Wine Talk

Snooth User: Charles Emilio

What's wrong with Australian Wine?

Posted by Charles Emilio, Jul 27, 2009.

Hi Everybody, this is my first post on here so go easy on me. Great forum BTW

I would like to know peoples reasons on why they dislike Australian wine.
At present I can see a collective conscience gathering rapidly where it has almost become trendy to bash Australian wine with the most common cliche being that they are "Alcoholic Fruit Bombs".

thanks for your responses

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Replies

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 27, 2009.

Charles,

Welcome to Snooth and the forums!

I would say that it is definitely en vogue to bash Australia these days. I've bashed a few Australian wines in my day and really dislike some of the thick, maximum fruitweight alcohol bombs that have been produced there.

Having said that I am also an unabashed fan and advocate of Australian Riesling, wish I had a chance to try more aged Semillion, and find many reds interesting and enjoyable.

beyond the generic bashing I think one of Australia's biggest issues is that their own success has bitten them in the ass. There are many great $20 wines from Australia that compete favorably with wines priced 2 or 3 times higher.

That definitely caused tremendous pressure on those more expensive wines. Then factor in inflated ( in my opinion) scores from Robert Parker and hid cohort Jay Miller and you have a fair number of people disappointed in pricey wines.

I think many opinion leaders have been turned off by these 2 issues and the affect cascaded down to more casual drinkers yet the message got distorted along the way.

I am curious as to what other folks are thinking about this topic.

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Jul 27, 2009.

Hi Greg, its great to be on here and thanks for your response.

Do you think Australia leading the way with the introduction of the screw-cap has played a part?

I am a wine importer & distributor in Peru and when we introduce new Australian wines to Restaurants we often have a hard time convincing them because they are put off by the screw cap. Perhaps in my case, this is due to a wine drinking market in its infancy where ignorance plays a part

You also didnt mention anything about Yellow Tail and the new one on the market, Down Under as well as many other cheap animal labelled brands. It appears to me that a lot of consumers in the US now associate Australia with Cheapness.


I wonder if Chile and Argentina will have a similar experience in the next 3-5 years. It would be quite easy (and cheap) to purchase in bulk from Argentina and create a stereotypical brand (How about "Gaucho Tango Malbec" $2.99 per bottle) and bottle it in the US

cheers

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Reply by gregt, Jul 27, 2009.

Screwcaps aren't an issue so much. People are pretty amenable to better closures. Sometimes people still question them, but the more they're used, the more they're accepted. You might be right regarding the stage of your market.

I second Greg's comment regarding the riesling and also any number of whites. Australia is really an underappreciated source of great whites.

Yellow Tail was designed expressly for the US market as far as I know. Maybe a little chaptelized, I'm not certain, but fraternity houses and non-wine drinkers love it and its imitators. If they move up into other wines, they may or may not move away from Australia. I don't think it's a given that they will however.

In any case, I don't think that segment of the market is the same segment that pays $20 and up. The latter segment got a little burned and I think that's what hurt Australia more than anything.

Let's set aside the question of style for a minute. It's possible to get a really good bottle of wine for $20 from Australia. Or $40 or $80. So which do you choose? The people behind Two Hands for example, vinify the wine and then select which lots will be the more expensive blend and which will be the less expensive. Many many people do this to select reserve bottlings, etc. But in this case I don't see the doubling in price leading to a commensurate doubling in quality. To my knowledge, the grapes aren't differentiated earlier as being from particular vineyards or plots, they're selected after fermentation. I don't have a problem with the method, but on the other hand, I've almost never bought the more expensive bottles. I like the wine - that's not a knock, but they do a really excellent job at the lower end so why move up?

So some producers have those issues. Add to that the fact that the winemakers seem to have pushed to the max regarding ripeness. When a wine clocks in at 15.8% stated on the label and you know that's give or take a bit, you're into wine that's often in danger of seeming out of balance and hot. I had a grenache the other day that was 15% and it was just perfect. So it's possible to create balanced wine regardless of the alcohol levels. However, some of those wines start seeming hot and out of whack. And worse, a lot of them start seeming the same. They aren't when tasted side by side of course, but you know you're going to get big, jammy, and oaky juice. And in the latter case, I've finally found some Australian wines that I can't drink at all. Wines incidentally, that garner scores somewhere in the high nineties from some critics.

Australia is destined to produce ripe grapes. That's not a fault. And I don't believe in the received wisdom that wines that are high in acid and less ripe are "food wines", while riper wines don't go well with food. I think that's a load of crap. But if you spend $30, $40 or $50 for a wine and you're thinking to yourself that it's a little unbalanced and too woody, you stop buying it. Then you figure that the wood will integrate over a few years and you open one that you've kept for five or six years and it's fallen apart. So you don't buy any more.

