Educated Experimentation in Australian Wine.
‘Whole bunch’, ‘freshness’, ‘12.5%’, ‘old oak’, ‘basket press’, ‘savoury’; all words forming part of the everyday language of today’s winemakers in Australia. We all know that trends come and go, it seems that down-under these trends have a habit of occupying the polar opposite dimension of the previous one. Last time I crossed the equator was three years ago on a buying trip with the father; Australian wine has changed! At that point my notes picked up on the beginnings of something new; with foreign less international varieties coming in and experimentation rife in the smaller boutique wineries.
Flying there gives you time to think. A lot of time to think (24 hours to be exact!). To understand Australian wines you really need to go there, meet the people and enjoy their hospitality. The life and enthusiasm is infectious, maybe it was the wineries we visited, but no-one was driven by price constrictions, nothing was compromised. You may roll your eyes when I discuss the price of some of these wines later, but the quality achieved by many allows the wines to stand up and compare to Old World greats.
The wines we tried were mostly restrained and fresh. Gone were the over extracted, over oaked bad boys of the past, here were some taut, honed, intelligent wines. Some of you may think ‘ah, the spinning cone is having a busy time'(or not!), but no, from start to finish work is being done on keeping these wines in tune. In the vineyards more attention is being paid to planting densities, canopy management and the aspect of rows. In the wineries there are innovative yet non-invasive activities being used to help (wait for it…) bring the vineyard into the glass. When we talk about experimentation, it’s not guess work that is going on behind closed doors. The new generation of winemakers making these fresher styles using lesser known varietals whilst trying more explorative techniques in the winery (more on these in my next Oz blog) are highly qualified and generally have a bank of experience backing them up. There are exciting happenings going on down-under.
But don’t expect that the next shipment of wines from Oz will be full of Fianos, nothing but Nero or an assortment of Aglianico. Shiraz and Chardonnay do still exist! The long established families of wine (whilst insisting that nothing has changed, except the age of the vines) are producing leaner, more structured styles with an elegance and breadth of flavour that has come a long way from the ‘Ribena’ rich days of old. There was some discussion in the Yarra Valley about the growing number of Syrah labels; suggestive of more refined contents (there is no pattern to indicate a more elegant style currently, just a producer’s whim). Chardonnays can be found that are so stoney it’s like licking a rock face. Gone are the buttery styles of old where the dinner plate was pushed aside as one glass was a meal in itself. Welcome to a permanent member of the wine world – the ‘centred’ chardonnay that seems to be achieving more by trying less.
My take on the new generation of Australian wines? Emergent and EXCITING! Once you get over the fact they ARE NOT CHEAP, and you look at them in a class of their own, you may find yourself being sucked into a new level of wine exploration. So, a huge thank you to Wine Australia who organised this trip to highlight the diversity and quality of Australian wine. We were looked after by the best: taken to a handpicked selection of producers who truly illustrated Australia today. Now, it’s our turn. So, if you’re reading this blog, please do sit up and take note: good Australian wine may not be cheap, but there are ones out there you’ll certainly want to keep!!