Aussie wine's new school: the heat is off
As cool climates became the new cool, Australian winemakers changed tack.
With the Anzac spirit having been distilled anew over these past few weeks, let's talk Aussie wine.
Just before we do, consider this: Gallipoli saw the diggers and Kiwis sail in over Homer's wine-dark sea to try and invade a land closely associated with the very birth of wine. They failed, of course. At that time, neither Australasian nation had any kind of a wine culture. Now, 100 years later, the combined Anzac wine production is 47 times greater than that of Turkey. Yes, I know, it has a lot to do with the Turks being Muslim, but still…
If there is a single word I associate most with Aussie wine it is heat. How we envied the Australian producers their heat years ago. It ripened grapes effortlessly, creating the kinds of wines that first captivated me in my late teens. Those bottles of Seppelts Moyston Claret and Chalambar Burgundy I purloined from my father's cellar were dark, soft, boozy and luscious. I couldn't imagine how wine could get any better.
And then it all changed. I can't remember exactly when I decided I couldn't take that heat any more. Ten or 12 years ago, perhaps. The dense, dark fruitiness of those affordable Aussie reds suddenly seemed lifeless and dull. And meanwhile, New Zealand wine was taking us in a different direction, one that was far from dull.
It had dawned on everybody that the French grapes planted on both sides of the Tasman have their origins in places (eg Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire) which have more in common climate-wise (and soil-wise, for that matter) with New Zealand than Australia. Cool climates like ours became wine's new cool.
Since that turnaround, the Australian industry has been scrambling to inhabit and get the most out of some of the lucky country's cooler parts. Places like Tasmania, Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and Geelong, the Margaret River and Great Southern in Western Australia are now where many of Australia's most exciting wines are being produced. They have a freshness and complexity their old-school compatriots lack.
Among those regions, the Margaret River is the one that more than any other has rekindled my admiration for Australian wine. Its cabernets and chardonnays in particular can be astonishingly good. They are lively and interesting, without losing their "Australian-ness".
More and more of these wines are finding their way into New Zealand. Here are a couple to try:
Xanadu Chardonnay 2012, $30
The flavours are gentle and restrained – citrus laced with wisps of smoke and flint – but plenty of textural vitality to this gorgeous chardonnay.
Moss Wood Amy's 2013, $35
This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec rides in on a wave of herbal, gooseberry flavours. It offers varying shades of fruit, a tarry twist and a rounded texture.
John Saker is a leading New Zealand wine writer who shares his insights each fortnight.