If you pick carefully however, you can do quite well.

For example, last night I had Clancy's Red by Peter Lehmann. It's a blend of shiraz, cab, and merlot that goes for around $14. Really nice wine, has a lot of really ripe fruit like blackberries but also a slight herbal note on the nose that follows through on the palate and gives it a little more complexity, as well as fairly fine tannins that give it some structure. It's hard to find fault with it. Not an alcoholic fruit bomb at all. The stated alcohol level was 14%, which is pretty much average these days.

People who dismiss entire regions usually just don't know all that much about wine.

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Reply by Cheese and Grapes, Jul 27, 2009.

I just don't care for a lot of their wines. To me, a lot of them they share a taste (not sure what it is) that just doesn't belong in wine. It's kind of like they put big tannic grapes in a barrell and then watered it down. It is my understanding that they focus more on quantity vs. quality. Sorry I can't be more specific. Although I drank "Boarding Pass" http://www.snooth.com/wine/r-wines-... and really enjoyed it.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 28, 2009.

A timely article from the Wall Street Journal (now under Aussie ownership, of course):
http://www.wineindustryinsight.com/...

Also looks like YellowTail is working to expand its US business, now going after the sauvignon blanc segment:
http://www.wineindustryinsight.com/...

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Reply by gregt, Jul 28, 2009.

Boarding Pass is a brand that sources wines from many countries - Argentina, France, Australia, etc. It's an example of a manufactured wine. They buy grapes from whomever and strive for a consistent product. There are other winemakers who have their own vineyards and make wine in the same way that small winemakers do in other countries. I'm not knocking Boarding Pass, but that's not necessarily something that need typify Australian wine.

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Jul 28, 2009.

We have to keep in mind the predominant wines are shiraz, which can at times very very overripe, fruity and powerfully alcoholic. That doesn't mean they're all that way. I have had some truly spectacular shiraz and other varietals and blends from Australia. Everyone's tastes differ as well. To some, those alcoholic fruit bombs might be just the right thing! The Octavius I just reviewed was stellar!!

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Reply by penguinoid, Jul 28, 2009.

My experience has always been that there's a very wide range of wines available from Australia. Some of them are good, some not so good. There are quite a lot of wines which personally I find to be overly fruit-dominated, I tend to just try and avoid these. Some people do like them though, clearly.

I've had very little luck with Australian white wines though -- I tend to favour white wines which are minerally or herbal, and these characters don't often seem to be present in Australian white wines.

With reds - yes, shiraz is still the dominant grape. What sort of characters you get depends a lot on the region - the Barossa Valley tends to have the very over-ripe, rich shirazes, for example, whilst those from even the McLaren Vale (which is fairly near the Barossa) are more restrained. Cool climate regions such as the Adelaide Hills and Tasmania are also well worth checking out. There are also a lot of nice Cabernet sauvignons that are worth checking out, as well as blends and an increasing number of other varities (sangiovese anyone?)

I get the impression that Australian wineries are starting to take things such as terroir into account more, but they probably still have a little way to go there...

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Reply by gregt, Jul 28, 2009.

penguinoid - they make outstanding semillon and riesling, and are working with many other grapes. If you get a chance, try some from Colonial Estate for example, from Barossa, or Vasse Felix from Margaret River. The wines from Hunter Valley specifically are known to age nicely and many should fit your preference profile. Until probably the mid 1980s, the Australians were as known for those wines as for the reds, but the developing love for chardonnay in the US pushed a lot of that out of the market. Matter of fact, they make some pretty decent chardonnay too.

But the prices for their whites make them really competitive vis a vis some equivalent wines from say, Bordeaux.

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Reply by George Parkinson, Jul 28, 2009.

Ok, I'm chimen'in now.

I recently came off a tasting of some McLaren Vale wines produced by a group of small artisan wine makers. Let me say that like anything else, the more we taste, the more our opinions are swayed. especially when there are artisan garagistes involved. Greg has it right, in my opinion, that Aussie wines imported to the U.S. have had a similar, dare I say, homogenized cookie cutter, make-up about them. Big, fat, high alch. low acid fruit bombs. (& some people like that). Then one gets an opportunity to taste small batch production items and the opinion changes. I had three Sauv Blancs that had Bordeaux profiles in the nose & mouth. & a Sangiovese that tasted like a Chianti Classico, One Cabernet blend that was very elegant and not over the top, and a syrah that was like something from northern Rhone.

