Cocktail Hour: Aussie wines are down, but definitely not out
About five years ago, Australian wines were the hottest thing going. The future was bright, new wineries were popping up on an almost daily basis, and they were literally hard to keep on the shelf.
The meteoric rise was truly unprecedented. Critics were giving massive ratings, the public was drinking the wines with abandon, and producers were planting new vines as fast as they could dig holes.
Of course, good things never seem to last. A few short years later, Australian wines are really struggling. As fast as their rise to prominence was, the fall has been even faster, despite the fact that the quality of Aussie wines has never been better.
What happened? I think a couple factors attributed to this, and none of the reasons are related to the quality of the juice.
The first reason is the simplest, yet hardest to understand. It is simply that tastes and palates of consumers change. Australia has always had a signature style of fruit forward, bold and jammy styles. As of late, people seem to be enjoying a bit more finesse, lower alcohol and less-oaky wines.
A second reason is what I call the "Yellow Tail" effect. At the forefront of Australian wine's heyday was Yellow Tail. It was approachable, affordable, easy-drinking and had a ripe style that appealed to drinkers just discovering wine.
Following the huge success of Yellow Tail, many more weak imitations flooded the market with sub-par wines. The more serious Aussie wines were the victims of Yellow Tail's success. While they benefited from Yellow Tail exposing many Americans to the virtues of Aussie wines, it also created the perception that all Aussie wines are like Yellow Tail — or, even worse, the weak imitations of Yellow Tail. As we know, perception is reality.
It may be hard to believe, but in the long haul, Australian wines' fall from grace may actually be good for the serious Aussie wine producer. Many of the mediocre producers have been culled out, and thousands of acres of marginal vineyards have been pulled out.
What are left are some great producers making very serious, delicious wines. These wines straddle the line of the signature bold, jammy, and ripe style, with wines that are lower in alcohol and possess some finesse and very good complexity. I would even venture to say that now is the best time to be drinking Australian wines. Due to the waning popularity, prices are reasonable, quality is high, and producers and importers are working hard to resurrect their image. I would highly recommend searching some of these wines out; I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
• D'Arenberg D'arry Original Red($19): The current winemaker is Chester Osborne, the fifth generation to run the winery in the McLaren Vale. This is quite old by Aussie standards. Chester's stamp on the wines shows through. He is extremely natural and immediately set about returning the family's vineyards to their traditional grape-growing practices of minimal inputs and no fertilization, cultivation and irrigation wherever possible, therefore achieving natural soil flavors with very low yields. The resulting wine is brilliant! The nose is packed with berries and spice and fresh earth. In the mouth it is luscious with plum, blueberry and raspberry with just a hint of clove and nutmeg in the finish.
• Frisk Prickly Riesling($12) Made by a team of winemakers in Victoria Australia. They aim to make unpretentious wines that are simply very good. Made in a fairly dry style, like most Aussie Rieslings, they finish it with just a touch of sparkle. This gives that "prickly" mouth feel that they are known for. This zippy Riesling is floral and weighted, with notes of lime, sorbet, rose petals and a hint of fennel. Immensely refreshing, this wine is ideal for the summer months.