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Australia’s greatest and most collectible wine is Penfolds Grange, a Shiraz (aka Syrah) that rivals the finest French Bordeaux wines (current 2013 cost $699). Courtesy photo
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Welcome back ‘Aussie’ wines

I must sift through some 200-plus wine themed emails daily as this fabled libation grows in stature and civility. I am privileged to be a part of the unfolding story.

A team of brothers, Jim and Bill Tobin, own and operate North County Wine Company for several years now in San Marcos and weekly they preview wine brands that come from a road less traveled without huge production quotas. The Wine of the Week and several events weekly involve cost-effective value while guests taste before they commit to a bottle. I look forward to their ideas and visit when I can.

When the announcement came in on a  “special two night Australian wine tasting from a storied, historic property, Langmeil in the Barossa Valley in the south of Australia,” well I knew I had to attend and meet the rep, David Townsend. Four brands were tasted, all reds, except for one, a Shiraz with a bit of Vognier blend vintage 2015 for $14.97 called “Hanging Snakes.” No wine was over $20. Shiraz is of course densely red Syrah here in the states, no difference.

Viognier is that tropical complex white wine that I could spend a weekend with as summer arrives. Townsend likened Barossa Valley, just above the city of Adelaide, to Napa Valley. “We have our flatland like Carneros in Napa, just above San Francisco. We have our fertile hills on either side like Napa has its Yountville and Rutherford. Then further north, the mountains similar to Howell and Diamond Mountain in Napa.  Temperatures and soil conditions are remarkably similar! There is a fragrantly fruity acidic flavor, a new world taste similar to California wines.”

Bill Tobin of North County Wine Company in San Marcos and Australian wine representative David Townsend of Langmeil from the Barossa Valley. Photo by Frank Mangio

It wasn’t so far back, 2001, when Australian wines rode into America with a tsunami of “critter” wines led by the upstart Shiraz brand called Yellow Tail, with a goal of selling some 25,000 cases, with an easy-on-the budget under $10 price. By 2012, it was the largest selling imported wine in the U.S. The yellow kangaroo had surpassed 2 million cases. As the noted wine author Karen McNeil explained, “Yellow Tail somehow captured a craving for the uncomplicated. It was easy to understand and ushered in a whole new wave of wine consumers.”

Australia was undisciplined in its selection of grapes for wine. Winemakers could choose from any part of this massive country of 3 million square miles. Quantity took charge in the rush for red gold in America, and the result was boom and bust with wine quality going from bad to worse.

Winemakers in Australia are picking themselves up off the floor as time has taught them that appellations like Napa Valley in America got it right and when you now meet a David Townsend from Langmeil who talks proudly of his Barossa Valley, there is hope for Australia.

Let’s turn the clock back to a time of great sophistication in the making of wine in the south Australian vineyards, made predominantly by winemakers who carefully constructed the French “Hermitage” Bordeaux style. Penfolds Grange was first made commercially in 1952 by winemaker Max Schubert, who was ridiculed in the early years. But after the aging process kicked in and critics again tasted his “Grange,” he won great respect and his 1990 vintage won Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.” 

Penfolds Grange also carries a Bin # referring to its storage location in Penfolds cellars while aging. Made in 1951, the first “Grange,” sold in 1952, was Bin 1.

The current vintage, 2013 is Bin 95 and the price I found is now $699.

In case you are curious and who isn’t, the price I found for the first harvest of 1951 reported to be sold at auction in 2004, was $50,000. Australian dollars.

Visit and

Wine Bytes

• Vittorio’s Family Style Trattoria in San Diego’s Carmel Valley presents a Batasiolo Piemonte Italian wine dinner from 6 to 8:45 p.m. May 31. Enjoy the wines and certified Italian specialist Stefano Poggi and his five wine pairings. Just $60 each. RSVP your seating needs at (858) 538-5884.

• Sip the City with San Diego’s Urban Wine Week Kick Off Party from 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 1 at the Headquarters at Seaport Village. These are locally crafted artisanal wineries with 14 members and a full week of special events. The Sip the City event has live entertainment and delicious bites of top quality food. Get the full story at Tickets are $25 online, $35 at the door.

• A Gold Medal Release party is planned at Gianni Bonomo Urban Winery in San Diego at 6:30 p.m. June 2 to celebrate its 2014 Blaufrankisch international competition win.  Austrian food goes best with this wine. Cost is $25 for the food and the wine. Details at (619) 991-9911.

• It’s the 15th Annual Encinitas Wine & Food Festival, benefiting local charities, from 5 to 8 p.m. June 2 at the Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, presented by the Rotary Club of Encinitas. International wines, spirits microbrews and great food. For complete details and ticketing, email or call (760) 753-7343.

• Thornton Winery in Temecula always gets it right with their showtime entertainment.  Friday Night Live is the latest series, from 6 to 10 p.m. From now to the end of October, enjoy top live music at no cover or just $10 per person.  B.I.G. plays on June 8, an R& B Smooth jazz group for a $10 cover. First come first served chairs, and table RSVP with a dinner purchase. Full details at

Reach Frank Mangio at