It’s been a bit quiet over the last month, I know. I’ve just returned from a trip around Australia courtesy of the Oxford blind tasting team’s winning performance in Wine Australia’s University Wine Champions Competition.
As advertised, it really was a ‘trip of a lifetime’. Travelling with a group of UK wine trade representatives, we toured around the Orange and Hunter Valley wine regions in New South Wales, and the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Barossaregions in South Australia. We experienced incredible hospitality, sumptuous food and some outstanding wines. Importantly, I learned a lot about wine making in general, and about Australian wines in particular.
The schedule was compact and intense; I feel it will take me months to fully digest and appreciate the experiences of the trip. Nevertheless, I’ll do by best to summarise the trip and to touch on a few interesting points in a series of posts over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, as a general comment, I found it refreshing to break through some of the stereotypes that exist around Australian wines outside of their own country. Cricket captains aside, Aussies aren’t necessarily the best at blowing their own trumpet, and perhaps the Australian wine image has suffered because of this over recent years. Aussie wine has a general reputation for being good value, well-made but simplistic. The stereotype goes that the wines show a lot of primary fruit or are over-oaked; they’re designed to be drunk young and often stick out as being overly-alcoholic because Australia is an exclusively hot place. Because it’s so hot, there’s very little locality or vintage variation, thus wines are consistent, yet unchanging.
This trip exposed us to wines and places that countered all of these points:
- Cool climates genuinely do exist in Australia.
- Vintage conditions can vary hugely from year to year and these are expressed in the wine as significantly as they are in Bordeaux.
- Australian wines can be as complex and as nuanced as European wines and can develop into some truly special bottles with age.
- Not all wines are ‘big blockbusters’ and even some of the full-bodied wines carry their weight with delicacy.
- It really is an enormous country with a complex array of soils and climates.
I was particularly struck, however, by the friendliness of the winemaking community we met in Australia and the passion with which they go about their jobs. There is a genuine excitement about wine, about pairing it with good, fresh food and integrating it into ‘the good life’. The winemakers we met are concerned about their environment, about where their wines fit into the grand scheme of things and about learning more of how local mesoclimates express themselves ultimately in the glass.
I look forward to exploring these points in more detail over the coming posts.