Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Education Begins - Australia Part I

Wine professionals are often guilty of creating confusion or over simplifying things for their audiences. It is possible I will commit the same errors, but I will strive to avoid them. My goal for this education focuses on providing accurate, useful information while actively tying it to wine styles available within the regions being discussed. This last portion makes all the difference. Without a frame of reference and some application of the facts, no true understanding can occur.
This should be at least mildly entertaining and will, I hope, be material you will reference again and again. With that in mind, this will not be exhaustive coverage of every grape, style or region. Instead, widely available options will take priority to increase the relevance. On with the show.
Despite the country's inclusion in the New World for wine discussions, grape growing in Australia began in the late 1780s. The grape most often associated with the area, shiraz, was not always a showpiece variety. In the 1980s the government paid growers to not grow the grape. This also led to replanting and loss of older, unprofitable, vines. The calling card for the continent was fortified dessert wines until about the 1960s. The British love the style and Australia could produce credible and consistent versions.
Important facts:

  • Just like California, if a specific variety is named on the label, 85% of the wine must be that variety.

  • Unlike California, if 5% or more of a variety is in the bottle, it must be listed on the label.

  • Helpfully, with more than one variety blended in, the grapes are listed in order of the largest to smallest percentage.

  • What the French call appellations and we call AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) the Aussies refer to as Geographic Indications - although you'll almost never hear this term.

  • Many wineries use bin numbers to identify their wines. Penfold's and Lindeman's are the best known producers using the bin system. There are no rules or regulations about this practice.

  • South Australia is actually a more specific designation than southeastern Australia.

There are plenty of maps available, but I find the Kobrand Wine and Spirits website to be among the best. Here is the link, it will take you to the whole country and then you can zoom in on specific regions. http://www.kobrandwineandspirits.com/maps/flash/043_australia.php

Part two will take us to some of those specific regions and will be posted in a day or two.

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