There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when everybody was talking about Australian wine. Even the French were discussing the virtues of the wares produced in this largely emerging wine-producing nation, who burst onto the vinous scene with wines that literally jumped from the glass with bold fruit flavours and catchy brand names. Understandable varietal labelling allied to a general feeling that the laid back Aussie character had poured over into the wines it produced, separated the Australian offerings from the more traditional and arguably bland bottles which had been available in the UK until this point. In an inexplicably short time Australia had showed the world that wine could be a drink for the masses, that you didn’t need to be nobility to enjoy a glass and that that glass needn’t cost you the earth. The product itself was an extension of the nation itself, offering sunshine and opulence in every glass. And we loved it. We really, really could not get enough.
Chardonnay and Shiraz are the two varietals which even now the majority of wine lovers would pin-point as Australia’s calling card. The former has subsequently suffered as consumers recall the sweet, oaked-up Chardonnays of yesteryear. Styles which at the time we all lapped up have now fallen out of fashion. To an extent the same could be true of Shiraz. Though it is entirely possible to pick up examples which hit 16% alcohol and are stylistically more akin to a liquidised black-forest gâteau, the general movement since the heady days of peak Australian wine consumption has been one of stylistic restraint.
Australia’s trump card is one of innovation and an unwillingness to sit still where wine development, be it in the vineyard or cellar, is concerned. As I have written previously in my blogs, the current trend within the country is to seek out subtlety, vineyard expression, varietal character and freshness. Mouthfeel and tannin structure are critical, and replace wines of sweetness and in some cases, overt concentration. Essentially, the knobs have largely been turned down across the nation and with it have arrived some of the most exciting new wines in a generation.
Terroir; a word which the majority of Australian winemakers used to laugh at, has become ever more understood and considered by growers. Lower alcohol, use of more European grape varieties and a general feeling of regional authenticity lend the new wave wines gravitas and interest. Modern Australian wines offer lighter, fresher and progressive styles which are lighting up the UK market, many of which are available on this very website. Grüner-Veltliner, a white variety from Austria, finds its home in ideal conditions up in the Adelaide Hills. The Pawn Wine Company and Pike & Joyce both offer stunning examples. Sangiovese, the grape variety of Chianti, finds a home in McLaren Vale; produced by Coriole Estate it heralds from the mother block of the variety in Australia, planted back in 1985. Nero d’Avola, Fiano, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Barbera, originally from Italy, fill the Frontier list. Tempranillo, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and Verdejo to name a few more…
One thing is for certain; Australia is not afraid to try new things, to develop, innovate, to take risks. For this alone the nation should be applauded. By way of comparison, the Bordeaux classification of 1855 is now somewhat out of kilter with the reality of the region, however it is etched so very firmly in the national psyche that it is unlikely to ever be revised. This is where Australia and France differ. I wonder if it is any coincidence that Australian wines continue to be the most popular among UK adults at 29% of the market, ahead of France at 22%?
Sacré rouge et blanc, Bruce!