One must seek out these things, and be prepared for a drastic style difference than what you may be used to tasting in Aussie wines. I disagree with bashing anything based on previous tastings as seasons & styles change, especially in wine & the effort to produce wine, is worth an applause. (ever work a crush pad?) Not that I am a wine whore, ok maybe I am, but I have had wines I didn't care for from Australia and as momma used to say, "if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all".

Drink On Ladds, yo ho!

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Reply by penguinoid, Jul 29, 2009.

Unfortunately the only Australian riesling I've tried so far was a mass-market one -- I can't remember the producer. It tasted of green apples, and that was about it. I'll have a look for both Colonial Estate and Vasse Felix next time I'm at the wine store. I'm quite keen to try a German riesling -- maybe one from Dr Loosen -- so it would be interesting to compare this with a good Australian riesling, and maybe one from the Alsace. At this point, though, my wallet would be on fire.

I've heard good things about Sémillon, and one of the nicest Australian white wines I've tried was a Sémillon/Sauvignon blanc blend (Heritage Estate Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2008 -- http://www.snooth.com/wine/heritage...). I also tried Shaw+Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (http://www.snooth.com/wine/shaw-smi...) in a tasting and was suitably impressed -- a very elegant wine.

The Hunter Valley Sémillons are ones I've been meaning to taste for a little while. Oz Clarke (in "Grapes & Wines") suggest they should be left alone till they are at least 10 years old, though, and I'm not certain where I'd get any that had already been nicely aged and are still affordable. (Oddly, Tyrrell's website contradicts him, and suggests they are good up to but not beyond ten years...).

I've not tried any of the 'great' French white wines, but those that I have I've enjoyed -- eg, I've tried Petit Chablis but not Chablis. From what I've read, Petit Chablis is nowhere near as good as Chablis, but I still really liked the flinty characters in the wine. It would be interesting to taste an Australian wine with a similar amount of minerality -- I'm sure they're around. Most of the Australian white wines I've tried have been fruit-dominated, some too much so. Others manage more elegance/subtlety, and I've enjoyed them even if they aren't all that minerally (and also maybe are less terroir-focussed).

I don't mean to be disparaging about the more fruit-driven styles of wines -- they aren't so much the kind I go for, but many of them are very good wines. I wouldn't want to see them disappear, as that would represent a loss of choice. And there are people who really like those styles of wine! Just noting its not necessarily so much the sort of wine I look for.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 29, 2009.

Well, regarding aged Aussie whites and price, you may very well be surprised. Nobody really collects those wines and the new ones aren't priced in the stratosphere, so you may be able to pick some up at really reasonable prices. It's kind of like vintage Port - why buy a new one when you can get a 20 year old vintage for nearly the same price?

Anyhow, just a note regarding riesling. Germany has had a run of warm vintages. The classified wines are categorized based on the sugar levels in the grapes at harvest, not in the sugar in the wine itself. So a Kabinett for example, will be made from grapes that had less sugar than Spatlese when the grapes were picked. However, the winemaker may choose to ferment the Spatlese to complete dryness, as they do with the GGs, so the wine might not seem as sweet on your palate. The point is that if you want to compare the wines, you need to find wines that can compare without being confusing. So "Trocken" in addition to the Pradikat level of Kabinett or Spat or whatever, may be something to look for.

Going back to what I was saying - Germany has had a string of warm vintages and when you taste Kabinett or the QBA level wines, they will very often show a marked sweetness. There's a big debate as to whether the "real" riesling is supposed to be like that or whether it's just for the export market, but I dismiss most of it. Germany has come up with a new designation in an attempt to ape Burgundy - they call them Grosses Gewachs and the wines come from specific classified vineyards, they're harvested at Spatlese levels, and fermented fully dry. Those are supposed to be Germany's answer to the dry white wines of France. I've tasted many of them and think it's a real disappointment and a stupid goal on top of it. At any rate, those wines will set you back at least $40 and many will be much more.

On the other hand, Australia, counter to what one might expect, makes super dry riesling. I asked a few winemakers about it once and they told me that in the 1950s and 1960s, "riesling" was a generic word for white wine, maybe akin to using "Xerox" as a verb to mean copy. In Nevada, people use the word "Coke" to mean soda. Anyway, the styles and varieties were all over the map, semillon was the most widely planted, and a lot of what was called "riesling" was actually semillon. The growers got together and decided that state of affairs was bad for marketing. So they decided that they would come out with a consistent product so that the customer knew what to expect when picking up a bottle. They decided to make their rieslings dry. It's a perfect example of why I think they are the smartest winemakers on the planet - no government interference, just enlightened self-interest. The result is that today when you pick up a bottle, you get a dry wine. OTOH, when you pick up a bottle from Germany, which is a far colder place, you don't usually get a dry wine.

