I would be very interested to hear thoughts on where you think the Aussie wine industry is going? Particularly the foreseeable future. Personally, I feel the light is getting brighter each day? I have started to see dedicated sections back in fine wine retail, Aussie sections/pages on wine lists, etc...
I've been in wine retail for about six years - and when I first started the attitudes toward Australian wines were pretty damn dismissive. Very few guests at the shops wanted to have anything to do with them - I think the blanket consensus was that Australian wine = Yellow Tail = $7 saturated fruit bomb. But I think it is getting better all the time, or at least what is consistently good is getting noticed. The 2008 Penfolds Grange Shiraz merited 100 points RP, for what that is worth, and I personally love Mollydooker wines - of course they are fruit forward but they're also structured and lovely. What is funny is that a very comprehensive wine shop I worked for in LA had a solid Australian section - and the company I work for now, headed by a Master Sommelier, has not a single Australian wine in either of our two locations. As with anything, there seem to be two schools of thought - "Go Australia go! I'm loving it!" or "Aw, Australia making wine...that's precious." Interestingly enough, you're not the only one pondering this question - here's a poll from Wine Spectator if you care to weigh in.
I also work in wine retail, and Australia has had a lot of ups and downs in the last 6-7 years that I have been working. When I first started, Australia was pretty near the top of everyone's go-to wine chart. Then, it was as if Australia had a "Sideways" moment. Suddenly, customers who had been seeking higher-end Aussie wines were only interested in the California giants cranking out similarly-styled products. There was a while where our local distributors were offering killer wines and deep discounts to try and move them out the door: good for the consumer, but reinforcing that image of value-driven Australia. Then, the stock market tanked and people were only interested in the $7-10 price range for anything, who cared where it came from. Things are looking up, little by little, but I don't find too many people seeking out Aussie wines outside of Lindeman's and Penfold's introductory lines. It's definitely a hand-sell, which I do with gusto, whether Cabernet, Shiraz, Spanish- and Italian-influenced blends, the occasional Riesling, Vermentino, or something off-the-wall. We do have a dedicated Australian section, but frankly, I try to double place anything outside of Shiraz (i.e. put a Cabernet in both Australia and our domestic Cabernet section). They always do much better when placed with domestic wines. I must confess that while I like a lot of Australian wines, I just don't really go there immediately when someone wants a recommendation for a good Cabernet, Grenache, etc. I only immediately think in that direction when someone asks for a Shiraz, which is relatively frequent during the winter months. White wines are almost completely off the map, and I rarely see sales reps pushing them at all. I think that the key will be in pushing "regionality" and perhaps the parallels between our two nations ( i.e. ethnic diversity, pioneering and exploration history, cool climate, elegant wine styles) Customers seem to respond to learning about the history of wine-producing areas, so that is always a good avenue to explore. Hope that that was helpful!
Speaking from an on premise perspective.
I think with the advent of elevated food especially showcasing the finer details of local food sheds, a lot of manufactured, overly extracted aussie wines are getting pushed to the side for structure driven, high acid reds and whites. With that being said, I work in a Prime Steakhouse and we sell a decent amount of Shiraz between 40-70 dollars, with little to no demand for blue chip aussie wines.
As for for Australian Whites overall, I wish I could find Chardonnay from Margaret River and Riesling from Clare Valley but I find next to nothing when I go shopping retail, and very little, if anything imported when I buy for my program.
Did you guys check out the Australia masterclasses the Guild held this last year? They really showed off "where the Aussie wine industry is going" with a ton of fabulous, unexpected, delicious wines. Here's the presentation link: www.guildsomm.com/.../15930.aspx
I've also started to hear of a few new Australian importers, such as Little Peacock in NYC, which is exciting!
Wish that I could have attended. Looked over the presentation at the time and revisited it after this post. Hope to see more events like this in the coming year!
For what it is worth, here is my 2 cents
Obviously, my experience is skewed as I've only visited and rarely work with anything but Victoria wine, but here is my impression. The current trend in Australia seems to be mirroring that in California, and it's a shame if people are missing out on it.
Old schooly producers like Mount Mary, Jasper Hill, Craiglee, Yarra Yering, Bass Phillip, Tyrell's, Giaconda, Gosset, Wendouree are still making some unique, great stuff that deserve to be on any halfway decent sommeliers radar, while young cats are making brilliant, transparent, elegant wines. Examples: By Farr, Yabby Lake, Coldstream Hills, Bindi, Mac Forbes. I am also looking forward to what's happening in Tasmania, especially the new project from Shaw+Smith, Tolpuddle.
There's also huge value to be found. All of the above mentioned are cheap compared to counterparts from elsewhere (with the exception of Wendouree perhaps), and there's a lot on lower tiers as well. My best value find and best purchase for the restaurants this year is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians, who is a real sleeper. Top quality Cab for a price where you'd be hard pressed to find drinkable equivalent in CA. And wines like the By Farr Pinot Noirs in cooler vintages are in my book on par with just about anything in California or Oregon, but much less expensive. Might be a harder sell though.
Currently, on the restaurant floor, we need to engage our guests in a lot of chat if we want to move Ozzie wines.
For $70-$80, the volume is still acceptable, but in our targeted sweet spot of $140-$180, sales are virtually nonexistent. Bizarrely, for California equivalents in the same price range, we can not keep up with demand.
It seems this is SLOWLY changing.
For certain, regional diversity and single vineyard bottlings are the future for premium Australian wines. It will just take a while longer for the cachet to be at the same level as California, Italy, France and Spain.
From the restaurant perspective, I carry two choices of Shiraz, one low and one high. The low one, rarely, if ever sells; whereas conversely, I have no problem selling $98 MollyDooker Carnival of Love.
Hey all. I live and work in the Aussie wine industry. I can tell you with certainty that it is very exciting down here at the moment. A lot of winemakers who used to work for the big boys (ie Treasury) are starting to branch off and do their own things as small producers. There has also been a strong move towards biodynamics and a focus on terroir over the past five years. We used to rubbish the old world producers, but now that they are sending their sons and daughters down her to study and work, we are embracing their ideas. Although I love Aussie Shiraz there has been a strong focus on planting other varietals in the last ten years as well. So we are seeing lot more Italian Varietals coming through.
Master Stamp just posted a link about a SF Australia tasting in the events page: www.guildsomm.com/.../5492.aspx
Thanks for the link! I'm definitely going!