I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time at the Sydney Wine Academy learning all about wines from Australia. It was a gap in my knowledge and to be honest I was not expecting much. My perception of Australian wines is still stuck in the 90’s, massive overpowering fruit reds, high in alcohol and no finesse or aging properties and over oaked Chardonnays with the subtly of a brick, coarse and loud (Does wine really reflect the qualities of the population it is made in – now there’s a thought!).
Okay, in the UK at the time we only had access to the big names flooding the market at knock down prices trying to gain market share. Which of course they did, appealing to the mass markets and the new trend of wine drinking at affordable prices. The supermarkets, pubs and clubs could not get enough of it and the Australian wine boom, well, boomed.
So here we are in 2017 and I find myself in the very place I have avoided for decades, preferring European, America’s, South African and even New Zealand wine. I was determined to find out if things had really changed and what was the scene for the small local producer who could not afford to export in volume?
The course seemed like the perfect vehicle to expose myself to the best that Australia now has to offer. If not the best, at least a good cross section that was well thought out and epitomised the best known wines from different regions around the country.
I have only just started so you will forgive me for not offering a fully comprehensive guide at this stage, a more thorough assessment will come at the end of the course in a few weeks time. I have to say early signs are good. I have forced myself to try a few whites (not my preference unless it’s a White Burgundy), a Semillon from the Hunter Valley and a Riverina Botrytis dessert wine, which was delicious.
The real discovery was a Shiraz from the Canberra District of Murrumbateman.
When I mentioned earlier that the reds back in the day were all overpowering, far too much fruit and alcohol, to drink alone or with food I was clearly talking about an “Australian Shiraz”.
Wow, have they changed! This was absolutely superb. From Clonakilla the Hilltops Shiraz is everything a good red wine should be. Very drinkable, in fact my partner and I finished the bottle without realising and we wanted more. Sadly I’d only bought one bottle. At AUD $29.99 it was great value and fortunately is readily available in Australia (and possibly overseas).
It was not in the least bit overpowering, perfectly balanced fruit, acidity and tannins delivered a smooth complex wine with a great finish and leaving you wanting more. Cherry, Chocolate, Liquorice, leather, cream and berries all came to mind but pick your own descriptors and you will remember it again when you have some more. It reminded me of a really good southern Rhone wine that was ready for drinking and you will have to pay much more to get the right vintage to get even close to this. The Clonakilla was a 2016, way too young for drinking now and it would clearly last at least another 5 years and get better and better. The challenge would be to resist opening a bottle when it tastes so great now.
I have heard that Clonakilla also produces a Shiraz Viognier blend that is even better, retailing at about AUD $100. I for one cannot wait to try it.
I am very excited to try even more wines ‘typical’ of their region and discover more that Australia has to offer, as a winemaking country it has clearly come a long way from those early pioneer days when James Busby first brought in the first collection of vine stock in the late 1800’s and modern winemaking really took off in the latter part of the 20th Century. The winemakers have moved with the times, listened to the market and adapted the wines to accommodate a more sophisticated and discerning consumer. As they say here “good on yer mate”, long may it continue.