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Australian wine: an alternative view

Market Bulletin | Issue 64

20 Jun 2017
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The richness and diversity of Australian wine is nowhere more evident than when looking at the ‘alternative varieties’ that we produce. While they are small in volume, they are big on unique expression, innovation and consumer appeal.

What exactly is an alternative variety?

Australian alternative varieties are all varieties that are not mainstream and not extensively planted.

The Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) defines eligible varieties by exclusion. Back in 2009, Pinot Gris/Grigio was the alternative variety that made up the largest number of entries in the AAVWS. The next year it was included on the list of exclusions. Those currently not eligible are wines or blends made primarily from the varieties Muscat Gordo, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Colombard, Grenache and Verdelho. 

This leaves more than 100 varieties that are grown in Australia as eligible. Some of them are rare in Australia, such as Assyrtiko and Saperavi that are only planted by a handful of our nearly 6000 grapegrowers, and some might be on the verge of graduating to mainstream, like Tempranillo and Sangiovese.

Which are the alternative varieties to watch?

Tempranillo is gaining considerable traction, with exports growing by 28 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March 2017. It is now the 16th most valuable export by varietal label claim (including blends with the varietal as the first name).

The top three markets for Tempranillo are China, the United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand, with all three growing strongly in the past 12 months. Exports to the UK grew by 33 per cent, against a backdrop of declining shipments after the Brexit vote. It has also been the leading variety in the past four AAVWS, with more than 70 entries each year.

One of the most exciting alternative varieties currently is Nero d’Avola. This variety won the ‘Best wine in show’ at the AAVWS in 2016 and ‘best red wine’ the year before.

James Halliday has called it ‘the new black’ and described it as highly suited to Australia’s dry climate as well as to modern consumer tastes. Plantings of Nero d’Avola nearly tripled from 2012 to 2015, but they still only amount to less than 100 ha across Australia (ABS 2015), and exports, while growing, were valued at less than $80,000 in the past 12 months.

Among the whites, Vermentino and Fiano have stood out in recent years at the AVVWS, winning ‘Best wine in show 2015’ and ‘Best white wine 2016’ respectively, while plantings and exports are showing strong growth off low bases.

Reflecting the strong interest among consumers and the depth of the offerings available, the Wine Australia Alternative Varieties tasting in London on 28 June will feature 120 wines from more than 30 producers. Arneis, Friulano, Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Assyrtiko, Sagrantino, Taminga, Teroldego and Saperavi are just some of the varieties in the line-up.

Nero d’Avola and Fiano Pictures courtesy Kim Chalmers

Nero d’Avola and Fiano - Pictures courtesy Kim Chalmers

This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.