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

Replies

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Reply by cdnaff, Jan 25, 2010.

I will step up and admit to being a basher of poor and/or over-priced wine from all over the world. One of the problems in wine writing today is the lack of critical evaluation of indiviual wines. Many writers NEVER write a negative review. As for Australian wines (and I have been bashing some of them for 10 years now - Balmoral from Rosemount is an example), and many others here have stated this, to dismiss an entire country (or region, as Australia has dozens of regions) is mostly due to ignorance. Australia does have at least 2 major problems though. One is the declining reputation of its cheap plonk represented by Yellow Tail. It is uniformly badly made wine, unbalanced, manufactured syrup designed to appeal to a couple of generations of Coke drinkers who wine marketers wanted to convert to wine drinkers.

However another significant problem for many higher-end Australian producers (especially in warm areas like Barossa Valley), is their decision to make technically poor wine to appeal to the same demographic described above, but charging US$40 or more. Regardless of if some consumers or sommeliers LIKE these, they are poorly made wines. They are unbalanced, most with so much added acid that it shows up at the back of the palate, after the burn of alcohol dissipates and have little tannin for structure. Molleyducker, Two Hands, Marquis Phillips and most of the other 15%+ wines are badly made wines by choice (although many like their flavour profile) and the market is just catching up to that now. They are monolithic and very poor matches with food. They are especially bad with fine food, and even big, rare steaks can't stand up to most of them. The problem is when you compare the price and wine with similarly priced wines from other countries. They don't compete well and thus are losing market share.

Having said all that, there are incredible producers in Australia who make balanced, long-lived wines that compete with the best in the world at any price point (Coonwarra and Margaret River cabs, Eden Valley riesling, Yarra Valley pinot noir). But they tend to be small, artisanal or family run producers and many have come under incredible pressure over the past decade to imitate the fruit-bomb style. I know of at least a couple who have lost sales to keep making terrior-driven, balanced wines. One of the biggest condemnations of Australian wine recently though came from a giant wine show. Australia was the featured country and there were hundreds of wines being poured, from every region, varietal and price, and the over-all impression of most people I've spoken to who went, was UNIFORMITY. It's not fair or even correct, but a major marketing initiative ended up actually high-lighted the growing criticism of "Australian Wine".

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Reply by napagirl68, Jan 26, 2010.

EVERYTHING!!!

Just kidding... I'm sure there are some GREAT Aussie producers out there. I just haven't tasted any yet? (Maybe the good ones are too small to export). As a matter of fact, my local wine shop owner pours a lot of Aussie wine because he can get it cheaper... I have just stopped tasting it. But, note of importance... I live in San Francisco bay area of California... there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of wines to choose from just from our state, so perhaps I have too many amazing choices in CA to search aggressively for a comparable quality wine in Australia.

I am tho, searching for more French wines.. and I love Italian wines as well...

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Reply by Brigitte Begue, Apr 20, 2010.

Re People's reasons why they dislike Australian wines:  I have a comment about an element of wine that may be due to the terroir factor.  I've noticed that, of the few Australian wines I've tried -- not very expensive ones -- I have noted that a number have a particular taste that I've heard described as barnyard and more politely as leather. It is not a taste I enjoy, but like many acquired tastes, it may be considered a plus by some people. Actually, it was very off-putting to me, and at first described it with another word.  I figured it was the influence of certain soils on the wine.  Has anyone else had an experience of this kind?

I feel fairly confident that when I do begin to explore more Australian wines, I'll find  delightful ones.  My first experiences may have put me off, but I'll be trying more in the future, to be fair. 

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Reply by gregt, Apr 20, 2010.

Brigitte - that's kind of unusual.

Barnyard aromas are more frequently associated with wines from certain areas in France, Italy and Spain.  There is a whole class of aromas and flavors that are variously refered to as "leathery" or "barnyard' or as the French and apparently you say, "merde".

They're not all the same aroma but they fall into the non-fruit category.

Old Rioja for example, almost always exhibits a distinctive leathery nose, and the nose of much Burgundy is something that people really prize.

