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The Regionality of Australia


An Article by Andrew Coghlan BA MHCIMA (managing director and buyer Barrels and Bottles)

Australian wines have long been thought of as full of flavour if a little one dimensional. Barrels and Bottles, wine merchants and suppliers to the premium restaurant sector in the UK Southern Ireland and the Channel Islands examines the sweeping change in the way that Australians look at their own industry and how it will effect what we as consumers buy.

Australia is a vast continent with tremendously variable features, yet we in the UK have traditionally treated Australia as a country which offers the same wines from the East coast around Sydney and the Hunter Valley to the westerly lying Margaret River area around Perth. This is a phenomenon which just wouldn’t happen in France or Italy, or even in the changing valleys of Chile. We wouldn’t dream of comparing a Chateauneuf du pape from the Rhone Valley with a Red Bordeaux or a light Pinot Noir from Burgundy, just as we wouldn’t compare a light red wine from Piedmont to a rich Barolo from Tuscany. Australia in reality is no different. Their industry started when the Governor of Australia landed resplendent with vines from the Cape area of South Africa and duly planted the first vines only a couple of hundred years ago. The term New World seems almost exclusively to be applied to Australian wines as a whole, although this term generally refers to Southern Versus Northern Hemisphere wines, with the exception of North America and we can sometimes miss the variety on offer from such a huge growing area.

This is a subject we will examine in greater detail later this year, when Wine Writer of the Year 2006, Christine Austin, visits our Sheepbridge cellars to host a tasting dinner on this very subject. Here we will taste and try wines from the Orange County and compare them to those from Coonawarra, Margaret River, Yarra Valley and even the Adelaide Hills. Anyone who grows fruit knows that even the slightest change to a plant’s position can alter the harvest that you will crop from it. Where one vine is located perfectly to capture the sun, another may be too shaded or the soil may be too moist to perfectly suit its fruit. Imagine then the vast differences which can affect a vine grown on the east coast to one grown in the west. The possibilities of flavour change are just as pronounced as in France or Italy and I for one am fond of the rich Cabernet Sauvignons which come from the Coonawarra Valley, such as Hollick cabernet 2003, with intense cassis fruit flavour, a long finish and well balanced tannins. The soil here is Volcanic, red soil, almost arid, with terrific mineral content. This is passed through the vine and into the fruit giving additional texture to their wines, as well as making them a premium price, this one at £14.50 per bottle. Ian Hollick will be another visitor to our cellars for a wine dinner at the end of September (29th) when locals will get the chance to see the se little beauties for themselves.

Go west to the Margaret River and the coastal breezes from the Pacific Ocean cool the vines. Here we find elegant wines with fine fragrances and soft flavours. Grown at coastal temperatures the grapes take longer to ripen and although irrigation takes place which is not allowed in France, the wines are more European in style. My Favourites is Cape Mentelle Shiraz from David Hoehnen’s estate, now owned by Veuve Clicquot Champagne and being influenced by the French in their wine making techniques. Another favourites to look out for is the Art Series from the Clairault estate and small boutique grower, Leuwin.

Moving over to the northern aspect of the East coast we come to Orange County in New south Wales. Here Peter and Terri Robson (from the Ross Hill winery)produce grapes at Altitude, up to 2000 feet above sea level. Here amongst vines of Chardonnay and Shiraz, they also produce cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The altitude cools the average temperature from over 38 degrees to just over 30 degrees, again lengthening the growing season, ripening the grapes slower and fuller giving both acidity and fruit the chance to balance with tannins. Ross Hill wooded Chardonnay is amongst the best I have tried from Australia, although at £11.95 it is again in the premium bracket.

From the mists and sea fog of the Yarra Valley why not try the brand new Green Point ZD. No added sugar in this terrific sparkling wine and a shade over £10 a bottle you don’t need an excuse to drink it. It is true that River lands area produces very samey Shiraz and Chardonnay but go beyond that and you will find great experiences from all over Australia. For a more detailed look at this subject, why not look in one one of our tasting events and see for yourself.

Whatever you do, make sure that you enjoy the wine, as the saying goes, life is too short to drink bad wine!

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