Thursday, October 27, 2011

The turning of the Worm . . .

The past 12 months have represented a turning point when it comes to international opinion of Australian wine.

You may have watched political debates where the audience have handsets that produce a graph of viewer approval, which can look sort of like a worm inching along, rising and falling in response to the debate. For much of the noughties the worm headed south and well and truly into negative territory, as Australian wine came to be viewed internationally as industrial, alcoholic, and uninteresting. However, just in the last 12 months the worm has ticked back in the right direction. It is still a long way from positive territory, but it is a start. All of a sudden there are positive things being written and discussed about Australian wines by international commentators and critics. Whereas 3 or 4 years ago an opinion piece on Australian wine was invariably all about the negatives and stereotypes, now you can read pieces from British and American wine writers who are excited about what is coming out of this island continent.

The latest and perhaps strongest example of this is James Suckling's two week tour of Australia. The thing that I have liked most about his trip is the length, depth and breadth of what he is doing. As opposed to just visiting for a specific event, or one particular region, he’s covered 4 States, and multiple wine regions over a fortnight. His positive findings in terms of some of the wonderful wine Australia is now producing, may be self-evident to passionate wine people here in Australia, however, it is also very apparent that the message he is conveying in terms of the interest, quality, and character of Australian wine, is being heard for the very first time by many consumers overseas, particularly in the US.

The message that Suckling and other international commentators are beginning to deliver is that Australia is producing wines of moderate alcohol that express a true sense of place. The reality is that this has always been on offer with Australian wine if you knew where to look. These types of wineries were, however, in the minority in the recent past, and the international perception of Australian wine certainly didn’t allow this view of Australian wine much of a look in. Now, however, these types of Australian wines can be found without huge amounts of effort or knowledge. There are seemingly a multitude of wineries from every significant Australian wine region, producing unique, terroir driven wines. Seeing a winery like Mac Forbes in 2010 producing 6 different Pinot Noirs from 6 different sites in the Yarra Valley, is perhaps a somewhat extreme, yet also perfect example of this trend. Some great reviews by Mike Bennie of these wines are up on the

The naughties will be remembered as somewhat of a nadir for Australian wine. Criticism and tough times in any industry, however, often result in greater levels of innovation and a push for quality, and this is what we have seen in Australian wine, particularly over the past 5 years. I’ve previously written about how positive trends around the expression of site, vine age, clonal selection, organic/biodynamic practices, and screwcaps, are all leading to a golden age in Australian wine in the coming decade

For this renaissance to ring true however, it requires critical acclaim to provide support and succour for the great efforts of our winemakers. It now looks like this acclaim has moved beyond just Australian commentators (who rightly or wrongly could always be accused of parochialism when it comes to their own wines), and is being taken up by prominent international critics. I’d best buy up for my cellar now, while there is still so much amazing value out there.


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