May 132013
 

Priorat WIneI’m off to Spain for a few days to visit Priorat in Spain to speak at a conference.  Sound exciting?

I left home Saturday at 9:30 am to catch the shuttle to San Francisco International Airport, and arrived at the airport at noon.  Flight was delayed, and left at 2:10 pm.  A bit more than ten hours in the air to Frankfurt.  Flight to Barcelona was delayed, and I arrived in Barcelona at 8:00 pm Sunday.

Taxi to the hotel, a quick shower, and then dinner.

That’s a total of 27 hours door-to-door.  What fun.

Oh yeah.  I ordered a beer on the plane.  I figure I’m going to get enough wine in the next three days.

Wish me luck.

May 032013
 

Next Chapter

After a notable absence, the folks from Wine Australia have returned to promote the wines from Down Under.  Members of New York’s wine media and trade were invited for an “in-depth look at the ‘Next Chapter,’” which included a walk-around tasting and a seminar titled “Australia: Classic, Contemporary & Curious.” Moderated by Wine Australia’s Education Director, Mark Davidson, the seminar panel also included Suzanne Barros, East Coast Market Development Manager for Wine Australia; Jeff Taylor, Head Sommelier for Elen Madison Park; and Tyler Colman, Founder/Author of Dr. Vino. Unfortunately, although scheduled to be on hand, Matt Fowles, Owner of Fowles Wine, was unable to attend due to problems with New Jersey Transit.

So, if the first chapter of Australian wine was all about critters and value, what is this next chapter all about?

Davidson opened up the session with the admission that the image of Australian wine has suffered a bit and further added that people had become bored with Australian wine. He then discussed the emergence of Australian wine from its earliest beginnings referencing a Monty Python skit in which such wines were described thusly: “This is not a wine for drinking; this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.” Davidson suggested that, from there, Australian wines entered a Parker-style era and that now, it was time to revisit Australian wines as they had re-emerged in a new era.

Picking up on this thread, Suzanne explained that many Australian producers were now planting southern European varieties due to their own personal experiences in working in these regions. More specifically, she discussed the similarities in climate such as that between McLaren Vale and Sardinia. Consequently, we are now seeing grapes such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Assyrtiko being grown in Australia. She also explained that, with climate change, producers are looking at varieties that hold their acidity.

As evidence of both the newer side of Australian wine and the more usual suspects, the first flight included Vermentino, Riesling, Semillon and Viognier, with Tyler commenting on the stylistic variations being seen among Riesling. He discussed that on his trip to Australia in 2009, he hadn’t seen much off-dry Riesling, but that it was nice to see one today (Grosset Alea Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, $20.00). Mark suggested that reaction to the high, searing acidity found in young Australian Riesling made such styles welcome, joking that, “Drinking Polish Hill Riesling young is akin to being electrocuted.” However, he indicated that off-dry styles wouldn’t be the dominant style found in the country.

The conversation then shifted to that of Hunter Valley Semillon, given its very unique style in the world. The Semillon in the seminar line-up was actually from the Barossa Valley (Peter Lehmman Margaret Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, $23.00). While many of these are produced with some oak influence, some Barossa producers are moving away from the oaky approach and focusing on wines that show some development with age. When audience member, Mary Gorman, MW, wondered why Australians were looking to new varieties rather than on exploiting their existing strengths – namely Hunter Valley Semillon, Mark offered that Hunter Valley Semillon was difficult to sell to the average consumer.

The next flight was led by the Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay 2010, Margaret River, $75.00, which was indicative of the changing style of Australian Chardonnay. While power and richness still resonate, there is evidence of more elegance and less oak influence today than in the past. This was followed by the Mac Forbes Worri Yallock Pinot Noir 2010, Yarra Valley, $42.00, which suggested that Pinot Noir is being produced in a leaner style than previously.

The next two wines – a varietally-labeled Grenache (Ochota Barrels Fugazi Grenache 2012, McLaren Vale, $44.00) and Mourvèdre (Turkey Flat Mourvèdre 2010, Barossa Valley, $32.00), respectively – displayed not only beautiful complexity and restraint, but also a shift away from blends and toward single-variety wines.

The third and final flight was meant to showcase the diversity of Syrah/Shiraz, with wines from both cool climate (Victoria) and warm climate (McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley) represented.  Mark advised that the producers were intentionally making a statement by their choice of name on the label (Shiraz vs. Syrah).

Interestingly, while Mark spoke of the need to emphasize regionality as part of Wine Australia’s rebranding, this seemed to be less of a theme of the seminar. Additionally, the price of the wines shown in the seminar provided another clue about this new chapter of Australian wine – only two of the wines were under $15.00 and more than half were over $30.00.

After tasting through the wines in the seminar, it was clear that Australian wines have much more than fruit-forward characteristics; these are wines with depth and diversity. However, it is not clear whether these wines will be widely accepted in the market given their heftier price tags. While the seminar participants could recognize the quality of the wines, even they balked at some of the price points when compared to more widely recognized performers such as Burgundy or Hermitage. Only time will tell how this next chapter will end.