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Hugh Johnson May 2010 issue column

Dear Decanter reader, I hope you don’t read all the stuff they’ve been saying about Australia in the trade press. That the wine industry has totally messed up. That they’ve planted hundreds of square kilometres of unnecessary vineyard. That they’ve run out of water. That they’ve prostituted their best brand names.

I don’t recognise this picture, and I hope you don’t. You may be seeing fewer BOGOFs (Buy One, Get One Free), but the flow of good and useful wines continues, and the brilliant ones are no less brilliant. Be thankful you’re not selling them, in other words; forget the hubris that made Aussies unbearable at tastings, and become a more diligent customer.

Here are some to try: Balgownie, Balnaves, Bannockburn, Banrock Station, Bay of Fires, Best’s, Bindi, Blue Pyrenees, Brand’s, Bremerton, Brokenwood, Brown Bros…and we’re still on B. Have you had a Yarra Valley Chardonnay recently? How about a Margaret River Cab? Or a Hunter Semillon? A Clare Riesling? Shiraz from Canberra or Pinot from the Mornington Peninsula? And you say Australia has run out of steam?

This (as well as hubris) is Australia’s trouble: it has dozens of local beauties, classics, matches of variety to terroir that give you the famous sense of place you go sniffing for along the banks of the Loire or across the fields of St-Emilion.

They’ve been there, a lot of them, since there were flagons of Emu tonic wines in the off-licence and no one here had heard of Coonawarra. The sad thing is you’d think we still hadn’t. You can fill City halls with eager sniffers over a new Burgundy vintage, emptying wallets like dustbins, but ask half those prices for an authentic echo of Aussie dirt and you get a shrug.

Fashion is funny. It leads us all haring off in the direction of the moment. Last year Chile, this year South Africa. Burgundy is big; Bordeaux has a cold. The Rhône: that’s the place. Shall we just calm down? The editor won’t love me for saying it, but wine is too slow-moving to make real relevant news more than occasionally. On the celebrity level, maybe. On the product level, since they stopped helicoptering Beaujolais Nouveau, attempts to stir you into action are mostly marketing hype.

Rush to Bordeaux to taste the 2009s – the greatest vintage since Noah? The rational man (or more likely woman) has another look at the 2000s to see whether they are now worth the superlatives their three zeros brought on. Hurry, they tell you, as they cram onto flights: there’ll be none left.

Really? Bordeaux makes 800 million bottles of wine a year. The classed growths make 40 million or so. Are the Chinese really going to hoover them all up? Look at the maturing vintages there are on the market now, often at lower prices than they’ll ask for the latest. And while you’re about it, look at Coonawarra. Doucement, mes braves. Or, as Talleyrand said: ‘Surtout, pas de zèle’ – ‘Hang on, chaps; not too keen’.

Written by Hugh Johnson

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