, 2012

Aren't Australian wines are characterized as total fruit bombs, very different from classic French reds? Instead of trying to get her something resembling a European wine, why not get her something that epitomizes Australia? If she is a real wine lover she will be happy to try an excellent bottle of something representative of a wine region, even if it is in a different style from her favorite.
posted by yarly at 5:19 AM on January 3, 2012

echoing yarly, I'd go for something a bit different like a fortified Shiraz. The first time I had a glass of fortified Shiraz accompanying an amazing Cheese I was in heaven.
posted by Wilder at 5:31 AM on January 3, 2012

When I lived in the States, I was surprised to see how many Australian wines were available, so I support earlier comments re: buy from small boutiques.

If your friend likes French wines, you'd best look at cooler climate reds as they are not as rambunctious as the typical Barossa red.

Nepenthe (Adelaide Hills, SA) does fantastic cool climate Shiraz (Gate Block), and tempranillo (both under $40)

If you want a classic example of an excellent Barossa red, hunt for Rockfords basket press (>$50).

We served President Obama Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 late last year (used to be around $26, probably much more now. Look for the orange cap!)

My new favourite winery is Penley Estate (associated with Penfolds through family but much smaller). Their Chertzey mixed blend is very elegant and easy to drink - very French! It will set you back >$60, but it's a large bottle.

If you want to order wine from a particular online store, and need advice feel free to PM me with the store details and I'll try and steer you in the right direction.

Good luck!
posted by travellingincognito at 5:31 AM on January 3, 2012

Lots of good reviews here for Nine Stones 2009 Shiraz. You'd probably be a hero, it's hard to get.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:32 AM on January 3, 2012

Dead Arm, my friend. Cool story, awesome wine.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:35 AM on January 3, 2012

I like the idea, but it's just kinda played out, even for a wine lover. Since a large number of Australian wines can already be bought here in the US, it becomes less of a thoughtful gift and more of a forced one.

Just pick something up that's local for you even if it's not all that "great". It becomes less ceremony, and more honest, which really should be the point of giving a gift in the first place.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:49 AM on January 3, 2012

Besides the wine consider other comestibles such as, honey and spices that are near impossible to get here in the US. I had a great food exchange from Austrailia and got a kick out of the obscure honeys and unusual spices. It was fun to learn to cook with bush spices.
posted by jadepearl at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2012

Decanter's World Wine Awards 2011. Apologies: British magazine, so prices in £

International Trophy Winners

- Red Rhone Varietal under £10: Bird In Hand Two In The Bush Shiraz 2009, Mt. Lofty Ranges, South Australia, Australia
- Chardonnay over £10: Evans & Tate Redbrook, Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia

Regional Trophy Winners

- Australian Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10: Amelia Park Cabernet Merlot 2009, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia
- Red Rhone Varietal under £10: Bird In Hand Two In The Bush Shiraz 2009, Mt. Lofty Ranges, South Australia, Australia
- Australian White Single Varietal over £10: Brokenwood ILR Reserve Semillon 2005, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia
- Australian Red Bordeaux Varietal under £10, Catching Thieves Cabernet Merlot 2010, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia
- Chardonnay over £10: Evans & Tate Redbrook, Chardonnay 2008, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia
- Australian Sweet Fortified over £10: Grant Burge 20 Year Old Tawny NV, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia
- Australian Red Blend over £10: Houghton CW Ferguson Cabernet Malbec 2007, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia
- Australian Sparkling over £10: Jansz Premium Rosé NV, Tasmania, Australia
- Australian White Single Varietal under £10: McWilliams Mount Pleasant Cellar Release Elizabeth Semillon 2006, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia
- Australian Riesling over £10: Peter Lehmann Wigan Riesling 2005, Eden Valley, South Australia, Australia
- Australian Red Rhone Varietal over £10: Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2008, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, Australia
- Australian Riesling under £10: Tesco Finest* Tingleup Vineyard Riesling 2010, Great Southern, Western Australia, Australia
- Australian White Blend over £10: Voyager Estate Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2010, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia
posted by MuffinMan at 7:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you thinking about taking this with you on a jet? There may be security issues involved with that -- like, maybe they won't let you. (Your wine bottle could contain nitroglycerin, after all.)

You should check on that, and if it looks like it's going to be a problem, maybe ship the wine ahead using Fedex or UPS.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2012

I had an Aussie wine called Botobolar once in the UK. Organic merlot. It was great, and couldn't find it here when I came back home.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2012

When I lived in the States, I was surprised to see how many Australian wines were available, so I support earlier comments re: buy from small boutiques.

Yes, even here in California there are tons of Australian wines being imported. One thing that's still pretty hard to find are sparkling Shiraz, Cab, Malbec or Merlot. I love good, dry red sparklers and these are still quite rare around here, in spite of how good they are with things like charcuterie, barbecue, and pizza. This might be a helpful guide (scroll down for suggestions).

