Thursday, August 20, 2009

Australian Wine is Boring

Perhaps its just because I’m Australian that I find myself scratching my head in frank puzzlement when someone says that “Australian wine is boring”. Its just so hard to believe. Such a statement cannot come from someone who has tasted across the diversity of Australian wines, can it? It must be because there has not been enough exposure because the variety that comes from 50 plus wine regions and thousands of wineries is simply mind boggling. How can I be sure? Well I’ve tasted wines from regions in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, The Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, and Tasmania. Reds, whites, desserts, sparkling, warm climate, cool climate, high elevation, and low elevation, mass produced and exclusive boutique. With such variety its just too hard to make everything boring!

Who would say that French wine, or Italian wine or even Californian (let alone the whole of the USA) wine is boring? Wine from any country covers a spectrum from undrinkable to nectar, so how can one country’s contribution be boring. I suppose if you were just drinking a narrow spectrum of very similar wines then you might begin to think that everything tastes the same and get bored with the similarity. And its quite possible that if you buy your Australian wine outside the island continent that you do suffer from a lack of choice. Its also possible that some Aussie wines from South Australia especially those from Barossa and McLaren Vale do have a sameness about them. But isn’t that to be expected? Those two regions are not that dissimilar, especially when compared with the Grampians, or the Pyrenees, or Mornington Peninsula.

There actually is no simple way to get a true idea of the diversity of Australian wine without visiting the country itself. But the next best thing might be to look at what wines Australians collect. The Wine Ark among other things stores wine for Australian wine collectors and it has cellars in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Sunshine Coast and Perth. That means they cover the largest population areas of the country and so would have a pretty good sampling of what is popular in Australia. They have just surveyed the more than 3,000,000 bottles of wine in their cellars that comprise over 8500 collections across the country to discover Australia’s Most Collected Wine. It comes as no surprise that the most collected wine is Penfolds Grange but the other 49 wines in the top 50 are likely to raise some eyebrows especially here in the USA.

From my point of view the most interesting list is that of the Top 10 Collected Shiraz wines, seven of which come from South Australia which has all those hot nasty regions producing all those syrupy, goopy wines. I’ve tasted all ten wines with the exception of the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. You could do a whole lot worse than build a collection of Aussie Shiraz around the wines listed. Mind you I have only one in my cellar, the Penfolds St Henri Shiraz, but then I do have a bunch of other Shiraz that cover the full range of diversity if not regionality.

Here are the Top 10 Shiras by ranking and region.
1 Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz -Various Regions - SA
2 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz -Various Regions - SA
3 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz - Barossa Valley
4 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz - Various Regions - SA
5 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz - McLaren Vale
6 Penfolds RWT Shiraz - Barossa Valley
7 Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Shiraz - Heathcote
8 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz - Eden Valley
9 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier - Canberra District
10 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Shiraz - Pyrenees

The survey resulted in Top 10 Collected lists for Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon. Take the lists to your favorite wine shop and see what they have. I’m currently drinking the 2005 Petaluma Piccadilly Chardonnay from the Adelaide Hills of South Australia that I picked up for the ridiculous discounted price of $12.99USD.

A word of warning. Don’t rush out and buy the recent vintages of these wines to consume tonight because the list is of cellared wines which often show their best, depending upon the wine, after a few to many years of maturity. And remember this is just 60 or so of thousands upon thousands of wines, so if at first you don’t find what you like keep looking!


Sydneysider said...

You should try the chilled shiraz from Iron Gate Estate in the Hunter Valley, especially with a piece of chocolate - absolutely incredible!

Melbourne Hotels said...

By lavish use of proprietary names, Aussie winemakers seem to be trying to imbue their beloved Shiraz with a personality and identity, both inside and outside the bottle, that transcend the country's preeminent grape variety. And waiting in the wings, are dozens of Shiraz - some named, some not - that appear poised to enter the upper echelon.

Anonymous said...

I think the criticism of wines being boring is not a criticism of quality, but a criticism of sameness. Often quality is correlated with only one aspect, being intensity of fruit. This worked well for 20 or 30 years. Now people seek difference and quality. If I could exaggerate to stress a point. Massive uniform vineyards, same clone, same harvest specifications, same winemaking treatments, predetermined oak additions, convergent winemaking style due to prescriptive winemaking in tertiary institutions.Often new varieties are made in the same way. The commercial wines are well served by these methods. mid range and premium wines deserve a more thoughtful approach. More artistry than science perhaps?