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Australian wine is not what it used to be.
~ BACKGROUND ~
Five or six years ago, okay, in the UK, you could bet that any bottle of Australian wine you picked up would be very good quality and excellent value for money.
Led by Jacobs Creek, and then a host of other brands including Hardys, Penfolds and Rosemount, Australian wine in the last ten years has promoted a revolution in British wine drinking habits.
We've moved from drinking French into the New World - for where Australian wines led the way, others followed - New Zealand, USA, South Africa, Chile and Argentina.
Hardy's Stamp range of wines includes reds, whites and a rose wine. They are widely available in supermarkets and off licenses and retail around the £5 a bottle mark.
~ POOR VALUE FOR MONEY ~
For £5 a bottle now, they really are poor value for money. Spend that fiver on a good bottle of Chilean (if you like red) or South African (for excellent whites). If you want to buy now, what your £5 was getting you in Australian wine half a dozen years ago, you need to be looking at £7-£8 a bottle.
Why? The Australian wine market has rapidly expanded to keep up with the super-fast growing international demand. In short, they have had to drop quality to put enough bottles on the shelves.
Not so bad in the mid 90s when harvests were very good, but since 1999 the quality of grape harvests in Australia has been falling. And its the cheaper, bulk quality wines that suffer from this the most.
~ BLIND TASTING ~
As a long time fan of Australian wines, when Tesco did their 20% off Australian offer in May 2004, I organised a blind tasting with freinds of Australian whites. All the wines we tasted were in the £5-£6 a bottle mark.
Out top came Jacobs Creek Semillon Chardonnay. I suspect this is because the blend contains a greater proportion of Semillon grape, vs Chardonnay and I do think people's taste-buds may be suffering a certain Chardonnay fatigue. But Jacobs Creek, for the money, is probably as good as you are going to get at this price range. It was my personal favourite of the wines we tasted too.
Second was Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay. Its a classic Chardonnay, very smooth on the tongue with oak, but not overpowering. (Much Australian wine is oaked in oak casks which adds to the flavour. Try a wine actually described as "oaked" and one described as "unoaked" to understand the difference. More about oak when we come to the Hardys Stamp.)
Next on the list came Tesco Own Able Australian Chardonnay. This was a very new wine and surprisingly fresh tasting. Retailing at around £4 a bottle, again, it relatively good value.
Hardys Stamp came last (out of four). As I mentioned above, many Australian wines are oaked (does not have to be mentioned on the label). The oak adds a certain fullness to the palatte but can be used to try and give a poor wine a more wholesome, rounded flavour - and this is what has been done with Hardys Stamp Semillon Chardonnay. In fact, I think the oak is overpowering.
~ HARDYS STAMP CHARD-SEM TASTING NOTES ~
The Hardys Stamp has a very poor, what is called in the wine trade, mouthfeel. I would describe it as tasting pasty with a sourness that shouldn't be there. What tastes in the Jacobs Creek like a mixture of fresh grass (typical of Semillon) and caramel (typical of Chardonnay), in the Hardys Stamp is verring towards the synthetic. Bring on the day when they have to give better details of the level of chemicals that have gone into wine, I say!
In short, what's wrong with the Hardys Stamp? Answer: Too much oak, and, perhaps because of trying to compensate for poor quality grapes, too many chemicals.
~ HARDYS ~
Some more information about Hardys wines can be found here:
Remember, I'm only reviewing one wine - there are others made by the Hardy company which aren't so easily outclassed by the close competition. But that's another review.
~ CONCLUSIONS ~
Spend your money on wine wisely. If they start offering this wine as three for ten pounds then it's a good buy. At five pounds a bottle, it's not. I'd spend my five pounds on a South African White instead these days.