Penfolds Max’s Shiraz, South Australia 2015 (£19.99, Waitrose) Wine brands are so used to playing up their origins that it takes a brave producer to venture too far away from their home. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti couldn’t be anything other than Burgundy, for example, and Château Mouton-Rothschild is synonymous with Bordeaux. I was, therefore, a little surprised, suspicious even, to hear, earlier this month, that the maker of Australia’s closest equivalent to those big French names, the great shiraz red wine Penfolds Grange, has announced it is expanding overseas by making wines in California and France. The shock of seeing Penfolds Napa Valley Cabernet or Champagne, which would be akin to seeing Shane Warne strolling out in England colours at Lord’s, won’t be felt until the early 2020s. In the meantime, you could do worse than start an exploration of the vast, but consistently good Australian Penfolds portfolio with the trademark combination of polish and power found in Max’s Shiraz.
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Brut, California, USA 2011 (from £19.95, Wine Store; Roberson Wine; Penistone Wine Cellars) Penfolds is by no means the first “foreign” fine wine producer to try its luck in the American west. Aubert de Villaine, whose day job it is to manage none other than Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, has been making an increasingly excellent range of Californian wines in partnership with local winemaking family the Hydes under the Hyde de Villaine label (available here from London merchants Corney & Barrow), while one of Napa’s most famous reds is Opus One, which began its life in the mid-1970s as a collaboration between local legend Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Mouton-Rothschild. Further north, in Oregon, the Burgundian firm Drouhin has long been making silkily fine reds from the same grape, pinot noir, it uses back home, a grape also used, along with chardonnay, as the base for Champagne family Taittinger’s classily brisk and brioche-y Californian fizz.
Chapoutier Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australia 2013 (from £13.99, Ministry of Drinks; Tanners Wines; Noble Green Wines) French producers have also eyed up Penfolds’ Australian patch, with notable results for the operation set up in Victoria’s Heathcote region by the dynamic – and biodynamic – Rhône Valley producer Michel Chapoutier. As with Drouhin in Oregon, part of the attraction for Chapoutier was the chance to work with a familiar grape variety (syrah, aka shiraz), albeit, in the case of Mathilda Shiraz, in a different, distinctively full and dark fruit juicy but still appetisingly pepper-spicy style to his Rhône line-up. French producers have had some joy, too, across the Tasman in New Zealand. Again, there’s a home-from-home grape variety for a producer such as Sancerre’s Henri Bourgeois, and Clos Henri Petit Clos Sauvignon, Marlborough 2016 (from £13.33, Eton Vintners; Joseph Barnes Wines; Buon Vino) is as verdantly expressive as the firm’s sauvignons from back home in the Loire.
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