The image of Australian wine at the moment overseas is supermarket-driven, Chardonnay-championing, industry-driven pah! You’d be forgiven to think Australia is only a vast industrial complex run by blokes in white coats performing Ludovico treatments on unsuspecting international wine writers who are held clockwork-oranged, wires holding their eyes and mouths open to drink high-alcohol wine full of splinters.At least, certainly there’s a wild disconnect between the reality on the ground and what is presented to the rest of the world.
After my recent trip to Sydney, the biggest change in three years since being away can be seen in the number of different grape varieties commonly found on the shelves, particularly Italian: Arneis, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera; even Cortese, Terlodego and Brachetto. As Max Allen posted from the Australian Alternative Variety Wine Show, last week from Mildura:
Big story here: most Australian Alternative Variety Wine Show trophy-winners are Murray Darling, Riverina or Riverland-grown sub-$20 wines made by Italian family wineries.
Of course, it’s not just Italian varieties, it can also be seen emerging in Mac Forbes new plantings of Blaufrankisch and Lark Hill’s Gruner Veltliner.
What is going on?
There is an organic change happening on the ground, neither industry-led nor directed top-down by a bunch of bureaucrats or INDUSTRY.
This could be simply a genuine response to the way of life in Australia – eating outside al fresco in bright sunshine – as well as a generation of Italian immigration where Italian wines were not available in any quantity, quality or at a reasonable price for the tastes of the new immigrant families. These wines are, more often than not, family-run rather than export-commercial wineries, where there is a more intimate knowledge of the vineyard and terroir.
Is it really surprising to see restaurants in Sydney with Italian-import only wines on their wine lists and the taste for Italian varietals on the ground? Especially with the Australian dollar at a 27-year high on parity with US dollar. This is all influencing the style of wine and living.
(Incidentally, these changes parallel changes in the Italian wine industry which in the same time has been cleaning up its subsidised co-ops, bulk export wine regions (such as Puglia and Sicily) and exporting reputations for their own fine wines. Quality over quantity has been the motto in Italy for the past 30 years.)
There is the old way: Brand Australia, UK supermarkets, the idea of one united, Australian INDUSTRY. Then there is what is happening: organic, practical winemaking to suit the needs of the lifestyle, not often exported but certainly supported on the ground and that is CULTURAL.
It is happening whether we hear about it in the UK or not. It is happening whether there is Australian Government input or not. It is happening despite the supermarket export market.
For the first time since Port was the most popular drink in Australia, this is coming from the ground-up and not the top-down.
If you don’t hear anything more about Australia other than Chardonnay or Shiraz, think why: it could be a case of a clockwork orange. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.
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Image: Aligherio Boetti – Le Cose sacono dalla necessita e dal caso (1988)