Treve’s Travels – Australia Today – Part 1
Australia Today – Part IJanuary 28, 2015
Text and photographs by Treve Ring
I spent three solid weeks in Australia last fall, hopping across wine regions in search of Australia TODAY – what’s really happening in the exciting wine world of Oz. It’s as easy to be inspired by what I tasted – unbridled, original, innovative and fearless wines – as it is the landscape and wildlife. YES there are kangaroos everywhere. And sightings of wombats, koalas and other crazy creatures (did you know they have wild camels in Australia?!)
There is a distinct energy, even amongst established producers, that authentic Australia’s time has come. Seems redundant, albeit necessary to state that Australia today is not Australia of the past. Respecting wine tradition and embracing modern technology while relentlessly striving forward with the pluck of Aussie pride equals interesting, authentic wines.
This two-part series overviews the main regions and highlights a few producers and wines that are worthy to know about. Of course, with Vancouver International Wine Festival around the corner, and the theme region being Australia, I will make special note of the producers and wines available for tasting at VIWF.
But First, A Brief History
New World my ass.
Australia has been making wine for 200 years, with vines arriving with the First Fleet in 1788. The first significant vineyards were established in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until James Busby’s European vine souvenir trip in 1831 that the industry really started to self root. Busby returned to Australia with 362 varieties, cuttings of which spread throughout South Eastern Australia and to which many of the country’s old vines have traceable lineage to today. That’s Old World.
And old soils – as an individual landmass for over 100 million years, Australia claims title to the oldest, and therefore most eroded continent, with very ancient and complex soils. The oldest things on earth are found in Australia – dating back 4.4 billion years. Eons of younger soils of sand, limestone, volcanic and all variants within are found, and today increasingly planted to grapes and styles that specifically suit both soils and climate.
Of course, the Australian wine industry was not always as selective, at least on a large scale, and subsequently became a victim of its own success. A wine sea of cheap and cheerful critter labels, multiregional blends and globally omnipresent bottles created an image of low quality, cheap, industrial wines and a consumer backlash that persists today. There’s no denying that Aussie wine is big business; however, there are also signs that consumers are ready to accept Australia’s diverse wine regionality, progressive modernity and adventuresome spirit.
The average value of Australian wine exports into Canada continues to rise, while quantity in litres has dropped. Data obtained from Wine Australia (Dec. 2014) shows that quantity of bottled exports to Canada is down 3% to 30 million litres. However, the average value of bottled exports increased by 2% to A$5.22 per litre. Exports priced at above A$5 per litre, a more premium category, increased by 5% to 12.6 million litres. Trading up, education, exploration all play a part in this trending, raising Australia’s image and widening exposure for small scale, quality producers.
Just as one would think it impossible to typify the wines of France, or even Burgundy, it’s insane to characterize the wines of Australia. In fact, if you laid a map of Europe on Australia, you can easily fit in the top of the UK down to the north of Egypt, and from the ocean west of Portugal across past Ukraine.
Australia’s huge diverse wine community is divided into more than 65 recognized regions, known as Geographic Indications (GI). These regions support more than 100 grape varieties, and winemakers have been studiously dialing in what works well where and why. Most of Australia is currently untouched by phylloxera, meaning most quality vines are self-rooted and ungrafted. The absence of wide-spread phylloxera also means that Australia is home to some of the oldest producing vines in the world, dating back to the mid 1800s.
Here in Part I, I’ve highlighted a few regions in Western Australia and South Australia along with producers and wines I recommend seeking out.
VIWF indicates wines and/or producers present at Vancouver International Wine Festival.
Wish You Were Here is part of WineAlign’s ongoing series signifying wines not yet available in Canada.
Wines without titles means you can purchase this wine in Canada now.
This relatively recent wine region (established in the 1970s) is geographically isolated on the far south west corner of Australia. Brisk ocean breezes and a marked maritime climate contribute to the acclaim for its stylish, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and concentrated Chardonnay.
Clare Valley rocks. Literally and physically. Undulating, picturesque hills of twisting gumtrees cover a patchwork of highly varied soils, spanning alluvial plains up through rocky ridges in the northern Mt. Lofty Ranges. Resting in one of the highest sunshine areas in Australia contributes to Clare Valley’s stunning, generous and weighty rieslings, structured and finessed shiraz and dark chocolate, dark berried and lengthy cabernet sauvignon.
Wish They Were Here
Grosset Wines Polish Hill Riesling 2014
This historic wine region reaches back to 1842, and preserves and protects their aged vines through the Barossa Old Vine Charter, an initiative by Australia’s oldest family owned winery, Yalumba (now in 6th generation). Full bodied, pure-fruited and plush shiraz rules here, making up 50% of plantings. GSM blends also shine with their well knit spicy, peppery and ripe red fruits.
Wish They Were Here
Spinifex Wines Esprit 2012
This verdant high country is part of the Barossa Zone, beginning in altitude (380m) where Barossa Valley ends. Cooler climate, with bloody cold whistling winds helps preserve vibrant acidity in Eden’s pristine lime-laced rieslings and peppery, sage and cassis imbued shiraz.
The Adelaide Hills are alive. Alive with crisp sauvignon blanc, fragrant pinot noir and vibrant chardonnay. As the name implies, the region is very hilly, cooler climate and remarkably picturesque; a hidden treasure. The relative youth of this wine region means there are many envelope-pushing folks here. Exciting stuff.
The ocean influences all parts of this valley, nestled between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the sandy beaches of the Gulf of St Vincent. The dramatic, hilly and diverse landscape affords it the name of the greenest wine region, both in scenery and in organic and biodynamic viticulture (nearly every plot is used for grapes). While pure, dark berry, spicy shiraz is king, grenache is gaining acclaim through its striking raspberry scented fruit and juicy liveliness.
Wish They Were Here
Dodgy Bros Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot 2012
*Dodgy Bros has recently been picked up by a BC agent, so watch for this winery on our shelves this spring! Success!
This flat, river delta landscape is nestled amongst gum trees on the Bremer and Angas rivers. The fertile, deep sandy loam soils produce soft, accessible and chocolatey cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, oft utilized to plump out blends.
In Australia TODAY Part II, I will continue east to Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!