AUSTRALIA – INVENTOR OF A NEW WINE STYLE
Approximately three decades ago, few people associated Australia with wine. Today the country enjoys an enviable wine reputation world over.
Australia has become a dominant wine force in many English-speaking countries i.e the UK, the USA, Ireland, Canada and even New Zealand. The success of Australian wines hinges on a number of very astute decisions of industry executives and investors. First and foremost, Australia’ s climate and soil are very conducive to viticulture. Grapes are always picked ripe, sometimes even over-ripe. There are very few restrictions in both growing grapes and making wine. Most are made for quick consumption, their prices are reasonable, they appeal to young palates (fruit-forward and up-front), and marketing techniques better than most traditional producers.
Today, Australian wines fare well even in some European countries like Sweden, Switzerland and Germany a wine producer itself. However, Australian conglomerates intend to introduce their style of wine to the French too. To that end, some wineries purchased huge tracts of land in Languedoc (France) and are now making wine from the fruit they grow. Europeans, including the British, are happy to buy them and if trends continue Canadians and Americans will consume even more than now since they have discovered the merits of Australian-made French wines!
Australia is not a natural grape growing country. When the first British set foot on Australian soil in 1788 under the direction of Captain Arthur Phillips, there were no vines, but the party had brought some cuttings and after a few false starts, colonists were able to grow grapes successfully and made wines that actually were given awards in England. Over two centuries, significant progress was made, and today Australia produces fruit-driven, appealing, high-alcohol wines at reasonable cost.
Australians treat wine as an agricultural product and understand the importance of marketing. They spend a lot of effort and funds to promote their wines, and hide little, if anything from the consuming world, whereas traditional European producers have always tried to make wine appear to be a mysterious and magical product. Yes, wine can be ephemeral and deliciously mysterious, but there is no mystery in making honest wine. If you have quality grapes and know how to make wine, the result will be at the very least good, and at best outstanding. Presently Australia has approximately 140,000 hectares under vines producing some nine million hectolitres of wine, of which approximately 1/3 are exported. The best markets are: the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany and some Commonwealth countries.
Australia produces mostly red wines using Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, and blends of them. These are soft, fruity, full-bodied, very appealing wines that can be consumed shortly after purchase and do not require long cellaring, something young consumers appreciate. Australian red wines exude fruit, sometimes maybe even too much, and little tannin, but this is precisely what makes them appealing to young people who have been the best customers.
For white wines vignerons prefer Chardonnay, Semillon, Colombard, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier and Muscat. Australian Chardonnay, which young North Americans seem to associate with white wine has been particularly successful because of its immediate appeal, Fruity ( pineapple and tropical fruits ), soft, medium to full-bodied Australian Chardonnays appeal to a young, untrained palate, since they are easy to drink and can be easily appreciated. Always reasonably priced, Australian Chardonnays have captured a huge market share, which continues to expand.
Australian wine winemakers blend to achieve a desired balance and their techniques end up yielding better end-products than components would if bottled unblended. Southcorp and Fosters Group are two wine conglomerates dominating production and marketing. Both maintain marketing offices in Canada and the USA to constantly refine plans with the objective of expanding their market share. Their success has prompted French wineries and government agencies to take note. Both are seriously rethinking their marketing strategies in an attempt to recapture at least some of the lost market share.
Unquestionably, Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Margaret River, Murray Valley, and Riverland are the big producers, but Australia still has other regions such as Tasmania that can potentially become very important. Some wineries have already vinted great, acid-driven Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling more appealing to jaded palates, willing and bale to spend more for their drinking pleasure.
Australia also produces some outstanding and very expensive wines capable of aging for decades. One such is Grange Hermitage consisting mainly of Shiraz, a grape variety imported from the Rhone Valley in the 19th century. It adapted to local conditions so well that it yields a completely different wine to its counterpart in France. The French understand the notion of terroir (combination of soil and climate) very well, and once again their theory has been proven to be correct – that grape variety alone cannot be considered the only determinant of taste. Only two decades ago Canada’s largest wine consuming provinces, Ontario, Quebec and B C were selling a few Australian wines; now the choice is significant and growing.
L C B O, the world’s single biggest beverage alcohol purchaser, offers at least 40 Australian reds and 30 whites. In addition L C B O ‘s Vintages division features a good number of fine Australian wines in its monthly releases. (For a gratis and complete monthly list contact L C B O). Also practically all Ontario agents endeavour to sell privately imported wines, called “ consignment products “.
Here are some of the best L C B O general list Australian wines:
Chardonnay, Banrock Station
Black Opal Chardonnay, Mildara-Blass
Jacob’s Creek Cgardonnay
Sauvignon Blanc Bin 95, Lindeman’s
Riesling Bin 7, Leasingham
Limestone Coast Chardonnay, Lindemans
Barossa Semillon, Peter Lehmann
Diamond Sauvignon Blanc, Rosemount Estate
Chardonnay/Semillon, Rosemount Estate
Poacher’s Blend, St Hallett
Shiraz Banrock Station
Black Opal Cabernet/Merlot, Mildara-Blass
Black Opal Cabernet Sauvignon, Mildara-Blass
Black Opal Shiraz, Mildara-Blass
Shiraz, Deakin Estate
Jamieson’s Run Coonawara Cabernet/Merlot/Shiraz, Penfold’s
Limestone Coast Shiraz, Lindemans
Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Rosemount Estates
Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Seppelt
Gamekeeper’s Reserve, St. Hallett
Long Flat red, Tyrell’s
Long Flat Shiraz, Tyrell’s
Red Label Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, W. Blass
South Australian Shiraz, w> Blass
Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon, W. Blass
Bin 555, Wyndham Estate
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu