We believe it was the legendary southern-hemisphere winemaker LL Cool J who said of the Australian wine industry, “don’t call it a comeback!”
Regardless of what LL Cool J reckons, Australia has seen a bit of a comeback; for much of the 90s, English consumers grew tired of over-oaked, over-ripe and over-extracted Australian wines. This led to an over-correction in the noughties; Australian winemakers started picking grapes too early in an attempt to replicate a leaner ‘old world’ style. Yet, just like that girl who burgled those charming bears, in recent years, many Australian winemakers have gotten it just right.
A significant cause of this evolution is an increased interest in cool climate sites and better matching of grapes with vineyards in these locations. You may technically be able to grow irrigated Pinot Noir in the middle of the outback with an average summer temperature of 45C, but it’ll probably taste like a mix of fermented jam and bush fire. Nope. Quality focused, boutique wineries are finding sites at higher altitude, on the coast and further south to preserve the aromatics and acidity that define varieties like Pinot and we have no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of these regions in the UK. Here’s the 3 regions that we think are particularly worth looking out for.
The Yarra Valley, Victoria, is half an hour from Melbourne meaning wine tourism and ‘cellar door’ sales are a huge part of the regions market as is the Melbourne on-trade. In the past this has meant the most interesting Yarra wines have stayed fairly local, although today some great boutique wines can be found further afield (like in Oddbins for example.) Along with a booming sparkling wine industry, some of the finest Australian Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are made here a long with plenty of experimentation with semi-aromatic grapes such as Pinot Gris and some Italian varieties.
Plantings took off as major producers started to look for cool growing sites in southern Australia. Adelaide Hills, particularly in the sub-region of the Mt Lofty Ranges, is one of the few regions in Oz with any elevation. The best vineyards are at about 500m altitude, not particularly high but enough to significantly cool the grapes at night. This is why Shiraz grown in Adelaide Hills can be so distinctly herbal. Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay are also widely grown here but producers such as Longview are experimenting greatly with varieties in the hills, with increasing plantings of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Barbera and Grüner Veltliner.
Is 45-minutes’ drive to the south of Adelaide, on the coast. This proximity to the ocean means there is considerable variation in climate depending on how exposed the vineyards are to the maritime influences. One of the major challenges for the region is, like much of Australia, a lack of water and restrictions on irrigation. It is because of this that the virtues of old vine Grenache, that have roots deep enough not to require irrigation, have been discovered. It is for these wines that McLaren Vale has garnered most international attention, both as a single variety and in blends with Shiraz and Mourvedre, which many consider to be Australia’s best Rhone style reds.