While some people insist that it's the terroir, a lot of those aromas actually come from dirty winemaking.  Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, they're due to spoilage yeasts.  

Wine from Australia and California is often criticized for being "too clean" and lacking those additional aromatic qualities. 

There's another possibility, which is that your wines were bottled with screwcaps?  If so, it may just be the sulfur used and in fact, if the wines were cheap, I'm betting that's exactly what happened because much of the cheaper wine is made in very clean environments. That's because the producers want consistency, not crazy variations.

Usually in a couple of months, that sulfur doesn't seem as noticable. If they used too much, well, then you have the wine I got that just reeks forever.  However, in most cases, swirling your glass helps make those odors disappear after a few minutes.

Try some more wine - I'm sure you'll like it.

Cheers.

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 20, 2010.

Yes, that is kind of unusual for Australian wines. Hunter Valley shirazes can sometimes have this sort of aroma, but it's not so common any more. I rarely come across it...

I'm one of the people who would say it's not necessarily a fault, if it's not present at too high levels it can be complexing. I rarely find these characters in Australian wines, though.

The most common cause of this is the yeast Brettanomyces (aka Dekkera... why do microbiologists insist on giving the same species two different generic names, depending on the stage of its lifecycle?!?!). I'm not entirely convinced that it isn't an aspect of terroir -- natural yeasts from the vineyard are often considered as part of terroir, and Brettanomyces / Dekkera is a fairly common natural yeast found in vineyards -- but it's quite likely I'm wrong here, I guess.

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Apr 20, 2010.

Barnyard Aroma is very commonly found in Pinot Noir from Gippsland and Yarra Valley regions. 

This is not very surprising, especially because Gippsland is oh so eerily similar to burgundy. (Yarra Valley is different though)

Not many Pinots from Gippsland leave the country Ive been told

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 21, 2010.

I'm beginning to wonder how many pinot noirs from Gippsland leave Victoria. I've asked in local wine stores in South Australia with no luck so far. I've read good things about Gipplsand pinot noir -- and I lived there for two years or so when I was a child -- so I'd definitely like to try one out.

I've never been to Burgundy, but the idea it's very much like Gippsland is a little surprising. In what ways are they similar?

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Apr 22, 2010.

Some parts of  Gippsland are very similar to parts of Burgundy. Very misty, very cloudy and lots of precipation and very cold. 

I remember a wine maker down there based in Leongatha telling me that people always wanted to grow grapes down there but it received too many spring frosts. It would have been a waste of money to invest in Pinot Noir because you would have lost 3 out of 5 vintages from frost. This is/was a common occurance in Burgundy. I think Chablis had only one vintage (1958) between 55 and 62. Things were like this up until the end of the 90's. Times have changed now with global warming and its not as cold as it used to be and summer maximum temperatures are soaring.

I havent been to gippsland for a few years but Im looking forward to going there on my next trip down under. Im especially looking forward to checking out some of the boutique wineries in the Alpine Valley, apparently theres some great nebbiolo and pinot coming out of there.

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Apr 22, 2010.

Where's the Edit function?

" Things were like this up until the end of the 90's" - I'm referring to Gipsland here, not Burgundy.

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 22, 2010.

Interesting. I've only really seen the coastal parts of Gippsland. I tend to forget that Gippsland goes as far inland as it does. I wasn't aware that the Alpine Valleys region was in Gippsland, for example.

There's a number of regions across Victoria that produce interesting wines. To the west of Melbourne I've had good wines from the Macedon region -- Bress seems to be a very good winery, for example. I've also heard good things about wines from Sunbury and Heathcote ... and many other regions.

They're often hard to come by, though -- even "next door" (aka South Australia). I was in Melbourne recently, but forgot to look in any wine stores to see what I could find there. Maybe next time...

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 25, 2010.

Regarding the Burgundy region of France, I would take some issue with the idea that this wine producing region is actually cold.  If you think Beaune is cold - at approximately the centre of the Bourgogne - then your idea of temperate must be interesting.  Winter temperatures in Beaune (December through February, say) average about 6 degrees Celsius during the day and zero at night.

