The pendulum of Australian wine

The face of Australian wine – similar to many other New World countries – is changing, and thankfully, for the better.

Matt Smith, Bibendum buyer for Australia, explains: “The Australian wine scene has been like a pendulum in the past, constantly swinging between extremes of style – we’ve seen the big, buttery Chardonnays of the 1990s, followed by the lean, mean expressions of the 2000s. Now, we are somewhere in the middle – we have reached a place of equilibrium where it’s all about diversity, balance and elegance.”

Having recently returned from a buying trip to Australia – selecting some fantastic new wines to join our portfolio in March – Matt explains that the domestic scene is very exciting. “There are lots of young winemakers, a new generation with a new way of thinking,” he says. “Theirs is very much a DIY approach with huge amounts of diversity, albeit with varying levels of success. Those who are succeeding are generally well schooled and well versed in winegrowing and making. Now they are experimenting and pushing the boundaries, but in the right way.”

Hayden Balkwell of MEATliquor is a proponent of ‘proper’ Aussie wine and agrees that things have changed a lot. “Australian wine flooded the UK years ago, and the British were quick to adopt their punchy, full-bodied, sun-drenched styles. Australian wines were everywhere and the quality wasn’t great. Now we’re seeing more winegrowers making more regional styles, with more emphasis on the land and better quality wines.”

“There are lots of young winemakers, a new generation with a new way of thinking,” - Matt Smith, Bibendum buyer for Australia

So while the pendulum has moved, has the UK market accepted and embraced this change in style? Shane Boyce, Bibendum account manager for London, explains, “Australia was one of the biggest culprits for over extracting, using too much oak and creating punchy fruitbombs. Many of the younger generation of winemakers are now making more elegant and restrained styles and I think people are starting to recognise that there are very good examples coming out of Australia.

“However, it can still be tricky. When someone sees an Aussie Chardonnay or Shiraz on a wine list or in a shop (myself included if it’s a producer I don’t know), the automatic assumption is that it will be big, ripe and punchy. There needs to be more direction from restaurant staff or wine lists to inform consumers of the style that can be expected.”

In celebration of Australia Day on 26 January, we’ve picked four of our favourite Aussie producers:

Josef Chromy | Tasmania

Josef Chromy is a living legend in Tasmania – and the winery is a true success story. Since arriving as a 19 year old refugee from Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia, Josef has been the driving force behind the Tasmanian wine scene. He was a major investor in the early days of Tasmanian winemaking and has been involved with many of the island’s leading wineries, before establishing his eponymous winery at the age of 76.

Chief winemaker Jeremy Dineen’s style is about showing a true ‘sense of place’ and celebrating the individual characteristics of each unique vintage. Producing an incredible traditional method sparkling, Tasmania is regarded as the ideal location for top-notch Australian sparkling – with the fantastic combination of cool climate and lots of sunshine hours.

Julian Bicknell, Bibendum account manager for London, says, “Tasmanians call the rest of Australia ‘the North Island’ – and they have every right to be boisterous. The Josef Chromy Sparkling NV is attractive pale straw with a vibrant nose of lemon and lime juice, granny smith apples and a waft of fresh bread. The explosive palate is textural with hay, orchard fruit and the faintest hint of fennel. A dry, uber-fresh finish completes this sensational Pinot Noir heavy Champagne method sparkler. Bravo ‘South Island’!"

Top pick: Josef Chromy Sparkling NV

Read Richard Siddle's interview with winemaker Jeremy.

Fraser Gallop Estate | Margaret River

Set in 165 acres of pristine Wilyabrup countryside in the Margaret River is the Fraser Gallop vineyard. Margaret River legend, winemaker Nigel Gallop always dreamt of crafting incredibly complex wines, and that is precisely what he has done. The Fraser Gallop wines are intensely flavoured, textured and complex – with great balance and careful use of oak. With huge attention to detail and real care during harvesting and selection, the wines are lean, restrained and perfectly elegant.

Top pick: Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre Chardonnay 2015

VineMind | Clare Valley

is contemporary Australian winemaking at its best. VineMind was created by Col McBryde and Jen Gardner of Some Young Punks, who are considered the original new wave, negociant-style Australian winemakers. Sourcing grapes from great parcels across Clare Valley, they know how to coax the best out of it, in a very hands-off approach.

The Shiraz Malbec is inspired by old-school Clare reds, honouring Malbec’s traditional history and popularity in Clare long before its days as an Argentinean superstar. Willie Lebus, Bibendum wine development director, says, “VineMind is a cerebral examination of the Clare Valley terroir by Col and Jen. Be prepared for purity, sensuality, precision and pleasure. The Shiraz Malbec has lovely dark, brooding aromas of mulberries with hints of cocoa and coffee shards. The flavours are based on juicy, inky black mulberries, set off by chocolate and coffee, with lots of fresh acidity.”

Top pick: VineMind Shiraz Malbec 2015

Mount Langi Ghiran | Grampians, Victoria

Home to Australia’s finest cool climate Shiraz, this is where chief winemaker (and hipster) Ben Haines, together with winemaker Kate Petering, craft incredible on-point wines.

Although the climate at Mount Langi Ghiran is marginal for grape growing, it’s ideal for producing distinct cool climate wines. The vineyards are situated at the base of the 922m cliff face of Mount Langi Ghiran, approximately 3km from the equally majestic Mount Cole. Together, the two mountains create a cooling effect as cold air tumbles down the mountains and flows through the valley at night. Under these conditions berry ripening is slow, so grapes retain excellent acidity levels and produce the intense fruit flavours for which the Langi wines are known.

Matt Smith, Bibendum buyer for Australia, says, “This is the epitome of what a modern, cool climate Aussie Shiraz should be. Winemaker Ben Haines is taking Mount Langi to another level. Crunchy dark cherry fruit with a fantastic lift of pepper and spice reminiscent of the great appellations of the Northern Rhone. The wine is concentrated but savoury, complex and elegant.”

Top pick: Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2014

Try our quiz to test your knowledge on all things Australia.

Born into the world of wine, Elona grew up on a wine farm in South Africa. After graduating from the University of Stellenbosch with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology, she completed a couple of harvests before joining South Africa’s producer-focused magazine WineLand as journalist. A move to London meant a new adventure and Elona joined Bibendum’s marketing team to head up brand communications.

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