Friday, 11 March 2011

Trouble downunder?

Flood, fire and for some the worst of all - the brimstone of losing the Ashes to the Poms. It’s enough to test the spirits of even the hardiest outbackers of Oz. Australians are fiercely proud (in a laid back sort of way) of their country and their achievements and there is no doubt that their pioneering spirit will prevail against the recent catastrophes visited upon them. It’s a testament to their can-do attitude that Australia has embarked on a wide ranging media campaign extolling the many wonders of their land down under, making it clear that they are still ready to welcome the world’s tourists.

Wine has, of course, been a key ingredient in Australia’s winning ways since the 1980s, when their “sunshine in a glass” was a breath of fresh air (or should that be sip of cool wine) for UK wine drinkers. It’s hard now to conjure up the excitement that these new arrivals caused at the time: varietal labelling! No funny foreign-sounding and unpronounceable wine regions! Back labels, telling you something about the wine – in English! It must have felt like a little bit of wine heaven had fallen to earth.

However, where the successful lead, others follow and those first Australians were soon joined by a host of “me too” crowd-pleasing wines. Argentina, Chile, South Africa, even those upstart fellow Antipodeans with their “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush” sauvignon blancs. In order to stay ahead, you’ve got to innovate and indeed many Australian winemakers in the intervening years have been working hard to produce individual, expressive wines that taste of where they come from. This has been great for drinkers who are prepared to pay a little more and who want to move on from the fruit bomb styles of those early hits.

Unfortunately, the UK wine market has been dominated by the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap big brands – you know the ones we mean. The 3 for £10, the BOGOFs, the was £7.99 now £3.99 wines. They serve a purpose, but exciting and elegant they are not.

Australia now finds itself in the unenviable position of having to scrap with the other discounters at the bottom end of the wine mass market and losing share as a result. The double whammy is that we are also somewhat reluctant to spend more on Australian wines, because of the cheap and cheerful image that deep discounting promotes. Over ten quid for an Aussie shiraz? Shome mishtake surely?

If we would all be prepared to spend a little more on a bottle from downunder, oh the delights that await. And, yes, we’re always banging on about this – but it’s true. Fixed costs on a bottle of wine (duty, VAT, shipping etc) mean that there are literally pennies left to spend on the actual wine itself if we pay around £4 in the supermarket. Up the bottle price to £8 or £10 and the winemaker has more like pounds to spend on putting something decent in the bottle. You know it makes sense.

Regionality is a big buzz word in Australia right now. In a country the size of Europe, so it should be. A chardonnay grown in the Margaret River in Western Australia is not going to taste the same as one grown hundreds of miles away in the Adelaide Hills.

Here are some of our favourite Aussies du jour that show just a hint of what this subcontinent of wine can do:

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling 2010 - £9.99 at and Tesco Wine Club
Jacob’s Creek we hear you screech! Yeah but, no but. Yes, it’s Jacob’s Creek, but it’s part of their new regional reserves range (and try saying that after a glass of Riesling). The fruit for this wine hails from the Eden Valley zone of the Barossa region – a noted hotspot for cool-climate loving Riesling. And don’t worry that it might be sweet – this is bone dry, with hints of lime blossom and citrus acidity that make it a great friend to fish.

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Shiraz 2007 - £9.99 at and Tesco Wine Club
Oh well, in for a penny… This shiraz is from the warmer part of the Barossa, responsible for the most distinctly Australian tasting shirazes, which develop a whiff of saddle leather as they age – which is a good thing, honest. Let this youngster seduce you with its aromas of fruitcake and plum, hint of chocolate and soft, ripe tannins – definitely a red meat wine.

Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - £11.99, Taurus Wines (Bramley)
Not a gooseberry bush (or indeed a cat) in sight, this sauvignon from the Adelaide Hills near, well, Adelaide, is full of understated herbaceous and floral appeal. A class act.

Cullen Sauvignon/Semillon 2009 - £19.99, the Guildford Wine Company (Shalford)
Margaret River in Western Australia makes fantastic red Bordeaux blends as well as world class chardonnay. But we’ve chosen this distinctively Australian blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon, made by Vanya Cullen from her biodynamically farmed vineyards. The zip and pungency of the sauvignon is given added weight and depth and a certain limey punch by the semillon. This delicious and lively wine is perfect for spring.

We’re not often in the position of feeling sympathy for the Aussies – so go on, raise a glass of one of these delicious wines and show your solidarity. Howzat!

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