The summers are mild - the mid-twenties during the day and mid-teens in the evenings - so I consider this a temperate climate perfect for Pinot Noir as many have come to know and love the grape among grapes.

For comparative purposes, these temperature ranges are similar to those found in Seattle WA - though as a rule it is slightly cooler there during the summer.  Now, Chablis is cooler and more subject to frequent frosts during the budding period, but this is the relatively rare case of a marginal wine region being nurtured through difficult growing conditions to produce a very special product.

So... although Victoria State is clearly more temperate than most other regions of Australia, it is, on the whole, much drier, warmer (inland) and subject to both drought and very high summer temperatures.  As for the wine (taking the Yarra Valley as an example), I find it not in the least like typical Burgundy.  The best examples have a great deal of leather and smoke with a pruny homogeneity of flavor that still cannot match the complex brightness of the better burgundies.  I do like these Vic wines,  but they do not express the Pinot Noir the same way and may never be able to do so - if that is indeed what people are waiting for.

I have high hopes, but these have not been met to date.

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 25, 2010.

Well exposited, Zuf.

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 26, 2010.

Interesting, thanks for the thoughts. I'd admit to not knowing all that much about Burgundy: I've never been there, and mostly I can't afford to taste any of it's wines... but it's certainly a region I'd appreciate learning more about.

Victoria (it's not normally called Victoria State) certainly can get quite hot in summer, but the state's climate is quite variable both between and within regions. Melbourne in particular is known for having a very variable climate, often being said to be capable of having four seasons in one day.

With regards to regions within Victoria, the Yarra Valley does not seem to be the most interesting at the moment. Some of the lesser known regions are starting to produce some interesting wines -- though they seem hard to get.

As I noted above, I don't really know enough about Burgundy to make a comparison with Burgundy wines, though I would't be surprised that Victorian wine isn't yet up to the same level of quality as Burgundy. Australia has only been producing wine for about 150 years, it's early days yet :-).

One idea I think that they should really try to move away from is trying to emulate the wine styles of other regions: if Austrlia tries to produce a wine identical to (e.g.) Burgundy, it's always going to be at best a second-rate Burgundy imitation. The real interest is going to be from producers who are looking to explore their own area's particular terroir, and see what new and interesting wine styles that can be produced there.

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 26, 2010.

Interesting, thanks for the thoughts. I'd admit to not knowing all that much about Burgundy: I've never been there, and mostly I can't afford to taste any of it's wines... but it's certainly a region I'd appreciate learning more about.

Victoria (it's not normally called Victoria State, btw) certainly can get quite hot in summer, but the state's climate is quite variable both between and within regions. Melbourne in particular is known for having a very variable climate, often being said to be capable of having four seasons in one day.

With regards to regions within Victoria, the Yarra Valley does not seem to be the most interesting at the moment. Some of the lesser known regions are starting to produce some interesting wines -- though they seem hard to get.

As I noted above, I don't really know enough about Burgundy to make a comparison with Burgundy wines, though I would't be surprised that Victorian wine isn't yet up to the same level of quality as Burgundy. Australia has only been producing wine for about 150 years, it's early days yet :-).

One idea I think that they should really try to move away from is trying to emulate the wine styles of other regions: if Austrlia tries to produce a wine identical to (e.g.) Burgundy, it's always going to be at best a second-rate Burgundy imitation. The real interest is going to be from producers who are looking to explore their own area's particular terroir, and see what new and interesting wine styles that can be produced there.

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Reply by Charles Emilio, Apr 27, 2010.

Im not really sure what Zufrieden is referring to when he speaks about Burgundy not being  'actually' cold - that went a bit over my head. In terms of wine regions I'd always thought it was cool-climate. Obviously its not as cold as Alaska or Northern Russia but in terms of wine I always thought it was. No one was comparing Yarra Valley Pinots to those of Burgundy, I did mention that some of them showed a barnyard characteristic, does this make them Burgundian? Of course not anyway...back to Victoria in Australia.

