I'm just back from a two-week trip to Australia, only the second time I've been there. I visited producers I know well, and discovered others I'd never heard of. Some are making wine that's quite traditional to Australia's long wine-producing culture, others are much more experimental, many are somewhere in-between, advancing the quality of Australian wine with lower alcohol, less fruity wines. Here were some highlights.
There is some phenomenal sparkling wine being made in Australia. The history of bubbles in the country goes back to the nineteenth century, when wines won awards in Europe. The development of contemporary sparkling wine has coincided with the emergence of cooler-climate wine-producing regions, especially Tasmania and Adelaide Hills.
As it's an island, there is a strong coastal influence on the growing conditions of Tasmania, although the sun is quite intense too (Tasmania lies parallel to New Zealand). The cooling winds place the vineyards in the ideal situation for sparkling wine production. The wines are a little fuller than Champagne or England, but not as searingly acidic—the perfect balance for absolutely delicious, drinkable, high-quality bubbles. blackpoolmatt's wine club has featured Jansz before, and, having visited their winery, may well do so again!
Adelaide Hills is another relatively new wine region located, as the name suggests, in rolling hills just outside Adelaide. Altitude is as high as 600m, and there's quite a bit of rainfall (it rained the whole weekend I was there in the middle of summer). Most producers make sparkling wines which have a crisp freshness and more than capable of evolving over many years—I tasted a couple of late-disgorged wines which had developed, mature aromas but were still extremely drinkable. Many of these wines you may have to visit Australia to taste—well worth the long flight!
At a McLaren Vale tasting, I did not expect that the first three wines would all be from Fiano, an Italian variety originally from Campania. All three wines were made by Oliver's Taranga, a farming family that's grown grapes for six generations but only started making wine in 2004. Having planted Fiano because they liked the Italian originals so much, it's been extremely successful and plantings are increasing in the region. The first wine was sparkling, made with the traditional method, and was unique: a definite lees influence but much fruitier and more floral than most other wines made in this style. The non-sparkling wines were equally delicious: the 2022 fresh and appealing, the 2014 was incredible, like an old Riesling but fruitier. Add varieties like Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Barbera, Lagrein, and Tempranillo, and you have an idea of the experimentation taking place in McLaren Vale and its Mediterranean climate.
The most planted variety in McLaren Vale is Shiraz, but it's Grenache which is the most exciting. That's because of the old vines, leftovers from when growers in McLaren Vale sold fruit to bigger, better-known regions like Barossa. The age of some vines goes as far back as the 1930s, and there's a depth and concentration of flavour to them with a firm tannic structure and fresh acidity. I also tasted a couple of wines from 2010—these wines are more than capable of ageing. Because of the success of old-vine Grenache, there are new plantings too, continuing the traditions of the region into the future.
There's so much new happening in Australia, in part because of the natural irreverence of Australian winemakers. Some of these wines have yet to be found outside Australia, or only in small amounts, but blackpoolmatt's wine club will be on the look-out for these fresh, exciting styles which will make members rethink the wines of the large, unpredictable country.