Best New Releases from Australia

Following is my most extensive report to date on new releases from Australia—featuring a host of wines familiar to American wine lovers and a bunch you've probably never tried before, much less heard of.Thanks to a few energetic brokers based in Australia, and to a growing number of diligent American importers, we now have access to an extraordinary selection of interesting bottles from Australia, many from relatively new wineries.

Many of the more impressive new wines are from shiraz, Australia most important premium red variety, accounting for about 13% of total plantings (cabernet sauvignon ranks second at 11%, and chardonnay dominates white grapes, at about 15% of total land under vine).Like California's zinfandel, Australia's shiraz covers an extraordinary range of styles:from lighter, fruit-driven wines for immediate consumption to gamey, smoky, more structured Northern Rhône-style wines.Of the new examples of shiraz I tasted in recent months, many are screaming for the attention of the consumer market, but some of these seem to be vinified more for shock value than for actual drinkability.I tasted wines that were supersweet, overextracted, excessively acidified, vegetal beyond the point of asparagus, volatile or just plain grotesque.To be fair, I should note that some of these wines are garnering heady praise in corners of the wine press, often at the expense of more established producers who long ago learned how to make technically sound, harmonious wine.The favorable early comments on a few of these new entries to the American retail market strike this taster as premature, if not downright misguided.On the other hand, my recent tastings turned up several new producers who clearly know how to make superb wine—operations like Burge Family Winemakers, Noon, Torbreck and Trevor Jones, to name just a few.The bottom line:Australian wine continues to improve rapidly, and cosmopolitan wine lovers in export markets are finally enjoying the fruits of their recent labors.