Aussie Great White Hope

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2009 Cullen Ephraim Clarke Sauvignon Blanc Semillon

Price: $35
Region:
 Margaret River, Western Australia
Grape:
 70 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon
Alcohol:
 11.5 percent
Serve: cool, as aperitif or with fish

On a visit to Western Australia, I became a huge fan of the snappy sauvignon blanc-semillon blends of the Margaret River region, which are nicknamed “SBS” or “SSB,” depending on which grape is dominant.

This example from pioneering Cullen winery is one of the very best. The latest vintage of its flagship “SBS” is a wonderful balance of tangy acidity and savory herbs and spices, with aromas of smoke and honeysuckle. The texture is surprisingly rich and round for a wine with a why-not-finish-the-bottle 11.5 percent alcohol.

The wine serves as a reminder that there’s more to Australian wine than high-octane jammy shiraz or under $10 critter labels. The country has cool-climate areas producing high-quality wines that are elegant, balanced, very food-friendly, with distinctive regional character.

Founded 40 years ago by Diana and Dr. Kevin Cullen, the eponymous winery was one of the first on the western coast of Australia, south of Perth. Now the 60-mile-long, 15-mile-wide Margaret River region is home to more than 100 wineries. Cooling ocean winds and humidity give it climatic conditions similar to Bordeaux.

Daughter Vanya took over as winemaker in 1989. She converted the estate to biodynamics seven years ago, and quality has climbed even higher. One of the pleasures of a visit is sipping Cullen’s SBS on the porch of the winery’s restaurant, which serves food from the biodynamic garden.

This wine’s varietal blend changes slightly with each vintage, but a portion is always aged in French oak, which adds a faintly smoky aroma.

The only drawback? The U.S. dollar just dropped to a new historic low against the Aussie dollars, which means the country’s really good wines aren’t cheap.


Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”

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