No 12: Australian wine vernacular. For the past week, Decanter editor Guy Woodward has been at large in Australia... read his blog here
Australian wine vernacular is perhaps richer than that employed in the UK. It took me a while to realise that when winemakers referred to their ‘garden’, they were in fact talking about the vineyard. Equally, for many of the younger generation, they don’t make wine, but ‘booze’.
An example: one winemaker who several people have mentioned to me on my trip up through the Barossa as being of note is Kerri Thomson, of the much admired KT and the Falcon label. She also consults for the lauded Crabtree wines.
‘Ah yeah, look mate, she used to make the booze at Leasingham. If you look at her garden it’s an awesome bit of dirt. It’s not BD [biodynamic], but that wine kicks ass.’
All is not totally well in the garden of Eden, though. Eden Valley that is. There is a KT and the Falcon Clare Riesling which has just a touch of residual sugar on it, and a very attractive wine it is too.
It sits, though, on the edge of a worrying trend. There are very few Clare Rieslings that are in any way not dry (Knappstein is experimenting with another) and the region has made its name for its steely, austere, dry citric fruit.
Traditionally, the same has been true of Eden, which perhaps just tends to a more tropical style. But the well-received 2009 vintage has seen several producers playing with an off-dry style here.
The wines may well prove to be delicious, but at a time when Australia is trying to cement regional typicity and styles, this is a dangerous road to follow. Speak to anyone in the wine trade or press, and they most likely love Riesling.
But it’s a tiny part of the market, and for consumers, in the UK at least, the shadow of Germany looms large.
Such was the extent that sweeter styles flooded the market in the 1980s and 90s, encapsulated in the ‘success’ of Blue Nun and Black Tower, that most people at the mass market level now equate German Riesling with being sweet, cheap and nasty, Even higher up the tree, students of Alsace and the Mosel sometimes struggle to predict the sweetness level of a wine. Clare and Eden have a clear identity in dry wines. Do they really want to endanger that by confusing consumers with off-dry styles?
Certainly some Clare producers weren’t backward in coming forward on the topic, and there is a certain amount of disquiet over the trend. That’s what’s great about Australia though – you can ask a producer their opinion on an issue and they’ll tell you. Diplomacy is not a practice I have encountered often over the last week.
Take Paul Henry, head of Wine Australia and, as such, the man charged with refining Australia’s image on the world stage to that of a premium wine producer. I asked him about the idea of some Barossa producers labelling their wine ‘Syrah’ rather than ‘Shiraz’ in an effort to identify it as more Rhône-like and elegant in style.
‘In the Barossa? They’re having a laugh aren’t they?’ was his succinct response.
I think he was suggesting that, for all their qualities, most Barossa Shiraz would not be described as elegant.
Or, as one winemaker so poetically put it, the wines are ‘like walnuts in a condom’.
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Written by Guy Woodward in Australia