The state of Victoria is very diverse, Yarra Valley is probably the best known region and it is basically an extention of the city of Melbourne, there's certainly some nice Pinot coming out of there but like Penguinoid alluded to, its not the most interesting as there are many other regions like Gippsland, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, Henty and the Alpine Valleys. 

These above mentioned regions couldn't be more diverse in terms of climate and soil. Compare the Alpine Valleys (the name says it all) with Henty, located 600km away on the Southern Coast where it receives icey breezes off the Great Southern Ocean which are blowing up from Arntactica. Both appelations produce stunning Pinots but in small quantities. Hopefully in the next 20 years there'll be more coming out of the region exported to the USA.

Penguinoid - you make a good point about the comparisons to Burgundy, I cant see this practice ever changing. All of the pinot producers I know in Oz are certainly terroir driven

I'm hoping to go down under next year, it's almost been 4 years and I'm hearing very exciting things down there. I'm going to spend 1 month there. One week in WA; Margaret River and Great Southern regions and 3 weeks in Victoria. Can't wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reply by zufrieden, Apr 27, 2010.

Burgundy is a temperate climatic zone with continental influences (Koppen Cfb Zone).  Coming from a truly cold country, I know about cold and wanted to be sure we were not overstating the fact that while France does indeed experience winter it's pretty mild for all that. And my point was not to suggest I have any particular monopoly on such climate information, but to help clarify the comparisons between Victoria, Australia and the Burgundy region of France.  These regions have their own particular excellences, if you will, and are in no way inferior to one another.  But they are very, very different.

Perhaps a bit of my curmudgeonly edginess did seep through, but that was likely the result of tasting a large number of vastly over-hyped Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs at a recent tasting.

:-)

 

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Reply by dmcker, Apr 27, 2010.

Penguinoid, perhaps an analogy might be a 'language' (or style) of wine. All the pinots I've enjoyed speak 'Burgundy'. Even Pyramid Valley down on N.Z.'s South Island speaks French-and-Oregon with a Kiwi accent. I have no desire at all to be forced to drink a pinot noir that speaks nasty Barossa-bomb....

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Reply by book cellar, Apr 28, 2010.

wow, this forum keeps going and going! I just had to add my two cents.

When I think of Auatralilan wines the first that come to mind are those that are very colorful and eye catching with the cute little penguins and kangaroos ALL OVER!!! They are hard to miss since they are on the end cap of many general grocery store wines aisles, ON SALE only $6.99!!!! you save $1!!! Ok I admit, they caught me.  Little Penguin, Yellow Tail and Alice White, they all got my money more then once BUT, in my defense I was a single mother of two just getting into wine and didn't know any better.  They were fruity and yummy, and those are childs words.  I am proud to say I have moved on from "yummy" wines to wines that I enjoy and appreciate. 

When I think of Australian wines, cab mixes come to mind.  I've tried Red Knot and Evil which are still on the fruity side but are heading in the better direction.  I honestly don't recall the names of some of the better ones that I get to "treat" myself with, I still have a lower budget but, a local winery has a wonderful australilan section where almost anything I grab is wonderful, more oak flavors then fruit.

So, as I've matured in my wine adventure, I think I've found more and more Australian wines without cartoon labels that I have come to appreciate, just have to EXPLORE and spend a little more. Also, I am happy to say at least even the cheaper wines come with corks!!!

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Reply by penguinoid, Apr 29, 2010.

dmcker - I agree, a Barossa fruit-bomb style Pinot Noir is the stuff of nightmares. I don't think anybody grows Pinot Noir in the Barossa, and with good reason. It's not suited for that region at all.

But that's not quite what I meant. I just meant that producers should make wine that reflects the terroir of their vineyard, not to try to slavishly copy another country or region's winestyle. There will probably be similarities with, say, Burgundian Pinot Noir -- but it won't be a carbon copy.

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Reply by Cathy Shore, Apr 30, 2010.

Ah, Hunter Valley Semillon, Clare Valley Riesling, Rutherglen Muscats... if only I could get my hands on them in France.  Sorry - on the whole v fruity style Aussie reds don't do it for me but it wouldn't be fair to put them all in this category.  If only I could access them.



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