A Touch of Sun in Winter

I am transporting us down under to look at the amazing rise in popularity of Australian  wines. The snow is falling here and I want to think about the traditional winter tipples such as mulled wines later. Meanwhile, a trip Down Under throws up some interesting facts while we contemplate their summer.

Australian winegrowers have had their ups and downs over recent history. They were ordered to pull up vines to overcome a glut of winegrapes in the late 80’s when the perception was of mass produced wines of less quality and low price.  However, since then, there has been a considerable amount of work done not only by the big brands like Hardy’s but also from smaller winegrowers to market the wines.  Australian winegrowers travel the world to pick up on the best practices in other areas.

Recently there has been interest and investment in biodynamic wines and organic wines.  Biodynamic has a slightly hippy feel to it using techniques such as the tides and position of stars to decide the best time for planting, harvesting etc; but in fact these are techniques used from almost biblical times and some make perfect sense.  Hopefully the recession will not hit these producers too hard as in my book, they are the giving the real organic message, you can grow without chemicals but it does cost more.

Australia has no native grape varieties so the  major grape varieties that have been imported and developed are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Riesling.  The passion of the winemakers shows  – they are constantly experimenting and researching the very best techniques. 

Australia, unlike Europe, does not have stringent rules governing labeling and production, which, on the one hand lends itself to a more experimental industry with constant improvement of wine and on the other, leads sometimes to difficulties in understanding the quality of the wine.  For example, in France, Champagne has to come from the Champagne district, so there is a comfort in their labeling.  Australia puts the grape variety on the bottle. This took Europe by surprise and the consumers loved it as they could understand and experiment with different pronounceable wines. France is catching up now!

Australia’s most notable and expensive vineyard is Penfolds Grange.  Shaking off previous ideas about cheap and cheerful wines, the famous and  influential wine critic Robert Parker has written that Grange “has replaced Bordeaux’s Pétrus as the world’s most exotic and concentrated wine”.

Australia is known for its gutsy Shiraz which brings me back to our Lothian snow.  Mulled wine should not be any old red; I would recommend a quality 14% (some of the alcohol will dissipate) Shiraz for a really warming wine edged with cinnamon and nutmeg.

So, while the sun is shining in Australia, we can kick back and enjoy our crisp winter – who wants a barbeque on the beach on Christmas day anyway? Just relax with a glass of Australian sunshine in front of your roaring fire.

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