On 24 January Wine Australia began the 2017 Australia Day Tastings (ADT), the annual showcase of some of the best wines that Australia has to offer. Over the years, the Australia Day Tastings have become a fixture in the trade’s tasting diary, so that they are now must-attend events that not only give wine professionals the chance to taste the latest crop of great Australian wines, but also to meet the people behind them.
In keeping with the general buzz that has surrounded Australian wine over the past 12 months, there was an unusually high level of excitement regarding this year’s ADT. Having heard so much about Australia’s new, so-called ‘alternative varieties’ and cool climate wines I was ready to be wowed. And even though I’ve been attending ADTs for over 20 years, wowed I was…
ADT London 2017: New venue
This year’s ADT London took place in B1 on Southampton Row, a new, larger venue that was set to house the biggest London ADT yet. In terms of a tasting space it was ideal. The bare white walls and ample lighting made evaluating the wines easy and you weren’t tasting cheek-by-jowl either, something that has been a problem at many tastings of late. The 1,100 wines on show were easy to find and because there was so much space you had time to linger at tables that were of particular interest. I spent a good twenty minutes going through the wines from Turkey Flat Vineyards and could have spent another twenty admiring their fleshy, ripe, wonderfully balanced Mataro 2015.
ADT London 2017: New regions
The number of wines on show was impressive – the ADT London is, after all, the largest Australian wine tasting outside Australia – but more extraordinary was the diversity on show. A few years back the ADT showed hundreds of wines but these were mainly drawn from the classic regions – the Barossa, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Margaret River and the like. This year there were wines on show from 31 different regions. Some of these were familiar to me - such as the rising cool climate stars of Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania and Adelaide Hills – while others had me reaching for the ADT guide to see where Wrattonbully and the Pyrenees were. Such a show of regional diversity was completely in-line with winemakers’ growing interest in formerly overlooked vineyard areas and consumers’ demand for a greater range of wines from Australia.
ADT London 2017: Classic wines
And it wasn’t just regional diversity that was evident at the ADT, vines and wines showed a far greater spread than one could have expected even a couple of years back. Whichever table you visited, there seemed to be something that surprised you. For instance; while Australia has had plantings of Sangiovese since the 1970s it’s only been recently that interest in this potentially high-quality, potentially well-suited to Australian terroir, grape has emerged. Pizzini showed two excellent examples of what this variety can do. Their King Valley 2014 was ripe, fleshy, sweetly toned with a good blend of red cherries and savoury almonds, while their ‘Pietra Rossa’ had extra weight and an intriguing tone of mocha blended with tangy raspberry acidity. Pizzini also showed their Nebbiolo. This notoriously fussy vine seems to like the King Valley, and this one had all the lovely, dense black fruits and savoury, almost leathery tones of classic Nebbiolo but it was somewhat less austere and had real charm.
A white Italian classic that grabbed my attention was Coriole’s McLaren Vale Fiano. Zesty and fresh, with gloriously well-defined fruit, this is about as good a Fiano as I’ve had - quality that is reflected in its £16.75 a bottle price tag. Another wine that showed Australia’s faith in alternative varieties ability to achieve premium pricing was Quealy Winemakers’ Mornington Peninsula Musk Creek Pinot Gris. Aromatic, weighty and packed with white fruits with hints of nuts and spices, £24 puts it firmly at the premium end of the market; a space that it not only deserves but in which it is most likely to succeed.
To focus entirely on the new would be to the ADT an injustice and to overlook what was, in many ways, even more surprising; the scope of styles that the established classic varieties now offer. Take Chardonnay for example. The dozens of Chardonnays on offer ran the gamut from the traditional, ripe, buttery brilliance of Leeuwin’s Art Series to the restraint and elegance of Simon Hackett Wines’ Adelaide Hills Chardonnay. Diversity such as this is not only a testament to Australia’s climatic diversity, but also to the varying goals of Australia’s winemakers. This multiplicity of offerings from a single variety is not only exciting from a critic’s point of view, it also gives consumers the choice they are increasingly seeking.
ADT London 2017: Renewed excitement
There was a tangible buzz about the ADT this year. There seemed to be an expectation that something special awaited and that the story of reinvention and (r)evolution which has been Australian wine’s narrative for some years now would have additional chapters added to it. It was an expectation that was exceeded. There were so many wines that surprised – Jim Barry’s much-vaunted new Assyrtiko was just as fresh, vibrant and complex as I’d hoped – and others, while not new, just delighted; the memory of Cape Mentelle’s Margaret River Cabernet 2012 will stay with me for some time, I suspect. Overall the standard of wines on show was breath-taking and the number of styles on offer was astounding.
ADT Edinburgh: Excitement & refinement
By all accounts the Edinburgh ADT was an absolute triumph. With 380 wines on show, the 160 press, wine educators and trade who gathered at the Balmoral Hotel – a new venue for 2017 - were treated to a tasting of superb wines in elegant surroundings.
Iconic winemakers. Iconic wines
Tasters were greeted by 15 winery principles which included some big names, including Kym Milne MW, Jane Campbell and Olivia Barry. They also had the chance to sample some of Australia’s most renowned fine wines, including d’Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz, Henschke’s Julius Riesling and Clonakilla’s ‘Hilltops’ Shiraz. They were also given the opportunity to enjoy some of Australia’s new-wave artisanal wines from the likes of Bremerton, Gembrook Hill and the innovative wines of Lethbridge.
As with the London ADT, there was a great deal of interest shown in alternative varieties. At the Edinburgh ADT, a focus table with 20 wines made from alternative grape varieties was on set up which showed wines not seen before in the Scottish trade. Alternative varieties on offer included Dolcetto, Gruner Veltliner, Negroamaro, Roussanne, Sangiovese and Touriga Nacional.
ADT Edinburgh master class
A real highlight of the day was the master class hosted by Wine Australia’s Mark Davidson and Emma Symington MW on how vine age impacts on wine quality and complexity. This fascinating tasting featured wines produced from some of the Australia’s oldest vines – some of which dated back to the 1840s - which were considered alongside famous wines made from younger vines. Wines on show included Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling and Hewitson’s Old Garden Mourvedre. Quite a line up.
All-in-all the Edinburgh ADT was a huge success and offered the Scottish trade a glimpse of a new and exciting Australian wine scene.
The Dublin ADT, held this year at the RHA Gallery, gave the 115 attendees the chance to taste a diverse range of over 200 Australian wines. Given both the market’s size and the relatively small population, the Dublin ADT is traditionally a more intimate affair and so it proved to be in 2017. The quality of the attendees – both in terms of visitors and exhibitors – was exceptional as ever.
Trade ‘Inspired Tasting’
The focus table was a real source of interest and the instigator of many a conversation on the developments in the Australian wine scene. The tasting also saw another unusual line up of wines, in this case a selection chosen not by exhibitors, but by members of the Irish wine trade. Eight leading members of the Irish wine trade, who have visited Australia over the last few years, were asked to nominate wines that had ignited their love for Australian wine or which held special significance for them. The collection – which ranged from sparkling to sweet– was a huge hit with all those who visited it.
The inspired theme continued with the master class, this time hosted by leading Irish wine writer Liam Campbell, who took 25 attendees on a journey through the vineyards, vines and wines of Australia following his 2016 Wine Australia tour. A natural orator, Liam’s tasting was met with a great response from the audience and rounded off a wonderful set of Australia Day Tastings.