What's wrong with Australian wine?
The respected British wine writer and Master of Wine Tim Atkin, who's editor of the UK's Harper's wine-and-spirits magazine and wine writer for The Observer, is the latest to join the fray, with his recent Observer article titled "Down Under and out: Boring, bland and overpriced ... Tim Atkin couldn't give a XXXX for Australian wine."
The headline pretty much says it all, but to sum up the rest, Atkin declared, "Australia has begun to let us down ... These days, I approach them with a mixture of boredom and distaste. All too often, the whites are bland and unexciting, while the reds, if anything, are worse: confected, sweet and over-oaked."
Competition from Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, South Africa, Chile and the United States is challenging Australia's market share in the UK, Atkin concluded, blaming multi-national corporations, "obsessed with short-term gain," for taking over many Australian brands and "milking" them for profit.
"Australia has the winemaking talent, the vineyards and the know-how to return to the front of the pack," he said. "But it needs to concentrate on what it does best - making wines that we actively want to drink."
Are these charges fair? I reflected on this while enjoying a few good Australian reds over the weekend, recalling my thoroughly enjoyable trip Down Under at just about this time last year.
In my opinion (and, apparently, in that of quite a few Australian participants in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, who have reacted to Atkin's remarks in this online forum), Atkin has a point but sharpens it too fine.
There's no disputing that some mega-corporations have entered the wine industry with the idea of maximizing their profits on inexpensive wines, and their products show it. But this does not apply to all Australian producers, and it is by no means limited to Australia. The same charges could, and should, be leveled against some of the wines made in the United States, South America, throughout Europe and around the world.
More telling, perhaps, is the reality that Australian wines DO tend to have a distinctive national character. There are exceptions, of course. It would be foolish to assert that any major country produces all its wines alike. But there does seem to be a unique Australian wine style, surely based on the palate preferences of many Australians (and their friends around the world). Offer me a glass of red so dark that it is opaque, a wine that breathes perfumed aromatics with hints of menthol and mint and fragrant pepper and sweet, herbal oak, a wine that's robust and oaky on the palate and warm in the finish, and I'll promptly guess that it's Australian. And I'll probably be right.
Some people love this style. Some hate it. But a distinctive style does not a bad wine make. Not even if the American critics rave about it so highly that it becomes expensive and hard to get, another modern reality about top-rank Australian wines that prompts some wine lovers to turn to other alternatives in frustration.
Let's not write off Australia. There's still plenty of fine wine from the land Down Under that's both world-class and affordable, neither mass-market plonk nor sought-after "cult" items. It's well worth the effort to seek them out.
To read Mr. Atkin's article in full, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4281624,00.html. To read or participate in our online discussion about this topic, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1&tid=22173. Or write me at email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
Please tell your wine-loving friends about The 30 Second Wine Advisor, and invite them to register for their own free subscription at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor.
Fitting right in with this week's topic, the back label claims for this wine "a distinctly Australian character," and I would agree. It is a very dark ruby color, almost opaque in the glass, as you would expect of an Australian red; and its aromas leap from the glass with an all-Australian blast of minty black fruit, plums, licorice and spice. Flavors follow the nose, plums and currants and minty, spicy oak. Full and ripe, it shows drying astringent tannins in the finish, suggesting some aging potential. (It's a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 13% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc.) U.S. importer: Old Bridge Cellars, San Francisco. (Oct. 28, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Although I find some Australian reds almost too forward and aromatic to mesh well with food, the mixed varieties in this one made it a decent match with a flavorful risotto studded with peas, carrots, radicchio and a bit of chicken-apple sausage.
WEB LINKS: The importer has a fact sheet on the 1999 vintage of this wine at http://www.oldbridgecellars.com/Mak/.
MORE NEW OZ WINE NOTES: For my report on the three Australian reds featured this month in our online Wine Tasting 101 Forum, see http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=7&tid=22326
What's your LEAST favorite wine?
To get your "ballot," click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth.
A year of wine and laughter
Buy one for your wine cellar and another for your office ... and they make great gifts! Offer them in your wine store, your catalog, or your wine club (contact us by E-mail for information about wholesale prices for re-selling).
Order the Wine Toon Calendar at http://www.wineloverspage.com/calendar/2002toon.shtml. It's only $11.99 (plus $2 shipping and handling for U.S. shipments, $4 for all other countries). Buy one for yourself, and more for your wine-loving friends, and you'll be all set for holiday giving!
(Those of you who pre-ordered your calendars, by the way, should receive them soon: The first printing went out by first-class mail last week.)
Don't Wait ...
Each month your gift recipients will receive two bottles of wine plus an 8-page newsletter, Uncorked! Monthly subscriptions start at $32.95 plus shipping.
Send as many months as you wish. Place your Holiday gifts now and receive no billing until December.
Mention you read this in The 30 Second Wine Advisor, and they'll send you a FREE cookbook ($16.95 value).
Call (800) 777-4443 or visit the California Wine Club website, http://www.cawineclub.com.
Delivery is limited to locations where interstate wine shipping is permitted by law.
the Rhone and Provence
Lauriann Greene and Jean-Pierre Sollin, sommeliers-conseil who live in France, will join me to present this tour, which will feature a week of in-depth exploration of the wines of these two beautiful regions.
The tour is limited to 16 participants, so reservations will remain open only until these places are filled. For more information, click to the details at http://www.wineloverspage.com/tour.
You are on the subscription list because you registered during a visit to Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page. To change your E-mail address, switch from the weekly (Mondays only) to daily distribution, or for any other administrative matters, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. In the unhappy event that you must leave us, please take a moment to let us know how we could have served you better. In all administrative communications, please be sure to include the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so we can find your record.
We welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. We do not use this list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail to anyone.
All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 41, Monday, Oct. 29, 2001