That said, the Australians are experimenting with off-dry wines just as the Germans are developing the dry GGs, the ELs, and the EGs, depending on which area you're in.

German riesling happily, still remains one of the best buys on the planet. At the low end, Gunderloch makes a bottle called Jean Baptiste. Lietz makes Dragonstone, and Schmitges makes Blue Slate. All of them are usually under $15 and they're very nice, drinkable examples of German riesling.

As far as "great" French wines, it all depends on how you define that term. I've never been particularly excited about most white Burgundies for example. But for the types of wine you like, go to the Loire and pick up some Muscadet. Pepiere for example, puts out a great muscadet for about $12. It doesn't get much leaner than that. Or get a good dry Furmint from Hungary. There aren't many imported but if you can find it, get Zoltan Demeter's for about $18.

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Jul 29, 2009.

Speaking of white wines. I really must recommend Tahbilk Marsanne from one of the cooler victorian regions in Australia.

If you like minerality try this. They'll easily age 10 years + and usually cost around the $15 mark.
If you can find one from either 2005 or 2006 it will be worth the effort

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Reply by penguinoid, Jul 29, 2009.

Thanks for all the tips. I've tried and really enjoyed Loire valley wines -- a 1995 Domaine aux Moines (Savennières Roche Aux Moines AOC) that I had a few months back would have to be one of the nicest white wines I've had in a while. Muscadet is another style of wine I've been meaning to try too. I'll look out for Pepiere. The Zoltan Demeter sounds like it would be worth a look to, if I find any.

The Tahbilk Marsanne is one I've been meaning to try for a little while, too. I almost bought a bottle of it recently... maybe next time. From what I've read, this would seem to be an Australian white wine more in the sort of style I tend to look for. Interestingly, it's quite rare to find anything but the newest vintages still in the shops here. You can find older vintages on eBay, but once you add the cost of postage, it starts to look less attractive if you're just buying one or two bottles. There's a wine store in town somewhere here which I've read has a good selection of older vintages, but its a bit of a trek to get there. I will have to organise an expedition soon ;-)

For anyone in Australia, I can heartily recommend the Heritage Estate white wines. Despite not having any of the minerallity I normally go for, they have an elegance to them which makes them really worth trying. They seem to be winning award after award for their Reserve Chardonnay at the moment. Sadly, I don't think they export any...

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Reply by kylewolf, Aug 12, 2009.

I think the topic has been well discussed and I am afraid my novice experience can not lend much advice. However, I would like to throw a few wines out there and see if people put these under the "Fruit Bombs" or otherwise looked down upon wines. Not that it will make me stop drinking them, but it will mean I have to search harder for new wines from down under.

I have been really been enjoying Torbreck, specifically the juveniles, woodcutters, and steading. (I am saving for a bottle of runrig)

Kangarilla Road Shiraz from McLaren Vale (1998 and 2004 and hoping to purchase some 2003 zin).

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Reply by gregt, Aug 13, 2009.

Yeah they're fruit bombs. But so what. They're well done. Torbrek is in Barossa Valley, a fairly young winery but he gets access to ancient vines. His first vintages were from vines that were essentially abandoned before he go them. Nothing to be ashamed of - his wines reflect the fruit grown in that region, which is hot and dry. And rather than push the envelope, he tones it down, which is the correct approach IMO.

Kangarilla is even more interesting to me. I have some of their zinfandel. They also bottle a wine they call primitivo, which is of course zinfandel but I think they're one of the only wineries in Australia doing it. They're from McLaren Vale and also make ripe, but elegant wine.

And as far as my glib answer - they're fruit bombs if you define that to mean a wine that displays a lot of fruit. But isn't that was grapes are? Wines from hot places like Australia, south France and south Spain are going to be fruity and ripe. The key to making great wines is to work with that but not to let it overpower everything else and unbalance the wine. So you don't need to push the grapes to the maximum ripeness and sugar levels. In colder areas, you struggle to get the grapes ripe so your issues are different. Personally I think both of the wineries you mentioned are good examples of producers who aren't concerned with making bigger and badder wines, but who understand their unique constraints and work to make balanced wines within those constraints. Some "fruit bombs" are so slathered in oak and alcohol that they become grotesque. These aren't in that category.

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 19, 2009.

Seems groupings of wineries are coming together to try to battle the view that Oz is good for nothing but cheap plonk:

http://www.decanter.com/news/287906.html

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Reply by Philip James, Aug 19, 2009.

DM - i was just about to post the same link. Seems like a well organized idea. Its probably not easy to corral a group of the old guard together like that.

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Reply by gregt, Aug 19, 2009.

They've been coming up with ideas for the past few years, e.g. regional differentiation etc. This is a rather curious idea and I'm interested in seeing how it turns out because in a way it misses the mark entirely.

If the criticism is that they are producing "sunshine in a bottle" or "fruit bombs", it's not clear to me that the age of the producer matters. An old and venerated producer can still make fruit bombs.

If they intend to show that Australian wine can age, I think that's pretty well established. Penfolds can do verticals of something like St Henri, which is far from a fruit bomb, and there are many other producers who have been around for quite a while.

Then you have people like John Duval, who has a fairly new winery but certainly knows about making wine for the long haul.

The purpose of aging a wine for 20 years is not to open it and be happy about the great fruit it's kept. The purpose is for it to develop into something different and more complex than it may have been in its first years. I'm sure Australia can produce wines like that. But most of the criticism I've heard has to do with the fact that this is not what happens in most cases. It's a criticism leveled at producers in the US as well. I think that what the producers should do is demonstrate that they have wines with complexity and personality instead of simply amped up "fruit-weight". Some of the Chris Ringland wines for example, are illustrations. You buy a $15 wine that's good and then you pay $100 or more for an amped up version of it that sometimes isn't as enjoyable. And it's hard to tell if the wine is from Spain or Australia. Same with Sparky Marquis. These guys are actually very good and committed winemakers. But they've gotten 100 points from doing what they're doing so they're unlikely to throttle back but I think they've contributed to the problem in a big way.

The interview with Caillard seems right on the money tho. So maybe these producers are on to something.

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Reply by dmcker, Aug 19, 2009.

Thanks, GregT, for pointing to the interview link with Caillard. If others missed clicking it, as I did, here's a direct link:
http://www.decanter.com/specials/28...

The man seems balanced and astute in very many of his observations. He provides as good a listing of the fine wines across Australia as I've ever seen, and if you're interested in discovering excellent wines you haven't yet had from Australia, the interview deserves a read. He also makes a lot of good general observations, of which a few:

--"There is nothing moderate about cheap wine. I had thought we had already reached the lowest common denominator. Three Buck Koala is unsustainable in the long term and will do nothing to enhance the reputation of Australia. All critter brands - regardless of origin - are caricatures. As a new world producer these trashy wines undermine and obscurate the efforts of fine wine producers more profoundly than low-end wines from traditional European wine countries."

--"...increasingly I think the imperatives of commercial wine and fine wine are different."

--"In the old days it was a tasting in the winery and then a beer down at the pub. Now it's a full degustation. However I think Australians don't want to be boxed in as laconic and easy going."

--"With such profound depth of history, compelling stories and beautiful wines, I find it bizarre that negative sentiment about Australian wine pervades the international media. ... I am surprised at the level of spite, exaggeration and disingenuous debate that is currently doing the rounds. Every other wine industry around the world is struggling at the moment. ...these are definitely soul searching times. Australia in many respects invented mass-produced commodity type wine and then maintained market dominance through assertive discount campaigns. Nowadays these wines have become merely international styles with no obvious unique selling points or quality differences to wines from Languedoc Roussillon or Spain. The media are bored by them, as much as an ennui will become commonplace with European or South American commodity wine. Australia has badged its commercial wines as Brand Champions or Generation Next. These so called 'personalities' actually have no personality at all. They are generally just boring international styles that compete on price and slug it out with marketing bullshit and stupid critter names. "

--"Australians are really not into overly powerful, high alcohol wines, yet the strength of Parker's opinions opened up export markets. As predicted by many observers on the local scene these wines have lost cachet in the American because many just haven't aged very well."

--"The sunshine in a bottle analogy was evocative for the commercial wines of the time, but it does not really hold true with fine wine. The images of Australia with its beaches, huge skies and vast expanses of red earth belie the reality of the fine wine landscape.I agree, however, that we need to make our message uncomplicated and attractive. However our fine wines, particularly the ultra-fine/landmark wines are far from simple."


I was a little curious about this quote, though:
"The Baross boast the oldest cabernet vineyard in the World."
My guess is that, since there were several other typos in the Decanter article, he really said 'New World'.

Finally, and apologies to Decanter for this massive quoting, I think he did as good a job of nutshelling in one sentence current industry woes in his part of the world as anyone:
"I would have predicted the Global Financial Crisis, the meltdown of the US market, the collapse of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc prices, the asset sales of Fosters, the bankruptcies of American wine agencies and the increase in taxation on wine in the UK."

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