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‘If a buyer told us he didn’t like our wine, we’d tell him where to go’

A busy week - lots of tastings, and lots of producers in town, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere.

The UK wine market is as competitive as ever, and the presence of winemakers of various nationalities provided a useful barometer of their respective strengthon the shelves.

During a tasting with Niels Verburg of South Africa’s Luddite, he recalled how, when the country first returned to the market after Apartheid, producers didn’t take kindly to being told their wines weren’t what the market was looking for.

‘At the London trade fair in 1994, if a buyer told us he didn’t like our wine, we’d tell him where to go,’ said Verburg. ‘Whereas the Aussies would ask him what he was after, and then direct him to acompatriot.’

It seems the South Africans have caught onto this cooperative approach – Verburg was here promoting the Cape Winemakers Guild, through which winemakers share know-how and experience, co-promote their wines and produce one-off, experimental cuvées for auction.

It’s something the Aussies do better than anyone, and there was an impressive line up of people – and wines –at a specially convened tasting by top importer Liberty. Vanya Cullen, Charlie Melton, Michael Hill-Smith, Xar Brooks, Stephanie O’Toole… the big guns were here. But they need to be right now.

There’s no doubt Aussie producers are still fighting off prejudice towards their cheap and cheerful image – all the more galling for the likes of these guys, who are producing some truly stunning wines.

Barossa beefcake Ben Glaetzer revealed a little of this frustration, reacting testily to a suggestion from French sommelier Xavier Rousset that some of his wines lacked elegance.

It’s an atypical lack of confidence that the New Zealanders are capitalising on, as evidenced by our recent readership survey, in which, for the first time, respondents placed NZ higher than Oz, and top of their New World favourites.

A tasting with increasingly acclaimed Waiheke Island producer Man O’War showed why – elegant, refined wines of impressive varietal definition.

Right now, for New World producers, it’s all about balancing confidence with marketability. Chilean stalwart Errazuriz’s tactic is to compare its wine to Old World classics, as it did at a tasting at Rousset’s 28:50 bistro. For me, the approach is wearing a bit thin – these are different wines, for different markets, and Errazuriz’s wines are more than capable of standing on their own two feet.

More interesting than comparing the wines is to compare the prices – and that’s where the Chileans really came into their own. Don’t get me started on the price of Bordeaux though. Just listen here instead…

Written by Guy Woodward

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