“There’s never been a more exciting time for Australian wine”
It's the mantra. Dogmatic phraseology can be trite, can be bandied about too much. The thing is, it’s ringing true.
Sure, there’s a standpoint that says Australian wine had its first revolution in the 1950s when Greek and Italian immigrants encouraging regular Aussie Bruce and Sheilas to consider table wine a condiment to dining, not just a thing to knock back next to your beer in a pub. Some commentators like to pin the shift in Australian wine coinciding with the rise and rise of boutique estates in the 1970s, where cash fluid doctors, lawyers and moneyed up mums and dads decided to plunge into Living The Dream Estates in bucolic Australian wine regions. It was these smaller wineries, and a raise in quality standards, that begat a different culture once more.
Then the 1980s held true to fast lifestyle, blue eyeshadow, shoulder pad power suits and convertible cars, with swathes of fun loving, affordable, sunshine-y Australian plonk being bottled from lakes of wine coming from wide, brown agri-industrial wine regions. Easy drinking became a motif, as did consistency and a raft of homogenised but very well made wine products. The world looked to Australia, and the wide brown land segued to the 1990s where intrepid and aspirational winemakers decided to go large, turn the volume up on our warm climate red wine assets, chase the Big Scores of Big Critics. It went well for a while…
Fatigue set in with big, bold, brash, hyperbolic red wines and Australia was cast adrift internationally. A myopic consideration of Australia became an international norm, with the glitterati of global wine seeking out new, fresher and perhaps more authentic things. An undercurrent began to hum in Australia ,which led to a rise through the mid-to-late noughties of a new era of winemakers, wines and cultural ideas – an epoch of experimental plantings, more expressive winemaking approaches, rule breaking and a broadening of the Australian wine repertoire.
Now, Australia is here once more. Australian wine is increasingly shrugging off the cultural cringe and showing the universe that diversity and quality go hand-in-hand. Though there’s no denying that the lakes of monochromatic wine still sit moody in the background, a newer, or reassured wedge of the market is shouting louder than ever now. Excitement abounds.
A younger generation, an inspired generation, a generation that started to look sideways. Sixty-plus wine regions all with a quiet revolution at hand. New to Australia varieties, forgotten vineyards, non-mainstream grapes and blends, lower alcohol, left-of-centre styles, increasing quality of wines, understanding and discovery of great vineyard sites, a shift away from the image of Australia as a one trick pony island of massive red wine. It’s all happening. A cornucopia of wine styles, a spark lit that’s blown new life into Australian wine, both in the bottle and the imagination of wine producers on the ground.
So, what are some of the touchstones for wine excitement 101 in Australia?
Catch an UberX from downtown Adelaide and twenty-five minutes later you’re standing in a vineyard, holding a hissing and fizzing pet nat, staring at koalas while eating home-raised, butchered and cured ham, overlooking orchards and market gardens, drinking home roasted coffee and generally feeling like agrarian life is a charm. It’s pretty easy to point the finger at the avant garde set of Australian wines from pockets like Adelaide Hills’ Basket Range, where Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux), James Erskine (Jauma), Taras Ochota (Ochota Barrels), Gareth Belton (Gentle Folk), Basket Range Wines, Tim Webber and Monique Millton (Manon Farm) and friends have begat a kaleidoscopic array of bottlings under the technicolour umbrella of natural wine. This is a vocal, thrilling sect of wine producers, a commune of ideas and disruptive wine that’s reigniting a love with exploring Australia’s broad landscape of wine.
It’s tempting to write about the array of naturally sparkling, pet nat (petillant naturel) wine styles emerging from the nouveau sect of Australian wine producers, with a rainbow of wines that zing gleefully from the bottle, but there are other stories that are perhaps more globally significant. Australia makes some of the best, most complex, delicious, carefully farmed, considered, detailed sparkling wines on earth. Ed Carr, the genius, Australian winemaker of fizz, had a vision in Tasmania and has led the vanguard with his complex, mature, ‘reserve style’ House Of Arras wines. Alongside, stalwarts like Jansz, Clover Hill and Chandon, as examples, Arras have shown that late disgorged styles have all the might and glory of European counterparts, and are excelling at all vaunted sparkling wine styles. At the opposite end to methode traditionelle, Prosecco (yes, Prosecco, not glera!) is outstanding from Australia. In many cases, Australian Prosecco seems to pip its ‘homeland’ with fresher, more vibrant examples, and as a bonus in the legitimacy stakes, has a dedicated history stretching back almost two decades. Fizz has never been better from Australia.
Grenache (which includes some of the oldest vines on earth of this variety) from warmer climates is increasingly trumping the tried and tested Shiraz canons (see below). Perfumed, elegant, medium weight, cinched with fine tannins, guttural in savoury spice. Legendary wines are on the march from this variety. Consider then that old vine Mourvedre, Cinsault, Semillon and Marsanne are in the fray. Then there’s Touriga Nacional, Fiano, Vermentino, Moscato variants, Lagrein, Mondeuse, Savagnin, Trousseau, Montepulciano, Zibbibo, Ribolla Gialla, and so many more varieties, made with impunity, in all climates, in all styles. It’s at great velocity that new varieties to Australia, or ones that have been rekindled into public consciousness, are emerging. Textural whites, crunchy reds, eccentric blends, carefully assembled reds and whites to titillate and excite. There’s so very much to explore.
Sure, it comes with the odd raised eyebrow, more than the odd one actually, but the umbrella of producers under the banner of natural wine in Australia have made a very big impression. Very. From the prodigious, stately wines of biodynamic and organic stalwarts Cullen, Jasper Hill and Bindi, through to personality-imbued, unadorned, and sometimes wild-edged wines of names like Lucy Margaux, Momento Mori, Patrick Sullivan, Jauma and Shobbrook, there’s a lot of excitement and intrigue in this thrilling coterie of wine producers. Australia has a diverse collection of creative and thoughtful winemakers working naturally, and though some would be considered experimental over successful at times, the energy is palpable, and over a decade of reinvention through this movement has provided drinkers with some truly compelling wines.
Who is Mike Bennie? Well if you haven’t worked out by now, he knows his stuff - Mike is a freelance wine writer from Sydney, a journalist, wine judge, presenter and co-owner of P&V wine shop (focusing on providing natural and artisan wines & beers to Sydney residents). Mike has featured in Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine, Voyeur Virgin Airlines Magazine, Sydney Morning Herald, Decanter UK, Men’s Style Magazine, Wine Business Magazine and is the wine/drinks editor for Delicious. But most importantly, Mike is damn passionate about great Aussie wines and has both his feet firmly at ground level during the most exciting time in Australian wine's history.
Mike has created a list of his favourite wines to enjoy while he takes his signature strolls down Bondi - View the case here or the individual wines below: