Wine Talk

Snooth User: Charles Emilio

What's wrong with Australian Wine?

Original post 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


Reply by GregT, Aug 20, 2009.

They may well be some of the oldest cabernet in the world. They do have the oldest garnacha in the world and if I'm not mistaken, they have some of the oldest grapevines in the world in general. Remember that the vines were planted down there in the early to mid 1880s and the phylloxera problem came to Europe in the later 1800s. So there isn't likely to be much cab in Europe that is older than 1890, and much is younger than that. Funny thing is when the Bordealais talk about the age of their vines, it frequently seems to be 40 years.

The question of course, is how much that really matters.

Reply by penguinoid, Aug 20, 2009.

I think the typo in "The Baross boast the oldest cabernet vineyard in the World" was just leaving the a off the end of Barossa -- ie, the Barossa Valley in South Australia. I'm not certain if they do have some of the oldest Cabernet sauvignon vines there, but it's certainly possible.

Reply by Charles Emilio, Aug 20, 2009.

Its true, Australia cabernet vines are very old. Didnt cop much phylloxera
Penfolds Block 42 in the Kalimna vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted mid 1800's

"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."

Greg - what do you mean by it misses the mark?

I thought the idea of the regional heroes was to show the 'terroir' of the different Australian regions.

Theres a little game on this link where you have to choose the characteristics of a particular varietal from a particular region. - click on "taste a wine" on the left to play the game

I just tried McLaren Vale Shiraz and got 6 out of 7

Some may think its stupi but its good clean fun

Reply by GregT, Aug 20, 2009.

The Decanter blurb may have been truncated but it said that the producers wanted to show that Australia could produce "fine wine", and to join the clique you had to have a winery of some age and vineyards of some age, etc.

That is what missed the point entirely. I have never once heard or read any critic say that Australia's vines or wineries aren't old enough. The issue is how you define "fine wine" and that has nothing at all to do with the age of your winery or vineyards.

Take Sparky Marquis for example. When you talk to him he talks of vine nutrition, plant biology, soil, sunlight, terroir. He is as knowledgeable and as studious as any winemaker anywhere. You hear the same things when you talk to winemakers in Austria and France and Spain and Italy and California or anywhere else in the world. Sparky isn't making plonk. He's making incredibly passionate wine. The difference between him and a winemaker in the Loire Valley or Bordeaux is where their visions finally take them. There is no way on God's green earth that Bordeaux is going to have the sunlight and heat that Sparky has, and no way that they're going to get the ripeness levels that he gets. People who favor their wines call his overoaked fruit bombs.

Does he produce "fine wine"? Absolutely IMHO. But it's of a type that is stereotypical for Australia. If all the wineries in the clique get together and produce that, they will have absolutely no effect on the criticism leveled against Australia.

The Caillard interview was much better and I think it hit the points perfectly. He understands that the issue is wine style and he points out that many styles can be produced.

And I loved this quote:

" ' bullshit...'

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. "

I met with some of the people who are responsible for coming up with that whole idea of "brand champions" etc., and i asked them what the point was. They have selected certain areas to be known for certain grapes. Barossa obviously for shiraz, but then they assigned chardonnay, cab sauv, riesling, etc. So I asked whether they could just as easily have stuck chardonnay in region X instead of region Y, or some other gape in region A instead of region B.

The answer was yes. It was simply a way of creating some kind of regional consciousness in the market. Personally I found it kind of dumb and I'm glad that Caillard reacted the way he did. If there are regional characteristics that favor one grape over another, let that speak. Coonawara and cab for example. But don't just do some matchup and market that just so you have something to say. It's really bad marketing, totally concocted and obvious. Domino's Pizza once had something called "avoid the Noid". They created this mythical gremlin so they had something to rhyme with "avoid". Insulting and lame.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 4, 2009.

Well, it looks like somebody doesn't think there's anything wrong with Penfolds Grange:

All I can say is hold onto any vertical collections you have in cellar....

Reply by Nicki Gig, Sep 18, 2009.

I recently went to a Penfolds tasting and had some very impressive wines. Their was a vertical tasting of Bin 389 and I had the opportunity to taste 1976, 1985, 1991, 1998, 2002, and 2006. A very neat experience and to see the progression with time!

Reply by dmcker, Sep 18, 2009.

Nicki, are you interested in posting any notes on your tastings? Would love to hear some specifics, since I, and I assume others, would enjoy tasting those wines, even if virtually...

Reply by Nicki Gig, Sep 21, 2009.

yes I'd be happy to share what I can! Bin 389 was a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz. I remember enjoying the '91 the most - perfect balance and complexity of dark fruit, spice and vanilla.. And the '76 was almost past its prime but I have never tasted that old of a wine so my palate adjusted to the cedar notes, dry tea leaves, fig, raisiny tastes, softer tannins. The younger the wines, the more full bodied, very jammy, med+ tannins...2006 needs time (apparently, it can age for another 15-20 years). 2002 was enjoyable as well - gorgeous dark fruit, aromas of berries and chocolate, incredible length; can only imagine how it well taste after aging for another 10 years; it has a lot of potential. Length and complexity of wines developed and changed even more the older the wine showcasing the fruit, both chocolate and vanilla notes, a lingering spice - a unique experience!

Reply by MarioRobles, Oct 13, 2009.

I agree with Greg's first comment that Australia is suffering from their own success, living in Australia since 1998, I am a huge fan of Australian wine. I also agree with the "Fruit Bomb" criticism. Australian wine grew exponentially in the last 20 years based on international demand, the only problem is that (generally speaking) those so called 'fruit bombs' opened the door to mass sales and the main problem was that big companies started to 'create' wines for that demand rather than making the best wines they could.
I must say that those fruit bombs are not the staple here since you have SO many wines to choose from; I have a cellar with approx. 350 bottles (90% Australian) and I only have maximum 20 bottles of Barossa wines for the reason that there are so many other boutique and smaller regions that offer more balance, value and complexity.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 13, 2009.

I spent much of Sunday drinking wines from Frankland River and Margaret River. These so-called cool climate regions are producing pretty compelling wines, certainly worth tasting. Full report will be the focus of tomorrow's email.

Reply by Robert Dallas Gray, Oct 13, 2009.

This is an interesting historical turnaround, I think. Back in the late 80s (when I was in my late teens) my mother started working for the UK importer Grant's of St James's. As part of her training she had to do the equivalent of a WSET course. The takeaway was that for under £5 (maybe translates to £10/$20 nowadays) Australian wine was a much better bet than French or Italian. It took me quite a long time to get past this advice, I think because it was true up until about the mid-90s. These days it's certainly more complex, both personally and generally, but I think the bang/buck ratio of Australian wines at that time raised the game considerably for the old world. Nowadays I go for old world by default -- partly because I'm happy to buy a not-so-good bottle for purposes of education, but partly because Oz prices are now pretty much commensurate with French (Bordeaux/Burgundy usually excepted). Oz is doing some really interesting things at reasonable price points with Italian varietals; you need to pay a lot for a really good Barossa cab or shiraz, or an Adelaide Hills chardonnay. Plus ça change.

Reply by Hieronymous666, Oct 15, 2009.

Very interesting reading the variety of comments, but living in Australia I have a very different perspective.

The fruit bomb wines everyone talks about is a long time criticism of Australian wine, for which distributors, marketers (and Robert Parker) can be blamed. Those wines do exist of course, and there are actually some pretty good ones despite the prejudice, but the reality is they're really only a small part of the Australian wine industry. Unfortunately there has been a bias in the wine sent for export, much of it at the cheap end, and a lot of it the fruit bombs - many of which I've never seen in Australia, nor heard of until I've walked into an American bottle shop. What I'm saying in effect is that a lot of what ends up on a table overseas is not indicative of what is bought and consumed here in Oz.

The Australian wine industry is much more sophisticated than its current reputation would suggest, and becomes more so with each passing year. What the common punter perhaps does not understand is the remarkable diversity of wine regions in Australia, each with varying subtleties of climate, perspective, soil and so on. Not surprisingly different regions specialise in different varieties, and good deal of it exceptional.

It's a huge industry and getting bigger. While there are huge wineries there are also small family run vineyards and winemakers looking to push the edges. It makes for a dynamic industry and good drinking.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 15, 2009.

I just tasted through several wines from South West Australia and they were really great. You can check my notes here:

There is a vast and vibrant wine industry in Australia and dismissing it out of hand based on one style produced is not a very good strategy for discovering great values.

Reply by Charles Emilio, Nov 17, 2009.

Here is the transcript from a speech from the UK's Andrew Jefford on the International wine press's opinion on Aussie WIne

Reply by dmcker, Nov 17, 2009.

Thanks for the pointer to the Jefford speech transcript, Charles. Very well balanced, with lots of good insights. Would like to write a proper response to his stimulation, but afraid I'm out the door right now...

Reply by Charles Emilio, Nov 18, 2009.

dmcker - if you get time to write a proper response I'd like to read it

It was an interesting speech with some intersting points, especially about the T.A levels in Aussie wines.

I personally dont think Australian wine is in as much trouble as they make out,
Pretty soon Chile & Argentina will have their day in the sun just like Australia did and then wine writers and consumers will bore of them too.

I am personally of the opinion that all of the New World producers need to lift their creativity

Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.

I started having rather pleasant AUSTRALIAN WINES as early as 1970's.
Will check my journals for exact names etc.

I drank them in London and my AUSSIE friends brought over a few bottles
saying to me that they do not travel well...but they did.

It is just that I am so wedded to everthing FRENCH !!!...
but with an open mind I will embrace a good AUSSIE any time!

Some of my LONDON friends love them.
My cousins in AUSTRALIA love them.

Charles Emilio...thanks for being brave and raising such a stimulating discussion.
CHEERS...PENFOLDS in the glass....honestly!

Reply by amour, Jan 25, 2010.

By the way, I rather enjoyed McWILLIAMS Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2006

Their vineyards are in the Riverina, Hilltops and Hunter Valley region of New South Wales.

Reply by kitty matson, Jan 25, 2010.

This is really interesting to me because I am totally out of the loop. I have stumbled upon various Australian Shiraz and really enjoyed them. I have also come across the cheaper wines like Yellow Tail and while I agree they really aren't any good, I assume it is because they are cheap. It seems to me, every wine producing area sells some bad wines.

Reply by GregT, Jan 25, 2010.

Charles - Australian wine is indeed in trouble in the US. So is wine from many regions. Spanish imports are down over 11 pct last year after being down even more the year before. Australian high-end sales are non-existent these days.

The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation's annual report -

- Wine exports increased six per cent to 750 million litres in 2008/09.

- Exports declined in terms of value 10% to $2.43 billion with an average price decline of 15 % to $3.24 per litre.

- Despite the trading environment, the volume of wine exported was still the second highest on record, behind 2006/07, when Australian wines were exported at $5 a litre.

- The top five growth markets for Australian wine exports were China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan and Finland.

So if you look where sales are, they aren't in the traditional markets and they're not for "better" wines. The stuff that's shipping to Asia is along the lines of Yellow Tail.

Jefford has some self-serving stuff in there about why writers are so important but I think he overstates his case. Writers are important in the aggregate, not individually. There's Parker and everyone else. Nobody else moves the market. And since Parker doesn't cover Australia any more and he's given it to someone completely unknown with no reputation at all, there isn't a voice in the US market right now. The rest of the press, this site included, works to create what you might call "buzz" and right now the buzz is down on Australia, at least in the US.

I think one problem was that wines got high scores and they didn't have much finesse but they had a lot of power. That style became a cliche and with the economic meltdown, their market disappeared. But as I've posted before, I think the Australians are some of the smartest wine people on earth and they're pretty much unencumbered by silly rules like many European wine regions are, so they'll work their way out of their problem. In fact, speaking of creativity, the New World is where you find it because it's not allowed in many parts of the Old World.

Chile and Argentina are always lumped together but their wine couldn't be more different. Also they're not selling wine at the high end so they don't have as much to lose. They make the stuff to be sure, but it's a small part of what is sold in the US. Moreover, the US market is pretty resistant to higher-priced wines from those regions. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future because those people are well aware of what happens with fads - Beaujolais, Australia, white zin, etc.

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