What you need know before taking a sip of Australian Wine

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New Delhi | Updated: October 7, 2018 2:22:27 AM

Well—and especially since I’m making a case for Australian wines here today—for a country/continent/island that is many times bigger than western and central Europe combined, it is quite a poor show to club its wines under one generic nomenclature.

Australian wines can carry the names of the (sub-)region, grape and vintage, provided they are 85% composed of what is stated on the label. (Representational photo)

It used to amuse me no end—’amuse’ in the way that only stupidity can—that most books and sites on wines would dedicate entire volumes to wines of European origin, from Champagne to Chianti, Barolo to Bordeaux and Burgundy. But when it comes to wines from the New World—a term I find terrifyingly typecasting—they are all bundled into a few fuzzily-compiled pages. Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia are given the same index space as, say, Burgundy, or not even. Pages discuss how the Left and Right Banks in Bordeaux have different terroirs, but it’s considered sufficient to include only a couple of ‘Australian wines’ on a wine list.

Well—and especially since I’m making a case for Australian wines here today—for a country/continent/island that is many times bigger than western and central Europe combined, it is quite a poor show to club its wines under one generic nomenclature. But the problem isn’t just one for the sommelier and international diner. Because, for the longest time, the only thing we knew of Oz wines could be summed up with a handful of brands, which probably shopped for grapes all across the three south-eastern Australian states, and made some generic wine from them that was less vineyard and more lab-farmed. Consequently, the idea of Oz wines that came to rest was one of generic tastes, with no sense of provenance or, for lack of a better word, ‘terroir’.

While nothing could be further from the truth, we, in India, have been quite starved when it comes to truly quality Oz wines. So recently, when we had some winemakers from the states of Victoria and New South Wales come down (or should that be, up?) to visit us and share some of their ware with us, I was only too pleased to play a small part in helping disseminate the knowledge, especially the liquid kind, among the right crowd. Here are a few things that you may wish to keep in mind next time:

– Australian wines can carry the names of the (sub-)region, grape and vintage, provided they are 85% composed of what is stated on the label
– They don’t dictate what grape to grow in which area, but common knowledge of local climate over time has helped chalk out ‘regional heroes’. Hunter Valley Semillon and Yarra Valley Shiraz are two such examples. One may experiment and, in the process, create a new regional hero over time, but it is all up to the winemakers really
– NSW isn’t just Hunter Valley; look out for other regions like Orange, Hilltops, Tumbarumba and Riverina
– Similarly, Victoria extends beyond Yarra to include Heathcote, Rutherglen, Mornington and Grampians, among a host of others
– Contrary to popular belief, they don’t just make dry wines down there. Late Harvest Hunter Valley Semillon from NSW and Topaque from Rutherglen in Victoria are two sweet wines that could go toe to toe with just about any bottle out there
– All Oz wine isn’t sold in AUD$5 bin sales. They make wines that can not only age like the top wines of the world, but can cost as much too. Many of these prized bottles are hard to find, are only sold through auctions, win numerous awards and competitions, and still rock a screw cap!

We had a few days of some spectacular tastings in Delhi and Mumbai, for these were wines that showed regional character; this was nature bottled and sent to us. Unlike the generic stuff, which can be easily replaced, there is just no substituting a wine that comes with the stamp of provenance. It is only once we move beyond the basic entry-level stuff will we find craft that can not only dazzle, but also polarise, making us choose our favourites from the many regional options, allowing us to cultivate and nurture our own taste and cellar profile.

Generic Shiraz tastes of nothing, no matter where it comes from, but a Victorian Shiraz, an Orange Shiraz, and a Northern Rhone Syrah all have their own identity and separate place on our shelves, to cohabit without really competing.

I certainly hope that these two tastings will help change mindsets, allowing hoteliers and importers to broaden their visions with their wine offerings, to expand the heading of Australian wines into sub-regions and styles, to give this massive southern hemisphere winemaking behemoth the credit (and shelf space) it truly deserves.

-The writer is a sommelier

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