Friday, October 20, 2021

This week I want to talk to you about how progress sneaks up on you one tiny step after another until one day you realise that the whole world has changed and is completely different.

Next year will mark 35 years since I joined the wine industry after a short stint as an accountant. So here are just some of the changes that have occurred in the Australian wine industry during the course of my journey.

This is what wine in Australia looked like in the mid-1980s:

►We were only 10-15 years into the “experiment” with table wines after nearly a century of being almost entirely fortified wine drinkers (port, sherry, etc.).

►At that time, wine drinking was still to a large extent something done by those “European Ethnics” and the “Upper Crust” as most real Aussies drank beer, with Sherry for the ladies.

►There were only a handful of boutique wineries across the country, to a large extent prompted by Dr Max Lake who created, Lake's Folly, in the Hunter Valley, in 1967. In total there were probably around 300-350 wineries in the whole country.

►We drank generically labelled wines like: Rhine Riesling (usually in a brown bottle), White Burgundy, Chablis, Burgundy and Claret and for “afters”, Spätlese or Auslese wines followed by port, and more port. Very few wines were varietally labelled in those days. There are probably more wineries in the Barossa + McLaren Vale today than there were in all of Australia in those days. Treasury Wines is probably bigger today than the whole Australian wine industry was then. The oldies drank Sherry, Brandy and cask wine such as Coolabah, Lindemans, Stanley, Kaiser Stuhl, etc. and bottled wine was for them something only to be had on very special occasions.

►Australia barely exported any wine – 5% of production – max! I can recall the celebrations when Jacob's Creek became the very first Australian wine to be listed by a UK supermarket under its own label – before that they were all shipped over under the supermarket’s label. This was the very first step towards today’s export figures where until the Chinese Government screwed us, we were heading towards a 50/50 split between domestic consumption and exports on a production figure several factors larger than what it was in the mid-1980s.

►Most commercial wines were $0.99 a bottle but occasionally for a special occasion I would lash out and buy a bottle of McWilliams Elizabeth Hunter Riesling (Semillon) or McWilliams Phillip Claret for $3.99. I bought my first Grange (1979 vintage) for $26 and thought that was outrageous when a normal, perfectly good bottle of wine could be had for under $4.00.

►Almost nobody had heard of Chardonnay – yes, the cognoscenti knew about real Burgundy (from France – you know) but nobody related that to Chardonnay. Absolutely nobody in wine drinking Australia (except Len Evans) had heard of Sauvignon Blanc.  Then the Sydney restaurant wine scene was turned on its head when a brand new upstart Hunter winery called, Rosemount Estate (the one with a diamond label – so innovative), launched their Chardonnay. Within a short space of time every premium restaurant in Sydney had to have one Chardonnay for the unconventional people who wouldn’t pick from one of the 3-5 Rhine Riesling on the wine list.

►Compare that to where we are today: making wine from 154+ different varieties, 2,500 wineries, almost all wine is varietally labelled, we export somewhere between 40-45% of the wine we produce to well over 50 countries, many of whom didn’t even drink wine 35 years ago.

So imagine where we will be in 35 years’ time? You can’t of course, and whilst I won’t be here to see it I hope you “young whippersnappers” stop in 2056 and take the time to look back and see how the wine world has changed in that time frame.

Cheers and here’s hoping that you are still drinking great Aussie wine in 2056!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about a couple of exciting new wines from JACOB’S CREEK (JC).

Having worked for Orlando Wines (Pernod Ricard) for a decade in the 1990s I have always had a bit of a soft spot for JC. I was chuffed years ago when they raised the bar by releasing the Reserve Range that took the wines to the regional varietal level at a realistic price.

Then two or three years ago they raised the bar again when they launched the JACOB’S CREEK DOUBLE BARREL SHIRAZ which was partially matured in used Whisky barrels. That was a cracking Shiraz with a unique and beguiling flavour, made more complex and intriguing by the use of the Whisky barrels. To the best of my knowledge they were the first winery to do this. They then followed up with a DOUBLE BARREL CABERNET SAUVIGNON, which was “none to dusty” either.

Therefore, I was delighted when a couple of samples from JC arrived in the post last week and they turned out to be the “DOUBLE BARREL” CHARDONNAY and the “DOUBLE BARREL” SHIRAZ CABERNET.

The JACOB’S CREEK DOUBLE BARREL 2020 CHARDONNAY was “crafted in aged Scotch Whisky barrels” – which means that the grapes were fermented in the Whisky barrels before being matured in “normal” oak barrels. The wine has beautiful aromas of stone fruit coupled with toasty, slightly buttery notes and a dash of vanillin oak. On the palate it has a lovely freshness which is coupled with a creamy, rich texture making it a very bright, smooth, mellow wine that is a pleasure to enjoy either on its own as an aperitif or with a wide range of foods such as antipasto, entrées, seafood or chicken dishes. Oh Yum!!

The JACOB’S CREEK DOUBLE BARREL 2019 SHIRAZ CABERNET is a cracker wine! Deep purple in colour, divine, subtle, but yet powerful vanillin oak on the complex bouquet coupled with deeper, spicy notes and a smidge of nutmeg. The palate is gorgeous – silky-smooth, rich, well rounded, with a superb, lingering finish. It’s bloody beautiful and raring to go!!! Enjoy it on its own or with bigger, bolder meat or vegetarian dishes. Outstanding!

Well that’s it for this week. Now I am going to sit back, relax and enjoy another glass (or three!) of the JACOB’S CREEK DOUBLE BARREL 2020 CHARDONNAY.

Cheers and remember to always #chooseaustralianwine and where possible enjoy #emergingvarieties