The wine world always makes for an exciting place. It’s perpetually in flux—no matter where you look. Barely a decade ago, you might have been excused for thinking that Australia was all about two things: Yellowtail and Shiraz. In fact, sometimes it seemed it was about only Yellowtail Shiraz. Period.
However, after the critter label juggernaut rolled through, the always forward thinking Aussies realised they really had their work cut out in re-shaping Australia’s image away from being a monolithic producer of budget wines or a homogenous style of Shiraz.
The Australia celebrated at this week’s Vancouver International Wine Festival is a very different animal than the Australia of ten years ago. There’s a palpable excitement about the new direction—call it a renewal if you want.
True Regional Diversity
But, more than that, the Aussies brought with them some great examples of myriad varieties they’re drinking at home. Not to mention a score of wines from newer regions, all but unheard of outside of the country a few years ago.
As this year’s theme region, Australia not only raised the bar considerably—bringing more quality wines and a wealth of winemaking personalities—but also by dividing its impressive show space in the tasting room into easy to grasp regions.
Finally, we were able to taste through through the distinctive styles and varieties emerging or long recognised, including, but not limited to: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Yarra Valley; wonderfully age-able Semillon, and Chardonnay from Hunter Valley; Riesling, elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (plus great bubbles) from Tasmania; mint and cassis wrapped Cabernets from Coonawarra, elegant, plush Shiraz from Barossa, crisp, acid driven Chardonnay or velvet, cassis toned Cabs from Margaret River, and many, many more, from a wealth of regions too numerous to mention here.
The point is that Australian wine has regained what many felt it had lost, a true sense of identity of place that’s critical to wine, driven by that other vital, all too often overlooked reality of terroir: people.
The Aussies may have been down a few wickets of late in the wine game, but the team that showed up in Vancouver rallied with a string of hat-tricks and sixes to drive the message home. It was serious business—though not without more than a few laughs.
So many wines, too little time… Once the dust settles, I’ll have plenty more to say, along with lots more suggestions in coming weeks. Right now it’s a not insignificant pile of notes and cards. But in the meantime, here’s a couple of whites to watch for which very much, each in their own way, define the new Australia:
(Also, If you check my Instagram feed, to the right, you’ll find quite a few ‘up to the minute’ recommendations over the festival, from Oz and elsewhere.)
Jansz Premium Cuvée (Tasmania)
Not so long ago, wine lovers outside of Australia heard little about Tasmania because most of its production wound up in big brand blends, most notably sparklers. This classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend sparkler (cheekily referred to as ‘Méthode Tasmanoise’) sports a persistent stream of bubbles with pear, citrus and a very Champagne-like bready note, all for just $29.99. 91 pts.
Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch 2012 Chardonnay (Strathbogie Ranges)
From Central Victoria. Mineral, stone fruit and a touch of melon, with some creaminess from well integrated oak, lingering peach and acidity length, 92 pts. $36
Berton ‘Metal Label’ Vermentino 2013 (South East Australia)
From Riverina. One of an increasing number of Italian originating varieties, this Vermentino sports bright, tropical notes on top, followed by a crisp and clean tropical palate with pear and citrus notes with a juicy close. 90 pts. $19.99
Wolf Blass ‘White Label’ 2013 Chardonnay (Adelaide Hills)
Perhaps no other wine epitomizes the seismic shift that’s taken place in Aussie Chardonnay that this beautifully balanced, crisp and clean “Chardy” that winemaker Chris Hatcher says represents the “depth of flavour without being fat and heavy” for which he was looking. Stone fruit and citrus with superbly managed balance of fruit and oak (all French but only 20 percent new) and a lingering peach toned finish. 91 pts. c $39.99
I’m off to help judge this year’s Vintners Brunch. See you on the flip side…
Plenty more to come …