As we come to the end of a tremendously exciting year for Australian wine, regular Wine Australia contributor Jamie Goode looks forward to 2017 with a real sense of excitement…
Australian Wine: A Bright 2017?
2016 is coming to a close, and it’s time to look forward to what 2017 might have in store. The last year has been a good year for Australian wine, but I think that 2017 will be a particularly exciting one. I asked Sue Bell of Bellwether wines what the trend for Aussie wine will be in 2017. Her answer was brief:
‘I think optimism,’ she replied. ‘That is the trend for 2017: demand for fruit is higher than it has been in years, and the comprehension of a quality focus, or experimentation is rampant.’
One of the big changes has been in the shape of the red wine market. In the past, there would be the expensive fine wines and inexpensive wines made to look and taste like cheaper versions of the expensive ones. Thus, the success of a less expensive wine would be how closely it mimicked the grand wines; with dense colour, some oak influence, and rich ripe fruit flavours. This has changed, and now producers are realizing the market is ready for lighter-style red wines that are more honest, and much more drinkable.
New Wines Springing Up
This shift has been reflected in the rise of ‘spring releases’ of what are commonly known by the French term of vins de soif.
‘This category has been growing in the last couple of years and it’s set to boom in 2017 I reckon,’ says Tim Wildman MW, who runs James Busby Travel and also makes his own wine. ‘Young, fresh, unoaked, often preservative-free reds, these wines are becoming popular not only with punters but with winemakers as they offer great cash flow.’ Wildman says that this trend started about five years ago with Steve Pannell’s Tempranillo Touriga. ‘It seemed to be the law to have it on every bar list in Melbourne and Sydney. Then a few larger players dipped their toe in the water, Bosworth with The Puritan Shiraz and Yangarra with PF Shiraz. To their surprise these wines started out-selling their classic cuvées, and often were the wine that opened up new markets overseas.’
Gradually more of these lighter reds were produced, and the advantage is that it’s easy to ramp up volumes because they are about a style rather than grape varieties or regions. ‘The natural guys, particularly in the Basket Range [Adelaide Hills], have been onto this style for the last few years, but now the separation of these soif reds and the rest of their ranges is becoming clearer and more formalized,’ explains Wildman. ‘So for the last couple of years we’ve seen people like James Erskine (Jauma), Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux) and Taras Ochota (Ochota Barrels) come out with "Spring Releases" around July / August time then their “Summer Releases” of more serious (and expensive) wine around November.’
2017: Australia’s Year of Grenache?
2017 will also be a good year for Grenache. It’s a grape whose time has come, and has indeed been coming for a few years. It’s a warm-climate grape that does particularly well in regions such as McLaren Vale. Now that consumers have got over their strange obsession with dark colour and lots of structure in their red wines, Grenache is allowed to do what it does best: make elegant, perfumed, somewhat lighter-coloured reds that are the equivalent of the Pinot Noir of the warmer climates.
Pinot Noir is also going from strength to strength, and superb examples are coming from Tasmania, Mornington Peninsular, Macedon Ranges and cooler parts of the Yarra Valley. 2017 will be a good year for Pinot, and also for Australian wines’ cool climate regions generally.
Chardonnay is one grape where there has been a shift in style, and 2017 could see it become even more interesting. ‘As you’re well aware there’s been a trend for quite a few years for "size zero” Chardonnay, early picked, skinny and with a very strong sulphidy character,’ says Wildman. ‘The better examples of these wines have dominated at the wine shows and therefore have further driven the style (think Vasse Felix Heytesbury, Penfolds Bin A, Oakridge 864). ’However, this style of Chardonnay has come under criticism because it’s almost as if the foot has been made to fit the slipper, and they aren’t actually all that nice to drink. As a consequence, Wildman notes, there are now fewer wines in this skinny-sulphidy style being seen. ‘The pendulum seems to have swung back (rapidly) towards the middle ground, where the wines have some weight, texture and ripeness, are not afraid of some new oak, and the sulphides have been dialed back to just a whisper of struck match, making the wines not too skinny, not too fat, but "just right”.’ He reckons that as the 2016 wines hit the shelves next year this trend for more balanced wines will increase.
Natural Wines To Enjoy A Natural Progression
The natural wine scene has continued to grow organically, and the good news is that the wines are getting better. Expect to see more of these in 2017. ‘The "natural" style of wine has been a big thing,’ says Patrick Sullivan, who makes wine in Gippsland, Victoria. ‘There seems to be a group of producers that have become more focused on purity and vineyards. Making things that are still very much sulfur-free and many are now organic but with a different level of precision.’ He names some names: ‘Jauma and Si Vintners are prime examples where the wines are just getting better and better. My own wines have improved out of sight! Newcomers such as Manon are making some of the most interesting yet pure wine I have tried. It seems that people were buying crazy Aussie wine for the wow and fun factor but then would revert to drinking French or Italian for the pleasure. This year it will be the start of people drinking Aussie wines that are truly on the same level.’
Pet Nat Is The New Orange
Two styles of wines that have come out of nowhere and could make more of a splash in 2017 are orange whites and pét-nats (short for pétillant naturels, sparkling wines made by bottling still not fully-fermented must). ‘Going back three years you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of producers in the country making these styles of wine, but this year they’ve exploded onto the scene and next year will boom,’ says Wildman, who makes his own pét-nat. ‘When I made my first pét-nat in 2014 there were about six producers of the style at the time. From the 2016 vintage, I reckon there must be close to fifty producers with a pét-nat.’
Wildman continues, ‘I guess the over-riding "meta-trend" is that there are now enough small producers that their combined presence is shifting the market. These small, often new, producers are completely dominating restaurant and bar lists across the country, often with progressive styles that could loosely fall under the banner of natural, with the consequence that the large companies, both corporate and privately owned, are largely irrelevant to the growing sector of millennial consumers. It's going to be interesting to see how they fight back, for now I’ve not seen any signs that they are, but it’s bound to happen.’
Taste The Change At The 2017 Australia Day Tastings
So, 2017 looks set to be an interesting year for Australian wine, and what better way to begin it than at the Australia Day tasting in London on 24 January. There will be a great cross-section of interesting producers attending, and there’s never been a better time to look and see what’s going on in this most innovative of wine countries.
Jamie Goode is leading British wine writer and journalist and creator of the acclaimed Wine Anorak wine blog.
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