In the United States, Australia is widely thought of as a producer of red wines. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Australia’s dizzying popularity in the 1990s and 2000s was defined by the excessive bang a red wine drinker could obtain for his or her buck. When Australia fell out of favor, in the early oughts, everyone pointed the finger at Shiraz. After years of supplying consumers with exactly what they were looking for, suddenly Australia was a one-trick pony.
Fortunately, times have changed, and Australian wine in the US has become the subject of a very different conversation. With Americans drinking fewer bottles of Australian wine but paying more for what they do drink, the door has opened for higher quality wines to find a place in the market.
At the first Australia Up Close seminar, in Los Angeles on May 30, the focus is on white wines: in particular, Semillon, Riesling and Chardonnay. All very different varieties, but all made to a high standard in diverse and wide ranging areas within Australia.
Riesling vines were planted in Australia at least as early as the 1830s, and from humble beginnings as a workhorse grape it has grown into something of a national obsession. Some of Australia’s most admired winemakers – Jeffrey Grosset, Louisa Rose, John Vickery – are known for making great Riesling. And selections in retail shops and on restaurant wine lists Down Under tend to be long and well-priced.
One of the reasons for Riesling’s popularity in Australia can be summed up in five simple words; it is almost always dry. Australian food also lends itself to Riesling: the floral, citrus characters often found pair perfectly with seafood and a range of spicy Asian foods.
“One of my favorite ways to blow a customer's mind is to wait for someone who mentions they don't drink Riesling because ‘it's too sweet’,” said Matt Kaner, proprietor of LA wine bars Augustine and Covell. “This is game on for me. Pewsey Vale comes out of the arsenal and commence the blowing of minds!”
From one high-acid, delicate, intense aromatic white grape to another, the seminar also features four examples of Semillon. Despite its French name, Jancis Robinson memorably summed up Hunter Valley Semillon as “Australia’s great gift to the wine world”. Margaret River and some areas in Victoria are also known for growing and producing lively Semillon with protracted aging potential.
“Whilst people often think of Australia as the producer of ‘big reds’, it’s in the white wine arena where we can illustrate quality and finesse. And one variety that nails flavor and character is Semillon,” says Bruce Tyrrell of the Hunter Valley’s Tyrrell’s Wines, adding that some of his Semillon vines are over 100 years old. One of Australia’s most famous Semillons, the Tyrrell’s Vat 1, is now sold on allocation – a sign that the variety may be headed for an upswing in popularity.
It is Australia’s most widely planted white grape, Chardonnay, that demands the most attention. No other white variety better illustrates the differences in style, flavor profile and personality on display across dozens of regions. Chardonnay accounts for nearly half of Australia’s white grape plantings (see chart) and more and more top quality Chardonnay wines are now making their way to the US.
Australia has had a quirky history with the Chardonnay grape. By most accounts, it was introduced in the early 1900s but only gained an identity as a bottled dry wine in the 1970s. In the 80s and 90s, Aussie Chard (or Chaaahdie!) tended to be oaky, fat and guzzled without much talk of acid and longevity. A decade or so ago, unwooded Chardonnay flew off the shelves as people found respite in cleaner, lighter flavors. Some producers, though, like Leeuwin Estate, Giaconda, Vasse Felix and Petaluma, quietly cultivated a reputation for excellent Chardonnay capable of developing for years in the cellar.
After swinging from gooey and rich to lighter and more food-friendly in the mainstream, the Australian Chardonnay pendulum has settled somewhere in the middle. There is breathtaking diversity of style, and the grape grows in myriad parts of the country. Although the region is only 50 years old, Margaret River in Western Australia has developed a reputation as one of the best places to make Chardonnay, bolstered its proximity to the ocean and unique wind patterns and microsites.
“Margaret River’s a happening spot. There’s still so much potential - although the wines are already at an extremely high level,” says Wine Exchange’s Kyle Meyer.
For anyone who thinks Australia just makes reds, this collection of wines should serve as a powerful rejoinder. And Los Angeles is just the first stop on the tour. Explore more of what makes Australian wine so exciting in this four-part series.
Trade and media in Los Angeles are invited to attend our seminar and tasting on May 30. RSVP today.
This information is presented in good faith and on the basis that Wine Australia, nor their agents or employees, are liable (whether by reason of error, omission, negligence, lack of care or otherwise) to any person for any damage or loss whatsoever which has occurred or may occur in relation to that person taking or not taking (as the case may be) action in respect of any statement, information or advice given via this channel.