Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Advance Australia Fair

The days of shipping wine to Europe before they had orders are long gone. Yet at their peak Australia displaced France in the UK market – one of the biggest and toughest – and, with just 4% of total world wine production, is the fourth largest exporter of wine by volume behind traditional wine-producing giants Italy, France and Spain.

Aus New Wave

The French, understandably, have not taken this very well and are busy clawing their way back. It reminds me of a hilarious scene in Jancis Robinson’s 1990s BBC wine series where she sneaks a bottle of Australian Chardonnay into a Burgundian’s production cellar and he chose - while taking himself very seriously - to walk outside to spit the wine.

There is no doubt they caught the Old World taking a long siesta. It’s hard to dismiss Australia’s influence not only on wine production but marketing as well - if they didn’t invent wine branding they certainly came near to perfecting it.

More recent times have been a lot tougher. After oversupply, drought, fires, vine-pulling schemes, consolidation and rationalisation, a new lean Australian wine industry has emerged, with cool climate regions like Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley and more recently Tasmania making elegant wines a far cry from the blockbuster Barossa Shiraz on which they built much of their reputation.

Yarra Yering

Wine is made in every state and Victoria – with Melbourne as capital - has a growing reputation for classic cool climate varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – though they just couldn’t stop themselves from planting some Shiraz. Despite their exporting success, many of their finest wines are not exported. You really need to go there to discover the true depth and range on offer.

One of the consequences and ironies of the New World’s reverse colonisation of the Old World is that to some extent the one is making and labelling wine like the other. While you could argue that Australia is doing it with more intense flavours, they are certainly making more finer-structured and lighter-bodied wines than ever before. A good example of this is labelling Shiraz Syrah, often when lighter bodied and spicier.

However, the leading edge of Australia’s age of elegance is Chardonnay. Earlier picking to achieve lower alcohols (12.5% to 13.5%) has not resulted in compromising flavours and with judicious use of oak has seen the emergence of more finesse. Although part of an international trend, it also fits better with Australia’s diverse cuisine and food and wine matching competitions.

Picking red grapes earlier to reduce alcohol in red wine however, can result in under-ripe flavours but lower alcohols have been achieved in the vineyard through vine canopy management for example, while biodynamic producers have reported ripeness at lower sugar levels.

Australia’s we-can-do-anything-better-than-you attitude is exemplified in Peter Lehmann winemaker Andrew Wigan’s achievement with quintessential cool climate variety Riesling, from the Barossa nogal, although from higher altitude Eden Valley. He has garnered all manner of local and international awards to no doubt get up some European noses.

South Africa might be able to draw some encouragement from last years much-improved 5 Nations results (previously 3 Nations, now with Argentina and Chile) where Australia won county of the show. Although I am not sure how widely it is entered, South Africa won wine of the show (Nederburg Eminence), white wine of the show (Paul Cluver Chardonnay), aromatic wine trophy (Jordan Riesling), white blends trophy (Tokara Director’s Reserve) other white varieties trophy (Bellingham Roussanne), Shiraz trophy (Eagle’s Nest) plus a raft of double gold.    

Image Courtesy of Port Phillip Estate, Mornington Peninsula

While not comprehensive, some of my favourites from the trip;

Peter Lehmann (Glen Carlou’s sister estate) The Wigan 2006 Riesling
Seppelt St Peters Grampian Shiraz 2008
Kooyong Meres (Port Philip Estate) Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009
Kooyong Faultline Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnay 2009
Seville Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2010
Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1 2008
Oakridge Ltd Release Yarra Valley Fume (Sauv/Sem) 2010
Main Ridge Pinot Noir 09 (both the Half Acre and Acre)
Sparkling Brut Shiraz – great accompaniment to traditional Xmas lunch on a hot day.

(This article for Live out Loud - with different pics of course)

Local importers include www.winecellar.co.za and www.reciprocal.co.za 

Pineapple attack
Larry was more friendly

But not friendly enough


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