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DWWA 2014: Australia insights

Hear from our Australia Regional Chairs Anthony Rose and Michael Hill-Smith MW on which wines to buy, which wines to leave on the shelf and what to keep an eye on from this year's Decanter World Wine Awards....

Anthony Rose:

The news this year was the continuing development of the link between expression of the grape variety and its location. At the risk of calling this something as French as terroir, it’s a sign of a maturing wine industry when it can grasp the terroir nettle without feeling that it has to doff its cork-dangling hat to France. Expectations from Australia inevitably involved Shiraz and Chardonnay, and it’s fair to say that these were the two strongest categories, with many fabulous wines spread over a variety of regions. Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon stood out too. Aficionados are aware of the potential of Riesling, Semillon and Rutherglen’s fortified treats, and while they all fulfilled expectations, there were good examples too of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon-Sauvignon blends, Viognier and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio. While the so-called ‘alternative varieties’ show promise, this year’s crop was disappointing.

What should we buy from here?

The list of what to buy from Australia is growing and while I’d normally start with Shiraz, this year I begin with Chardonnay because of a growing style and quality momentum. Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley offered superb examples with flavours ranging from complex struck match to seamless fruit. Rieslings come in valid styles, both young and mature, mostly from Clare Valley and Eden Valley. The same – all the more so – goes for Semillon, most notably from Hunter Valley. Back in Shiraz country, the traditional, warm-climate reds of the Barossa Valley are shedding some of their excesses to become more balanced and restrained, while cooler-climate styles showing classic pepper and spice notes in Northern Rhône vein are particularly delicious.

What should we leave on the shelf?

Despite the many wines we can buy from Australia with confidence, it’s important to remember that just as the country’s quality is growing and its diversity is increasing, not every wine under the Australian sun is worth it. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, especially among the big brands, there’s a lack of quality and consistency compared to the wines from those regions in Europe now strongly fighting back. This is true across the board, in Shiraz, in Cabernet Sauvignon and above all in Chardonnay, which tend to the commercial, formulaic, bland and confected. I am not yet fully convinced by the so-called ‘alternative varieties’, but as the young vines get older, I’m optimistic that greater quality will ensue.

What should we keep an eye on?

We should keep an eye on Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania in particular. Rieslings remain an undervalued treasure; beyond Clare Valley and Eden Valley we should look to parts of Victoria, Tasmania and Frankland River in Western Australia. We should not overlook Clare Valley Shiraz whose terroir character is distinct from elsewhere, with a certain mintiness and purity of dark berry fruit. Adelaide Hills is emerging not just for Chardonnay but also Merlot. As cooler fruit sources are exploited, notably Victoria and Tasmania, Aussie sparkling wines are beginning to move beyond simple fruitiness to show greater complexity. And let’s not forget the crackingly good, classic fortified Rutherglen stickies made from both Muscatel and Muscadelle, the latter for Topaques.

Michael Hill-Smith MW:

Australia consistently does well at the DWWA not only because the country produces some brilliant wines but because a high percentage of top producers make the effort to submit wines to this highly regarded competition. This is not always the case with other international wine competitions or regions, where many of the best producers choose not to compete. And this year we were genuinely enthused by what we found: many top-quality wines displaying true regional and stylistic diversity. And, perhaps more than in previous years, our panel recognised, understood and awarded distinct regional personality.

What should we buy from here?

Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, with the stand-out whites being the dry, honeyed, bottle-aged Rieslings from the Clare and Eden Valleys, and bottle-aged Semillons, predominately from Hunter Valley. These mature wines are real gems, cellared for years by the maker and now ready to drink. As expected, Shiraz did well across many regions but it was the reds from Margaret River that dominated when it came to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends. And on a traditional note, the fortified wines were awesome, winning an extraordinary five Golds and a Trophy. These Topaques and Muscats matured for many years in old barrels are extraordinary wines of great quality, intensity and age. Brilliant.

What should we leave on the shelf?

Len Evans’ Theory of Capacity states that given a person’s wine consumption is finite, drinking an inferior bottle is like smashing a superior bottle against the wall. You can’t get that bottle back. So with this in mind, readers should eschew the inexpensive knowing that spending more will result in discovering and drinking more cerebral Australian wines. It is not that Australia doesn’t do entry-level wines well, but consumers are missing out on unique and compelling regional wines by not moving up beyond £6 or £8. Spend more – you will notice the difference.

What should we keep an eye on?

Two of Australia’s most distinctive and often quirky regions for red wines are the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Clare Valley in South Australia. While the wines taste very different, both make medium-bodied wines with a recognisable sense of place. Clare reds display pronounced ironstone character coupled with a hint of eucalyptus and firm muscular tannins. Hunter reds, made by a youthful coven of winemakers, are relatively low in alcohol and couple bright brambly fruit with a savoury, almost seaweed-like quality. Delicious individuality; seek them both out.

Written by Decanter

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