The past year has been tricky for Australian wine exports. At the beginning of April 2009, figures showed a drop in global export value of over 14% against April 2008, while exports to the USA fell by a whacking 26.5%. Of course, this setback is occurring after years of steady growth and, as we all know, cycles always turn against you at some stage.
At present, keeping costs down is the challenge, as is curtailing over-supply. Customers are trading down and while Australia’s big brands can supply significant stocks at entry level, its input costs and general quality profile mean that a lot of its wine comes in at a bit above that point and on into the mid-range category.
So far, Australia has shown a notable sure-footedness in responding to crisis. Improvements in the vineyard and the winery have driven efficiency and reined in cost, such as increased efficiency in drip methods of irrigation. In addition, the Australian dollar has dropped dramatically, making the wine more competitive on the export market.
Bad times didn’t prevent a raft of Australian producers from joining their Irish agents at the annual tasting at Croke Park last month, and the general feeling was that if a handle can be got on the over-production issue, trade should recover well in the short to medium term. As so much entry point Australian is familiar, we paid particular attention to mid range, characterful wines offering especially good value for money. Prices are approximate retail.
Brown Brothers Pinot Grigio 2007 (Barry Fitzwilliam €13). Far as I’m concerned most pinot grigio is overpriced but this makes a real attempt to deliver, with reasonable length following on from clean, quite intense green apple flavours.
Murphys Chardonnay 2008 (Quintessential €11). The name will have good appeal in this market and the wine’s not bad either; clean, fruity and decent value for money.
D’Arenberg Last Ditch Viognier 2007 (Taserra €13.50). Succulent and slightly flowery, with good balance of alcohol and acidity.
Olive Grove Chardonnay 2007 (Taserra €13.50). It couldn’t be anything but Australian but its ripe fruit is restrained on the palate with alcohol under control.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008 Clare Valley (Liberty €20). Very good indeed, the white of the day for me. An attacking wine with lots of breadth on the palate, real riesling character, good length and age-ability.
Yering Station Shiraz Viognier 2005 (Ampersand €13.50). One of a range of soundly delivering bottles, this is well structured, with slightly succulent black olive and plum fruit.
De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir 2008 (Febvre €16). Siam Thai restaurant has this on its list and I can testify that it’s excellent with all kinds of mildly spiced food. This vintage is juicy and enjoyable stuff and you won’t shed tears over the extra couple of euro for a weekend treat.
Clairault Shiraz 2004 (Febvre €18). From a label offering some very good reds, this is one of the best and worth the price. A Margaret River wine offering a beguiling synergy between New World ripeness and European black olive and licquorice hints. Delicious.
Wakefield Estate Clare Valley Cabernet 2006 (Findlater €12.49). Well structured and concentrated for the price. This label offers consistent value and the Estate Riesling is also a very sound delivery at a similar sum.
Heartland Dolcetto & Lagrein 2007 (Searsons €16). These are northern Italian varieties, not often blended together as they’re from different regions; the first from Piedmont and the second from Trentino. This is a hearty blend with lively berry and plum fruit.
Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Searsons €13.50). Nicely structured, tasty blackcurrant fruit, good value.
Voyager Shiraz Margaret River 2006 (Febvre). This range is new to Ireland and is notable for its firm classic style. The estate regards this wine as a bit of a one off as it was a relatively cool vintage in the area. With notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black olive and just a hint of leafiness, its winemaker Cliff Royle regards this is the estate’s best ever shiraz.
Rutherglen Estate Nebbiolo 2006 (Findlater €13.50). Australia has often found this classic Italian variety to be a hard sell. This is for old-fashioned wine drinkers, with its very slightly oxidated but very enjoyable plum fruit and supple tannins. Trendier consumers will prefer the tasty shiraz viognier at around the same price.
A potential new tasty sparkler for Ireland, Brown Brothers Zibbibo Rosé nv (Barry Fitzwilliam). Zibbibo is just a southern Italian name for muscat and this is a very Italian style of sweet sparkler. But there’s good acid balance and gorgeous strawberry mousse flavours; try it with fruit based desserts.