Aside from Yellow Tail acting as an ambassador and the pesky Outback commercials, Australia is on the brain, omnipresent and huge. A little more comes to mind when I think of Australia, like the first girl I ever loved, getting to try a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz—a promise fulfilled, in my blog long ago—and the Kinks classic ode, among other rock bands saluting the land down under.

Tuesday happened to be an eventful day, I interviewed and got the position for wine specialist in a local Whole Foods, made some matzo ball soup and was able to taste eight Aussie wines, winding down the total to taste to 309.

Before we learned anything about Australia, we opened the class with a blind tasting. A straw colored wine was poured and notes were taken. We were asked to identify the wine and after the identifying process, whether or not we liked it.

After deliberation and much discussion we decided that the wine showed well but was nothing too special, and as a class we were not sure what exactly we had tasted.

A Riesling on the nose—with fragrant white flowers wafting out of the glass—but it gave way to a fuller body with less of the razor sharp acidity that is often appended to Rieslings of character. We were undecided. Eventually the wine was revealed and much to our chagrin it was Yellow Tail Chardonnay. Oh well, for a wine that is routinely panned it showed well, definitely exceeding the five dollar price tag.

After the palate shake up, we worked our way through the diverse states of Australia, beginning in Western Australia and moving east, wading through major growing areas like the Limestone Coast to the Barossa Valley. We learned about some major players in the Australian wine world like Penfolds and their highly acclaimed Grange, Leeuwin Estate wines, Two Hands and d’Arenberg. We witnessed the proclivity towards Rhône varietals, especially Shiraz and some of the major white grapes like Chardonnay and Riesling.

Australia follows a typical trajectory in comparison to other New World winemaking nations, steadily reducing yields and achieving higher quality through technology and savvy. With so many quality wines being produced in Australia, it was nice to taste through a decent smattering.  And they were:

09 Yellow Tail Chardonnay

06 Leeuwin Riesling Art Series, Margaret River

09 Torbeck Semilon, Barossa Valley

NV The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz, McLaren Vale

07 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale

07 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 128 Coonawarra

08 Two Hands Grenache Yesterday’s Hero, Barossa Valley

09 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share, McLaren Vale

There were some interesting wines in the mix that night. The Riesling from Leeuwin really reeked of petrol, a heavy funk was tough to fight through but on the palate it dissipated, leaving only grapefruit, lemon and green apple fillips on the tongue. It refreshed my palate with the appropriate amount of acidity and had powerful flavor intensity with a lingering finish.

Some of the reds were interesting and my favorites were definitely the Penfolds Shiraz and the d’Arenberg Cabernet for their structure and mouth feel. However, I would like to focus on the Two Hands wines that were a bit extracted, especially Yesterday’s Hero, with a strong bouquet of raspberry jam and a hint of candied strawberry, it was aggressively sweet. Still dry on the mouth, no RS (residual sugar) but my god it was like a Seder came early and having the compote for dessert before all the other courses. Devoid of structure, the flavors were dictating the wine. Though the Grenache was blown out, their Shiraz was refined by comparison. It had a more complex and layered nose and flavor profile with cocoa, pepper, herbs, tobacco and some dark fruit to round out the concoction. The mouth feel was viscous and sensitive, not overbearing. Interesting to see the range of styles a winemaker can deploy.

Ending the class with the Black Chook was really like the big exclamation point. My formal tasting notes stop there—I can definitely vouch for my first time tasting a sparkling Shiraz; the Black Chook was awesome, but that happens to be my taste. Sparkling Shiraz down, now on to the stickies from Australia’s cellar door.