We’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in wonderful Australia, where Christmas happens during summertime and where Syrah is spelled Shiraz. Unlike the characters of L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic, winemakers in Oz don’t need to find a wizard’s help as they already have plenty of brains, heart and courage, and they’re using them all to up the country’s winemaking game and bring Australian wines to new levels of elegance and sophistication.
According to the report Wine in Australia by Euromonitor International released on June 2016, “consumers are drinking less but drinking better”, and winemakers are paying attention to this trend, which is echoed in most countries where their wines are exported.
Australia is the world’s sixth biggest wine producer and the second best selling in Ireland (only surpassed by Chile), and as Hanna Silverman, Communications Manager of Wine Australia explains, the wines coming from Down Under now are quite different from those shipped a few years ago. “The 1980s was a significant decade for Australian wine as for many people, it put the country on the map as a serious wine producing nation”, she adds that it was then when “Australia’s signature varieties of Chardonnay and Shiraz became famous in international markets for being rich, oaky and bold, a style very much on trend at the time.”
However, in the last three decades Australian wine experienced a meaningful evolution. Modern Aussie Chardonnays are becoming elegant, more delicate and restrained, with less oak (or no oak at all) and a fresher flavour profile, while Shiraz grows in sophistication and gets a lighter body with softer tannins.
Where’s Aussie Wine Going?
On an article by renown wine writer and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson published on February this year and titled Australia – In Vogue again, she identifies six macro trends that identify the “new wave” of Australian wines: “more whole-bunch fermentation, lower alcohol, less new oak, more natural acidity, prolonged lees contact, unusual grape varieties”.
Another example of a growing sophistication in Australian vineyards is the diversification of grapes, styles and experimental efforts to innovate. Grapes such as Fiano, Dolchetto and Sangiovese are earning attention and delicate Sauvignon Blancs are flourishing in cooler areas. Sometimes they find bumps along the road, like when clones of Albarino were introduced into the country only to find out a few years later (2008) that the grapes were actually Savagnin Blanc.
Regionality is another indicator of Australia’s efforts to focus on quality and they’re putting more emphasis in the particularities of their valleys and different climates. The country has identified 65 wine regions, some are outstanding due to their heritage, old vineyards and pre-phylloxera grapes such as Barossa (the home of Aussie Shiraz), Hunter Valley (known for Semillon) and the McLaren Vale, where old Grenache vines are alive and well (in fact the varietal is experiencing a renascence and this is one of the valleys leading it).
Others areas are shining for their refreshing approach, cool climate regions such as Adelaide with its crispy whites or Tasmania which is bottling great sparkling wines, Clare Valley where Riesling got an Australian accent and Morrington Peninsula which excelled at the challenging quest of making good Pinot Noir. Winemakers following natural wines principles are also gaining terroir.
Their upgrade in quality is worth trying, so forget the brick road and follow your palate instead, let it be the judge of how far Aussie winemaking has come and give yourself the pleasure of tasting wines from OZ, where, as the song goes, “skies are blue, and the dreams you dare to dream really do come true” (at least if your dreams involve great wine, you’re covered).
Longview Whippet Sauvignon Blanc 2011
10.5% ABV – Available at O’Briens – €17.95
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Grapes from the Adelaide Hills, Southern Australian region with a cool climate that allows it to produce elegant Sauv Blancs, are carefully hand-picked at night to produce this dry white which features a mix of tropical fruit and grassy aromas, complemented by a hind of honeysuckle and lemon.
With a low ABV of 10.5% this lime gold wine is lean and graceful, so choosing a Whippet as a mascot made perfect sense and so does pairing it with shellfish, seafood risottos or grilled vegetables.
13% ABV – Available at O’Briens – €14.95
95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Grigio
Lisa McGuigan belongs to the fourth generation of a family of winemakers established in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales -just 120 Km north of Sydney- and after a successful incursion in retail, she went back to winemaking, her true passion.
This white blend is a proof of that love, made from specially selected parcels of fruit on the South of Australia and with a dominance of fruit kept fresh thanks to stainless steel tanks. Melon, apricots and apple blossom combine on a crispy Chardonnay with the right level of acidity. It’s a lovely companion to chicken, turkey or fatty fish.
Bethany G6 Shiraz 2010
13% ABV – Available at O’Briens – €19.45
A Barossa Valley Shiraz under €20 might sound unexciting for jaded palates, but give it chance and you’ll be captivated by its shirazy charm. Yes, it tastes like ripe dark berries and sweet spices, and yes it features easygoing tannins delivered by a smooth medium body, but it manages to stand out from others due to its polished edges.
Old vines provide the hand-picked quality raw material, which is then aged for nine months in French and American oak barrels, long enough to add a toasted character, but not to make it the defining feature of the wine.
Willunga 100 McLaren Vale Grenache 2013
14.5% ABV – Available at O’Briens – €16.95
McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s highest regarded wine regions, is the land from which this red wine comes. Vines of up to 96 years of age blend with other grenaches selected from different altitudes to compose a balanced artwork of many tonalities.
Cherry as the dominant fruit fusions with a delicate floral character and a hint of spicy and savoury flavours. A mix of warm weather with coastal influences manages to keep the fruit ripe without saying good-bye to the acidity. A subtle touch of old oak helps everything to integrate without stealing the spotlight.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.