Terrior Australia

There are some interesting patterns in the 2009 James Halliday Australian Wine Companion. It rates 5778 wines, and an arrangement of the best wines by variety (page 14) shows clear, even stark, regional specialization.

Riesling – Clare & Eden Valleys, Great Southern (in WA), and Tasmania. Cool nights seem essential for Riesling.

Chardonnay – Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, and Adelaide Hills.

Semillon – pretty much completely dominated by the Hunter Valley.

Sauvignon Blanc – Adelaide Hills.

Sauvignon/Semillon blends – Margaret River.

Sparkling – Tasmania.

Pinot Noir – Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, Yarra Valley.

Shiraz – Barossa, McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley, Grampians, and Heathcote.
Shiraz Viognier blends – Canberra, Yarra Valley.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Margaret River, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra. The importance of maritime influence shows here. Particularly in the surprisingly good showing by the rather hot (but still next to the sea) McLaren Vale.

Shiraz and shiraz blends are Australia’s super strength. The world market seems to share this opinion, and Halliday’s ratings concur. But outside of the shiraz powerhouses of Barossa and McLaren there are many other regions producing high quality wines from other varieties, also the Shiraz from other regions is quite different in style.

It’s true that many Australian wines are blends though in reality these blends often come from the same selection of vineyards each year. And very few serious wines are regional blends. The trend continues to be for regions to specialize on the grape varieties they are best at. We are also seeing distinct regional winemaking styles emerge.

So the New World is beginning to look more and more like the Old World – and vice versa as they continue to learn from one another.

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2 thoughts on “Terrior Australia

  1. Byron,
    Like you I like to analyse Halliday’s wine companion closely to detect trends in the Australian industry.

    While I agree with your general conclusions about the developing regional styles in Australia I think there are several caveats.

    Our history is still very short and many of the varieties that will define our industry are not yet represented. He is particularly short on any alternative varietal reds, the many great Italian varietals and Tempranillos made here are not scored very well at all. His other whites has very few pinot gr, it is domianted by the chardonnay look-a-like end of Australian Viogniers.

    Halliday’s palate, or at least his scoring system is rather backward looking. He gives low points to emerging varieties and he seems wedded to traditional regions, it all be comes a bit self-fulfilling.

    He is particularly short on any alternative varietal reds, the many great Italian varietals and Tempranillos made here are not scored very well at all. His other whites has very few pinot gr, it is domianted by the chardonnay look-a-like end of Australian Viogniers.

    My point is that we still have a way to go before we get to the tight terroir domination seen in France, and we still have away to go in sorting out which varieties to grow.

  2. Darby, I completely agree with your main point. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tempranillo replaces Cabernet in many Australian regions which resemble terriors of Spain far more than maritime Bordeaux.

    I’m not quite ready to criticise Halliday for giving ‘alternative’ varietals low marks. Firstly, Halliday appears to give generous marks to nearly everything. When Parker’s 100-point scale started to get the world’s attention it was criticised as really being a 20-point scale. But Halliday’s version appears to run between 87 and 97, i.e. a ten point scale weighted to the positive end. Secondly, if James Halliday is less generous with ‘alternative’ varietals it’s probably because these still are a very mixed bunch, most don’t deserve good ratings (yet ?).

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