Australian Wine: where to start?
Advice on getting the best out of Australian wine
Boom to Bust In one of the exams I took in 2010 for my WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits I had to write about "the crisis" in the Australian wine industry in the late 2000s. After what was considered a boom time from the mid 1980s to the mid 2000s when Australia rose from not even being listed in the top wine exporters to become the 4th largest wine exporter globally (it has since fallen to 5th place), the late 2000s saw huge volumes of surplus wine on the market - remember all those BOGOF deals in the UK supermarkets.
Cause & Effect It was a classic bubble - structural over-production and a belief that the demand for Australia's easy-to-understand, single varietal wines would last forever. To be fair the wine glut was largely at the entry and mid-levels where consolidating wine conglomerates produced simple, value-for-money brands consistent year on year, driven to a large extent by demand from the powerful UK supermarkets. The problems in the industry combined with the economic slowdown and unfavourable exchange rates saw prices stagnate and many wineries close down.
Brand Australia So-called 'critter' brands successfully marketed with cute animals on the label, consistent wines then with little tannin and acidity created largely to appeal to the US market, began to be considered rather boring. The UK market which used to account for a staggering 43% of Australia's wine exports also shunned the straightforward, often jammy, high alcohol, usually oak-influenced wines. The impact was not just at the lower end of the spectrum however - the credibility of the Australian wine brand as a whole was adversely affected.
Time for change As a result, there was a lot of navel-gazing in the Australian wine industry from the latter part of the last decade. With a need for a move towards better quality wines in order to sustain the relatively high costs of production, the industry began to look at its viticulture and methods of production. Winemakers took more notice of 'terroir' and looked to a wider range of varietals and blends. In the wineries tannins were no longer seen as the enemy; the use of chemicals, overt oak (often from oak staves, oak chips or resin) and of high residual sugar levels was much reduced. Lighter, lower alcohol, more refined wines are now more the order of the day.
How to make sure you're getting the best out of Australian wine So, with an estimated 256 million litres of Australian wine imported into the UK each year (that's 340 million standard bottles) and over 2,500 Australian wineries to chose from, where do you start in order to find the "new generation" of Australian wine that has personality, complexity, balance and elegance. Here are our tips:
- for quality be prepared to spend a little more; it goes without saying that you should avoid those sub £10 (even after discounts) branded Aussie wines
- as a general rule, look to smaller producers with a more artisanal approach to their winemaking
- avoid broad geographic indications like “South Eastern Australia” which covers approximately 90% of the country’s vineyards and look only at the more specific GIs such as Barossa Valley which guarantee that at least 85% of the grapes in the wine were grown in that region. Do not be misled however by "Wine of Australia" or "Product of Australia"; it is a legal requirement to state the country of origin on the label
- find wines from the cooler climate areas of Australia, which are largely but not exclusively around the south east coast, like Adelaide Hills and which benefit from altitude or proximity to the coast or both
- don't disregard wines with a screwcap. Most of Australian premium wines now use screwcap closures rather than a cork
- make sure there is a vintage on the label; this ensures that at least 85% of the wine in the bottle is from that vintage
The improving quality of Australian wine is welcome and a trend expected to continue for years to come. It is possible to find finesse and quality by looking a little deeper into the origins of the wine.
© Wines With Attitude Limited
Lindsay is passionate about good quality wine and set up her online wine business, Wines With Attitude, in 2014 to share that passion with other wine lovers.