Australia’s Admirable Adventure – CONNECT 2021

Major divisions of Australia (1)

Australia’s adventure lies with the Australian winemakers and viticulturalists.  It might be said they seek to reinvent themselves.  Australia is well known for its big dark Shiraz.  The Aussie winemakers want to broaden that reputation by making wine and styles that are new to Australia, and to the international marketplace as well.  Some of the new wine styles will source from grape varieties that are uncommon in Australia.

I have been a fan of Australian Shiraz for as long as I can remember.  The 2019 Australian Winter Trade Tasting demonstrated that Australia is not a mono-varietal producer.  There was plenty of white and red wine on the tables in addition to Shiraz.  A few that come to mind were Riesling, Roussanne, Semillon, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  See my coverage for delicious details and reviews of varieties.  For starters, check out these examples from the tasting –

90, Semillon, Silkman, Hunter Valley, 2017 and 2015
91, Riesling, Jasper Hill ‘Georgia’s Paddock’ Heathcote 2014
91, Roussanne, Yangarra Estate McLaren Vale 2016
90, Riesling Pikes Traditionale Clare Valley 2017
91, Riesling Wakefield Wines Estate Clare Valley 2017

Hunter Valley, New South Wales (2)

Fast Forward to 2021.  Wine Australia just rolled out CONNECT in April calling it a “dynamic, always-on, virtual showcase bringing the global wine community together to experience and explore Australia’s thrilling wine scene”.  It’s billed as their biggest publicity effort ever for trade and media.  The program launch included an introduction by wine writer and journalist Mike Beni, who hosted a virtual get-together and recognized Australia’s Indigenous peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  Mike led panel discussions as well as conversations with several of Australia’s innovative winemakers and elucidated how CONNECT will be a go-to resource for Australian wine in the coming twelve months.

The New Generation
Wine fans well understand the success of Aussie Shiraz.  Today there is a new generation of Aussie winemakers who respect the past but seek creativity and adventure. They are searching wine styles that are new to Australia and hopefully new to the international marketplace as well.  Wines from new grape varieties are expected because novel varieties are being introduced to Australia with increasing frequency.

Grass trees in Kalbarri National Park endemic to Australia (3)

Terroirs
Australia is a huge and ancient land mass with great variety in geography, geology, and climes.  Excepting Russia, Australia is among a half dozen nations with the greatest land mass on the planate, all similar in size.  Australia’s vastness incorporates a diverse geography with topography boasting desserts, waterfalls, snowy peaks, and indigenous peoples.  The distinct areas of Australia, political divisions actually, include Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and Tasmania. Over 65 wine areas exist in Australia.  It’s hard to imagine many of these are maxed out in potential.  It’s likely there are plenty of new vineyard areas awaiting discovery or development.

Infrastructure is important to develop anything.  Whether in Napa Valley, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or Australia, infrastructure breeds continued expansion as long as critical success factors remain.  And if Australia has anything at all, it has wine infrastructure including a vinous knowledge base, numerous wineries, and experienced personnel.  It’s likely the Aussies will keep churning out new areas and wines.

Discovery, Adventure, and Autonomy
During the CONNECT panel discussions and winemaker interviews a number of points were made and opinions surfaced.  Host Mike Beni posed the question to the winemakers, “Where to next?  The winemakers responded that they will continue to reinvent themselves.  The new generation respect the past but do not believe the past should impede venture and evolution.  They feel fortunate to work in a laissez-faire environment in Australia with minimal restrictive government regulation, essentially being able to do what and how they want with their own individual winemaking and grape choices.  Such freedom is not available in all countries and should help Australia to be on the “cutting edge” of quality table wine production.  These Australian winemakers express self-assurance and an adventuresome spirit.  They believe that by pushing boundaries and utilizing new technologies with motivation and creativity they will continue making world class wines.

Host Mike Beni commented that Australian winemakers are demonstrating a deeper understanding of vineyards along with greater diversity of wine styles.  Most felt they were fortunate to work in exciting times.

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Grape Varieties
Quite a few grape varietals are already growing in Australia, but the urge to investigate further is clear.  Here are some of the newer grapes in Australian vineyards with their characteristics imparted to wine –

Fiano grape cluster (5)

Fiano.   Established in McLaren Vale, a white grape from Southern Italy with a rich taste and texture that will age.  Asian pear, orange peel, hazelnut.  Quite resistant to hot climates. Moderate rain is fine.

Montepulciano.  A red Italian grape usually called Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  At its best delivers composite black fruit flavors with smoky-sweetness in the finish with possible baking spices, mesquite, red plum, and blackberry.

Vermentino grape bunch (6)

Vermentino –  Found in McLaren Vale, a noteworthy white of Tuscany and Sardinia in unoaked or oaked styles.  Grapefruit, lime, green apple, herbaceous. High acidity.  Moderate to full style works.  Resistance to very warm climes.

Nero d’Avola.  Sicily’s foremost red wine.  Frequently compared to Cabernet Sauvignon because of its full-body, fruit flavors, and robust tannin.  Black cherry and plum, tobacco, and chili pepper.

Arinto.  Originally from Portugal, this white grape that produces outstanding wines that will age.  Flavors of lemon zest, grapefruit, hazelnut, beeswax, and chamomile.   High acidity.

Mencía.  A red variety from the Iberian peninsula that’s quickly developing a following.  It’s loved for its heady aromatics and potential to age.  Tart cherry, pomegranate, blackberry, licorice, and crushed gravel.

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Regions
What about Australia’s wine regions that appear less frequently in the media? What is their uniqueness and what might wine fans be missing?  Two such examples might well be remote Frankland River and north Victoria.  Frankland River just happens to be billed as “one of Western Australia’s best kept secrets”, and they both offer attractive steely, slate-like Riesling.  Likewise, the qualities of the elegant Chardonnay from Yarra Valley in Victoria are definitely worth knowing.  Similar can be said for Riverland in Barossa and Margaret River in the Great Southern region.  The less heralded areas will see more growth and exposure as their wines show more often on wine fan’s tables.

Those craving new experiences will raise questions about origins of wine styles.  A natural style derives from vintners being duly diligent to a region and its resources.  The terroir will in turn yield its character.  Nuances derive from each individual producer.

Trends
Regarding attitudes toward drinking, host Mike Benie asked what value systems and trends are influencing wine and how do they provoke the Aussie wine community?

A wine selection for a meal can improve food choices.  Foods and recipes never tried before may be enjoyed as regular fare which offer especially attractive pairs with wines.  Conversely, a food selection for dining can spur a successful wine search.  Valuation scales for food and wine can change swiftly.  Better choices in food and wine can even affect choice of drinking location, timing, and conversation.

A direction in the wine market experiencing increased attention is the low alcohol segment. Some simply prefer lower alcohol, while others see such wines as less carbs.  Similarly, interest is rising in wines certified organic, biodynamic, vegan friendly, natural, preservative free, and carbon neutral.

Cheers to the Aussies on their admirable adventure!

Image credits
(1) Australian wine zones2 Wiki Commons
(2) Australia Hunter Valley Vineyard Wiki Commons
(3) Grass trees in Kalbarri National Park endemic to Australia, Panorama, Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grass_trees_in_Kalbarri_National_Park.jpg
(4) By the author, Rockich
(5) FIANO Cluster in the field 2863, VIVC4124, commons.wikimedia.org
(6) Vermentino cluster, Rolle or Vermentino, Wiki Commons

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