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The Oatley excellence

One day, before we are both too wizened to care, I hope to meet Robert Oatley, to shake his hand, to listen to his stories, to continue this decades old story.

Early adopters of Australian wines -- in the 1970s -- may know Oatley's name from his inaugural project -- Rosemount Estate. For more than three decades he led a team that produced wines found gracing prestigious restaurant lists around the world.

Oatley though, is a competitor. Witness his record-cinching yacht racing record -- or, in this case, his penchant for coaxing premier Australian terroir to produce accessible and sumptuous wines.

This fifth-generation Aussie is bound to the land. His 2001 sale of Rosemount left him lacking a legacy for his children, and a longing for nurturing these harsh lands into producing great wines.

In the wake of the sale, he was left with cool weather vineyards in Mudgee, north of Sydney. These mature vineyards, combined with vineyards in Western Australian, gave Oatley the juice he needed to make another run at the wine business.

That's the foundation of the fledgling brand Robert Oatley Vineyards.

From a land known for its "critter" labels and low cost Syrah, Oatley is stepping to market with cool weather wines and price points meant to establish this brand as a market leader.

A recent tasting through the Oatley portfolio left me surprised by my favorites and pleased with the outcome.

At the red end of the tasting, I found the Syrah to be a classically Rhone-style Syrah with low alcohol levels and plenty of spice. It's an immediately drinkable wine -- but is one of the herd in a crowded field of domestic and import Syrah.

The Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, to my palate, needs more commitment. Blended in almost equal parts, this wine is "berry-cherry" and perfectly suitable for highly drinkable, consumable wines. Still, if you're looking for complexity, nuance and skilled winemaking,, this is not your nest choice.

However, on the white to mid-range of the portfolio, I was blown away.

Oatley Sauvignon Blanc is dead-on to varietal characteristics. This is not the big, grassy, herbaceous Sauv Blanc of New Zealand, and is, in fact, a very nicely weighted, crisply fresh Sauvignon Blanc that deserves attention. It was the perfect foil for my jerked chicken sandwich -- but then came the Pinot Grigio.

This is a stunningly food-friendly wine that immediately caught my attention with its spicy aroma, crisp character and unusual texture.

What is texture?

It's that feeling of the wine on your palate, the sense of weight and of character that makes a wine command respect.

And for a Pinot Grigio, that's unusual.

The wine pays homage to the classic Italian style, but introduces its own terroir driven aspects that includes great floral notes, exotic spice and a beautifully crisp, acidic finish.

Lastly, I' am not letting up on my passionate endorsement of Rosé -- particularly Rosé of Sangiovese.

Oatley's interpretation of this style is distinctively modern -- dry, crisp and mildly savory. These are not the Rosés of the 1970s -- instead, modern Rosé is at home with grilled meats as it is with delicately flavored seafood.

Oatley nurtures Mudgee vineyard grapes, harvesting at night to keep temperatures cool and coaxing a modern classic from the juice. The transparent garnet color tantalizes, then surrenders flavors that are rich with raspberry, strawberry and spice.