Seconding bush spices! I make a mean wattleseed ice cream. If she is an adventurous cook you can't go wrong.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:41 AM on January 3, 2012

Wow, thanks for all the suggestions. As someone with zero experience with wine, this was all really helpful. I will definitely get her some kind of shiraz or cabernet. It looks like I can get a lot of them online direct from the vineyard (e.g. the Coward & Black's Show Shiraz 2007), which is good (less driving around and it's something hard to get outside the country). I really like the Hollick Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 idea as well (served to the President - what a great talking point!)

Also, good idea Blue_Villain and jadepearl regarding non-wine Australian food. I'm not sure where I would get something nice to give though -- most of the food I see around the shops is pretty unexciting to me. Maybe I would need to go to some kind of market where they would sell that kind of thing.
posted by strekker at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2012

Another option, of course, is to ask the friendly staff at your most convenient 'boutique' bottle shop - not a big Dan Murphy's / Liquorland type chain. Apart from knowing more about their stock, they'll also have a greater range of wines from smaller vineyards, which should avoid the risk of picking up a wine from a major label that's already exported to the US.

(as an aside, some relatives of mine have a small winery that has picked up some impressive awards, like "best of show" trophies at I think the Melbourne cool climate wine show (?). They told me they've basically stopped bothering with shows, as the overheads are too high in terms of just how many cases they need to send away for the judges to sample, especially if they want their entire range judged. A similar complaint was made against the well known wine reviewers - that a winery needs to be a certain size to just get a foot in the door of the show / review system. The point of this is that there are plenty of excellent wines that will be largely under the radar of the published reviews & awards lists, and probably the easiest way to find them is to ask the person who personally orders the stuff for his or her little shop)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2012

If you want to go down the path of wine-based food, The Grape Alternative sells delicious wine-based jams, jellies, pastes and whatnot by mail-order. And their nuts in cinnamon honey poured over good ice-cream... I have to stop now, I'm drooling.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2012

For non-wine Australian food, markets and specialty shops are sometimes good - I've seen lots of them in gift shops in country towns too, which tend to offer local produced goods - but you can often buy it at airports. The major international airports within Australia will often have a store selling bush spices and rubs and things like that along with the macadamias and crappy souvenir chocolate boxes. Googling 'Australian bush spices' brings up plenty of mail order places, too.
posted by andraste at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2012

If you are in the eastern surburbs you could do a lot worse than dropping in to Kemenys and asking their advice (over the years I've bought quite a few bottles there to bring back to North America, haven't had a bad one yet).

Counter to some of the advice above I would avoid the Australian 'fruit-bomb' shiraz and get something a bit different. I can never find anything but massive shiraz when I'm shopping for Oz wines in Seattle, if someone brought me a couple of nice Cabernets or GSM blends I'd be overjoyed. Grab the best deal on a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon you can find and you won't go wrong (I love Brown Hill Estate as a small winery but good luck finding any in stock in Sydney). Lots of great boutique winery ideas above as well, anyone who turned up on my doorstep with a bottle from Rockfords or Penley Estate would be my new best friend.

If you are bringing the wine from Sydney then how about something from the Hunter Valley? Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillion is iconic for the region, a great wine and a bit off the list of usual suspects for Oz wine.
posted by N-stoff at 3:34 PM on January 3, 2012

@Chocolate Pickle - I used to take six bottles of wine over to Boston via LAX in my check-in luggage, about three times a year. Got caught once and got a finger wag (apparently the limit is 2 bottles. Oops!). I wrapped the bottles in sweaters, cardies, pants, and packed more clothes around them. I've never had any break in transit.

If you're looking at buying Australian foods, don't forget that what is banal to us is kinda awesome to non-Australians. Visit your local Coles/Woolies and pick up some vegemite (or go to Maccas and help yourself to some sachets if you think a jar is excessive), olive oil, honey, Caramello Koalas, Tim Tams, chicken salt, macadamia nuts, Bickford's cordials, Ribena, muesli bars, Milo, chips like Twisties, Toobs, Burger Rings, chocolate bars like Cherry Ripe, Picnic etc.
posted by travellingincognito at 6:47 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

@travellingincognito, that's a great idea too. I remember I went to this USA Foods store in Melbourne with some Australian friends once and they got so excited about things like Funyuns and Snapple. It was hilarious. I might actually get her the Australian equivalent, in addition to the wine, for the fun of it.

@malibustacey9999 - I had a look at the Grape Alternative... wine jam looks amazing! I definitely have to get that at some point. And, andraste thanks for the low down on where to get Australian novelty food stuffs. If I don't get her something like that this time, I definitely will for the next.

@N-stoff Yeah the Hunter Valley angle would be good too -- will have to investigate that a bit.
posted by strekker at 9:41 PM on January 3, 2012

This thread is over, but just in case you haven't made your purchase yet...Penfolds is one of the most celebrated wine producers in the world and they are more available in Australia than the U.S. (although they are sold here too). Penfolds Grange, their top of the line, is likely too expensive. But Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz and Bin 389 Cab/Shiraz are very fine wines and you could pick up one of each for a total price within your budget. Ask local wine retailers for good vintages and/or check Cellartracker ( for consumer reviews.
posted by zipadee at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2012

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