Epicurean Muse: Get a taste of Australia this week

Kim Kelly

When was the last time you had an Australian wine in your glass?  That’s a tough question for many wine consumers and you might have to dig deep to remember exactly when.  Australia is among some of the largest wine producing countries in the world and it’s fair to say they have experienced incredible highs and lows.  More recently, as in a few decades ago, Australia saw explosive growth.  According to Wine Australia – an Australian Wine and Grape Authority, from 1995 to 2005 the number of wine companies more than doubled (to more than two thousand); the grape crush more than doubled and vineyard plantings tripled.  The export market quadrupled in value and certainly, the United States was a major player in that big export number, particularly in the “cheap and cheerful” sector.  I think we all encountered a few Australian budget wines with cute critters on the label back in the day.  As you might expect, that turned out to be a double edged sword for Australia.  Essentially, folks were conditioned to mostly seek out the budget bottles and little else. At the opposite end of the spectrum, restaurants were showcasing high-end, luxury brands from Australia in the form of big shirazes from Barossa Valley with mega scores and reviews, but there was no middle ground.

After a good run with high alcohol, fruit forward reds the consumer palate began to evolve in search of more variety and balance and Australia wasn’t considered a source for this style.  Unfortunately, at the same time, around 2008, the Australian dollar hit an all time high against the U.S. dollar, putting the brakes on those big bulk export numbers. As if it couldn’t get any worse, then Australia fell victim to a number of natural disasters including floods, fires and drought.  Consumers moved on to the next “it” region, I think it was Malbec from Argentina and restaurants abandoned Aussie category.  As someone who has been in the industry long enough to experience all of that, it was very sad.  Australia became the red-headed step child in terms of sales.

Fast forward to now, and I’m very happy to report that things seem to be finally turning around for the Aussies.  Much like a boomerang, they are coming back!  (I couldn’t resist.)  The currency has leveled out and it seems a new generation of winemakers are on a mission to produce a variety of wines from many grapes other than shiraz and in different regions with cooler climates than Barossa.  We’re seeing beautiful dry rieslings, elegant cabernets and seductive pinot noirs.  Prices are what you would expect for such quality and according to the Wine Australia Export Report, sales of wines more than $25 were up 17 percent in the U.S. for the year ended June 2017.  If you haven’t taken a look at Australian wine lately, it’s worth checking out.  Should you want to fully immerse yourself in everything Australia, don’t miss the Davis Street Down Under event on Sunday, October 22.  It’s the 25th Anniversary celebration for the Cameleer and the theme is Australia with participating merchants showcasing the cuisine, products, entertainment and of course, you can taste Australian wine and cheese at Vinosity!