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Wine, Etc.: Australian producer winning friends over time

There are a few things you need to understand about Jane Ferrari. She doesn't mince words. She knows her stuff. And she can catch fish.

The communications director for Australia's historic Yalumba winery, Ferrari travels the world to talk about the family-owned company - the oldest such winery in the country. A winemaker there, she learned how the wine is made from grape to bottle. She's not just a mouthpiece who recites the verbiage from tech sheets and labels. And, she'll match wits with any man who dares to chide her - as I witnessed on a recent visit with her.

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She's honest in her assessment of the Australian wine industry and the phases it has gone through to claim a foothold in a competitive wine market. Yellow Tail, for instance, could be the scourge of Australia because the cheap bulk wine became synonymous for that country's wine. However, Ferrari says if Yellow Tail introduced people to Australian wine, it has been good for the industry.

We were engaged in this discussion as we waited patiently for a fish to take our bait aboard the

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Ellen-R,

a 45-foot charter boat out of Kent Island. While on her first fishing trip on the Chesapeake Bay, it didn't take long for Ferrari to land a bluefish on a recent wind-swept morning. She was as good an angler as she was a promoter for everything Australia.

The Australian wine market is dominated by about four big producers, most notably Southcorp which owns Penfolds, Lindemans, Seppelt, Wynns, and Rosemount. But Yalumba is the oldest family-owned winery in Australia and one of several who are a part of Australia's First Families of Wine Alliance. How does Yalumba compete with the giants whose labels are ubiquitous in this country?

"We're in it for the long run," she said. Yalumba isn't looking for the instant hit that will pad an investor's pocketbook. Ferrari is doing the job of hundreds employed by the corporate giants. But in her mind there is no rush in convincing wine enthusiasts to enjoy Yalumba.

She didn't have to convince us. After we returned to the dock with a locker full of rockfish and blues, we tasted several wines in Yalumba's broad portfolio. We were stunned to see the reasonable prices for red wines that could easily compete with wines that cost three times as much.

Here are some of the wines we thoroughly enjoyed:

Yalumba Barossa Eden Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2009 ($20)

. Finally, we are seeing more balanced chardonnay from Australia. This elegant version fermented from natural yeasts has nectarine and citrus flavors with balanced, fresh acidity and defined texture.

Yalumba The Strapper GSM 2010 ($18)

. Ferrari believes blended wines represent Yalumba's future. This blend is a combination of grenache, shiraz and mataro. It is a delicious wine with effusive aromatics from the grenache and rustic flavors from the shiraz and mataro. Flavors include strawberry, blackberry, plum and a heavy dose of dark chocolate.

Yalumba Eden Valley Shiraz Viognier 2008 ($20)

. The small amount of viognier in this blend boosts the aromatics of the wine. Pure, sweet fruit character, full bodied and subtle hints of cloves and allspice.

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Yalumba The Scribbler 2009 ($18)

. Ferrari says sales of this blend of cabernet and shiraz have taken off. No wonder. Forward in style, it has oodles of delicious fruit and good structure. Dark berries and cassis dominate the palate, and the enticing aromas stretch from licorice to herbs. It was one of our favorites.

"Our secret weapon and what will make us win," Ferrari said, "is our cabernet-shiraz blend."

Yalumba The Cigar 2009 ($25)

. Named after the cigar-shaped strip of red terra rossa soil of the Menzies Vineyard, The Cigar is a beautiful wine made from cabernet sauvignon grapes grown in the Coonawarra region - the best for this Bordeaux grape variety. Intense floral aromatics, rich cherry and cassis flavors with a good dose of chocolate.

Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($22).

Menzie was a prime minister of Australia when FDR was president of the United States. More layered with fruit than The Cigar, it has concentrated ripe fruit of dark berries and plums. Good spice, fine tannins and long in the finish, it has cellar potential.

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