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Rediscovering Australia and the 2006 Sydney International Wine Competition
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 13, 2006. For more information go to

If you're like me, I expect you go through inexplicable phases in your wine-tasting choices. As hard as I try to spread my wine interests around the world in order to experience as many grape varieties and wine regions and styles as I can, those traditional favorites - red wines, mostly, from Italy and France, California and maybe Argentina - keep turning up on my table.

But variety is not only the spice of life, it's also one of the most appealing things about wine-as-hobby for me, and it doesn't take much of an impulse to jar me out of my rut.

A crisp, elegant invitation that arrived just the other day, sent up from Down Under by my good friend Warren Mason, prompted me to realize how long it had been since I've reported on some good Australian wines.

The invitation, announcing the 2006 awards presentation and banquet for the Sydney International Wine Competition, was a kind gesture but not really practical for me with the banquet just a week or two off. But the Australian wine part? That was easy.

When I think about wine in the context of "Old World" versus "New World" styles, I tend to think of Australian wine as being distinctly New World, perhaps even more so than the wines of California, typically defined by fruit-forward, mouth-filling and often strongly alcoholic characteristics, often showing a distinct presence of oak. Of course, Australia turns out a lot of wine, not all of it alike, and all generalizations are dubious - even this one.

In selecting a red and a white for today's tasting, I steered clear of Barossa Valley Shiraz, stereotypically the most blockbusterish and one-dimensional of Australian wines, in favor of a red from the lovely McLaren Vale (on the other side of Adelaide from the Barossa) that softens the Shiraz with a measure of Sangiovese; and for the white went to Western Australia, a region that's building a reputation for wines of relative elegance.

The results? They both still seemed essentially "Australian" to me, but there's nothing wrong with that. Thanks, Warren, for the reminder. I wish I could jet over to Sydney for the banquet.

For those of you who are closer to the land Down Under, the Competition's 2006 Awards Presentation Banquet is a memorable wine-lover's event, well worth the toll. A dress-up event calling for black-tie or lounge suit, it's Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, in the Grand Ballroom of the Shangri-La Sydney Hotel, 176 Cumberland Street at The Rocks. Price per person is AUD$200, or AUD$1,900 for a table for 10. Events will include a Premier Tasting of the Competition's Blue-Gold Award Winners for 2006, followed by apéritifs and a five-course banquet with courses chosen to complement the three top wines in each of the Competition's five Style Categories.

It has been my great pleasure to judge the Sydney International Wine Competition twice, and I regret that a scheduling conflict forced me to miss a turn this past year. I look forward to getting back over in the future. Meanwhile, if you're within range of Sydney this month, the banquet would be well worth attending.

And no matter where in the world you reside, if you love wine and food, you should visit the Sydney International Wine Competition site often. In my mind, it's the world's best wine judging because it rates all its wines in compatible style categories and judges the winners not only on their own merits but also on actual tastings with food, each wine accompanied by appropriate dishes made to match. The Website includes extensive tasting notes from judges past and present (you'll even still find some of my comments there), as well as lots of recipes for Jacquie Mason's outstanding dishes. Highly recommended for your wine Internet bookmarks: Top 100 Wines.


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