Young guns hold sway in Oz

Related tags Chardonnay Cabernet sauvignon

The Brits now drink 38% of all the wine exported from Australia, so says the Australian Bureau of Statistics. How much wine is that, exactly? We...

The Brits now drink 38% of all the wine exported from Australia, so says the Australian Bureau of Statistics. How much wine is that, exactly?

We drank 225 million litres of the stuff last year. And six of the top 10 wines sold in Britain were Australian, making that country the top supplier of still wine to the UK.

Not that you can include me inthat statistic ­ I hardly every buy Australian wine.

Doesn't do much to excite

All that in-your-face-fruit can be seductive, sure, and there's no doubt that the country can make stonking wine. But what I see in my high street doesn't do much to excite this particular palate ­ even if they offer great value and show enviable consistency ­ they just swamp anything I cook.

No, if I'm going to spend £8 (my usual budget) then I'd rather look elsewhere. But that's just me.

But pub customers are more than happy with Australia's offering ­ AC Nielsen has put Australia's volume growth in the on-trade at more than 20% for the past two years, and this is mainly down to pubs.

A harder nut to crack

Their next move is to tackle the gastro-pub and swanky-restaurant sector. But that, most agree, will be a harder nut to crack, though the Australian Wine Bureau appears to have things in hand with a series of specifically-targeted tastings and events for the on-trade to be held around the country this year.

And what of those wines? Are there any serious challengers to the Chardonnay/Shiraz duopoly yet? Well, you need to look to the young guns ­ folks such as Ben Glaetzer, who are playing with the likes of Pinot Gris and Viognier, Dolcetto and Lagrein (yes, together).

In fact, there's a lot of scope for blended wines in Australia, judging by the little lot I tasted through at the Australia Day Tastings held in London recently. They show more of the winemakers' vision ­ the aromatic white styles, in particular, showed well.

My favourite was a Chardonnay and Verdelho blend from Houghton in Western Australia (Constellation Wines 01483 690000) ­ I "yummed" about the same time Gordon Ramsay's wine buyer Ronan Sayburn did.

Also good was that Viognier Pinot Gris from Glaetzer under his Heartland label (available through Great Western Wine 01225 322800), which had the kind of white pepper kick on the finish that provides the perfect foil for sweet and sour Asian flavours.

Most coveted glug of the day

Glaetzer, incidentally, also takes the prize for most coveted glug of the day for his Amon-Ra Shiraz, which got top marks from the hugely influential American wine scribe Robert Parker. Though don't get your hopes up, there's hardly any of it about, and what there is has already been snaffled by Sayburn, and Conran's Joëlle Marti, at the Great Eastern Hotel, London.

The straight Viogniers I tasted also showed well, and, surprisingly, the Sauvignon Blancs (Stella Bella from Margaret River is a cracker), while the Rieslings continue to go from strength to strength.

On the red front, there was plenty of blending experimentation in evidence, from Chain of Ponds' Barbera Sangiovese Grenache (a bit too funky for me) to D'Arenberg's Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier (an exciting, and expanding category), not forgetting a particularly sexy combo from Torbreck in the Barossa, with its Grenache Shiraz Mataro blend (Cuvée Juveniles).

Even Zinfandel has proved itself

But single red varietal challengers to the Shiraz throne? Pinot Noir might do it, as could Grenache, and even Zinfandel has proved itself (I'm thinking of Nepenthe's admirable efforts in the Adelaide Hills). But who knows ­ Tempranillo? Nebbiolo? It's anyone's guess.

Regionality is the other buzz word in Oz ­ making wines that are regionally distinctive. But Australia has rather a long way to go on that one.

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