WELL BLOW ME DOWN!

August 21, 2020

I have spent the last twenty years advocating “emerging” varieties and saying that Australia is the most “experimentatious” wine producing country in the world. Despite only having three native varieties (created by the CSIRO) we produce wine from 154 different varieties. Given that at least 64% of the world’s wine is made from the top 35 most planted varieties, this diversity is outstanding as most wine producing countries are hidebound by tradition (or regulations) as to what varieties they can plant where. For example, it is illegal to plant Shiraz in Bordeaux.

Today, just on half of Australia’s wineries produce wine from one or more of the emerging grape varieties. Some of these emerging varieties, such as Tempranillo (with 430 growers), are heading towards becoming mainstream, whilst others are just beetling along in relative obscurity.

So imagine my surprise the other day when in discussions with Adelaide University’s, Professor Kym Anderson (AC Executive Director, Wine Economic Research Centre), that I discovered from his latest publication, “Australia’s Evolving Winegrape Varietal Distinctiveness” by Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen, that we are in fact growing more and more of the handful of mainstream top 10 “classic” varieties – led by Shiraz. So that in reality rather than diversifying we are indeed concentrating our production into the top grown varieties, like the rest of the world.

As they say in the classics, “Well blow me down!” I was stunned to find that contrary to my belief that we are making great progress, we are in fact going backwards rather than forwards, in terms of vinous diversity.  During our discussions, I came to realise that this is caused by the fact that whilst a new/young experimentatious vigneron plants one or two hectares of an emerging variety, the large corporates, will plant a new 25, 50 or 100 hectare vineyard of Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sav Blanc or other mainstream variety to feed their ever growing commercial brands.  Thus, we are slowly inching backwards in overall terms of uniqueness. We need 10-25 new emerging variety plantings to make up for just one single new Chardy block of 25 hectares and of course this just isn’t happening.

Whilst their publication demonstrates that this is a global phenomenon, we are particularly interested in what is happening here at home. Our top eight varieties in 1990 accounted for 70% of plantings (by area) whereas in 2016 they accounted for 85%. This occurred during a time of unprecedented vineyard expansion! At the same time the share of red varieties has gone from 37% of the total to 64%. Almost doubling over this period. This has coincided with the rise & rise of French grape varieties which have risen from being 50% of our total production in 1990 to a staggering 90% these days. Wow! That is really mind blowing when you consider how many wines made from Spanish and Italian varieties are currently available in the market place.

What this has to mean is that the big are getting bigger, with the likes of Casella, Treasury and Pernod Ricard growing their commercial brands around the world.

Another interesting (sad) fact from the report is that in 2016, 50% of the world’s grape vine plantings came from a mere 16 varieties – compared with 21 varieties back in 2000.

Thanks for your insightful report Professor, but alas this sad news has made me thirsty. So I think I will go and open a bottle of Verdejo or maybe a Saperavi, a Tannat, a Durif or perhaps an elegant little Blaufränkisch and drown my sorrows.

Cheers, stay safe and enjoy a great non-mainstream wine (or three) this weekend!

This Week's Wine Review:

This week I am talking about the red wines of Bordeaux.

When you mention Bordeaux most people automatically think of the “Growth” wines such as Château Latour, Château Lafite, etc., which in fact represent a miniscule, albeit bloody expensive, portion of the red wines produced in Bordeaux.

Previously these superstars were the drivers for the rest of Bordeaux to sell as people who couldn’t afford the Growths bought AOC (Appellation d’origine Contrôlée) wines instead. However, in recent times (since China has taken an interest in wine) all the publicity Bordeaux has had has been about how ridiculously expensive these wines have become. You need a personal loan or just about a second mortgage to buy the top flight Bordeaux wines these days.

However beneath the “superstars’ there are hundreds of producers making good, honest, down to earth red Bordeaux, and as global warming keeps ticking along, the vintages are becoming more consistent and reliable.

In the past you needed to know exactly which were the good vintages and which were the bad, because in a bad vintage most of their wines were thin, green and weedy. I well recall attending a tasting of Cabernet from around the world which consisted of the vintages from 1988-1993, and whilst the Aussies and even the Yanks were fairly consistent year after year, the Bordeaux from 1988, 1989 and 1990 were sublime whereas the (equally expensive) 1991, 1992 and 1993 were thin, green and pissy (because they had been either cold or wet years – or both). The first three vintages were worth the exorbitant price being asked for them (at the time). However, the latter three were only about 10% cheaper (they vary the price each year for the vintage conditions) but were, to me, almost undrinkable.

After that long pre-amble, today’s wine is a stonking great bargain and gives most Aussie Cabernet-based wines a run for their money in the value stakes. It is Château Les Maurins 2019 Bordeaux from Entre-Deux-Mer and is available at Aldi Liquor Stores for a mere $9.99 a bottle.

The wine is deep, bright purple in colour, has appealing complex aromas with plenty of black fruits and a hint of spices. It has a gorgeous mouthful of fresh juicy flavours with great balancing acidity/tannins and goes great with mildly spicy food.

This wine is a delicious, absolute bargain and has even won a gold medal at the 2020 Gilbert & Gaillard International Wine Competition in Europe.

If you live in the civilised part of Australia, where Aldi are allowed to sell wine (unlike bloody South Australia) do yourself a favour and go and grab a bottle and try it for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

Alas due to Covid-19 no Victorian or NSW friends are travelling to Adelaide, so I can’t buy any – bugga!!