New land of opportunities

09 August, 2007

With Australia's over-supply problems sorted, it can concentrate on quality, says Jeremy Oliver

Occurring at the likely coincidence of the height of a once-in-a-century drought and the ongoing process of climate change, the 2007 vintage in Australia was unprecedented in several ways. It was extraordinarily early, was affected by an incredible range of severe climatic effects, and it was dramatically small, falling by an estimated 25 per cent to 1.42 million tonnes.

The short harvest has effectively wiped out Australia's oversupply, and rising spot prices for bulk wine are expected to send prices up across the market. For many producers, and for generic body Wine Australia, this is a key opportunity for Australia to show off its strengths outside the mass-produced, value-for-money end of the market - and to put more emphasis on regionality.

Here OLN gives you a brief introduction to some of Australia's key wine regions and how they fared in the 2007 vintage.

Tasmania

Principal varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris

Climate and style: Australia's most southerly state performs best in warmer vintages. To date, global warming is working in Tasmania's favour. Musky, ethereal Pinot Noir, more European expressions of Riesling, Australia's best emerging collection of sparkling wines and some surprising dry whites from Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc

Price: Mid-market to super-premium

Top producers: Bay of Fires, Clover Hill, Domaine A, Freycinet, Frogmore Creek, Grey Sands, Jansz, Moorilla Estate, Pipers Brook, Stefano Lubiana, Wellington, Winstead

2007 vintage: A frost-reduced crop cut yields by around 40 per cent, but produced some good results from a very early vintage. Pinot fared best with some high-standard wines, while Riesling and Chardonnay were of sound quality

Future direction: Increasing vine age, a greater level of winemaking skill and experience plus the influence of global warming suggest a bright future.

Western Australia Margaret River

Principal varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz

Climate and style: A cool-ish maritime climate allied with exceptional individual vineyard sites. Some of the New World's most polished and elegant Cabernet-based red wines, luscious and finely-crafted Chardonnay, plus its white regional speciality of the lightly grassy and tropical Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend

Price: Mid-market to ultra-premium

Top producers: Cape Mentelle, Cullen, Devil's Lair, Houghton, Howard Park, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood, Pierro, Suckfizzle, Vasse Felix, Voyager Estate, Woodlands

2007 vintage: Classy reds of comparable standard to the excellent 2004s, some very herbal Sauvignon Blanc, ripe and juicy Semillon and flavoursome Chardonnay

Future direction: While there is a current fashion towards Shiraz, its best makers are correctly pointing most of their energy towards Chardonnay and the Cabernet family, where Margaret River currently leads the way in Australia.

South Australia

Coonawarra

Principal varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay

Climate and style: The heart of the region is planted on a thin layer of red soil over a substantial depth of limestone, which aids drainage as well as helping to provide water in drier times. Cool and maritime climate with sea breezes in summer produces restrained, elegant red wines from Shiraz and the red Bordeaux varieties

Price: Mid-market to ultra-premium

Top producers: Balnaves, Bowen Estate, Katnook Estate, Lindemans, Majella, Mildara, Orlando, Parker, Penfolds, Penley Estate, Petaluma, Wynns, Zema Estate

2007 vintage: Those vineyards that were not wiped out by frost produced excellent whites and fine, medium-bodied reds

Future direction: At the vanguard of the Australian Cabernet renaissance, with some brilliant spicy, medium-weight Shiraz as well.

McLaren Vale

Principal varieties: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvèdre, Chardonnay, Viognier

Climate and style: Ancient degraded soils, a warm to hot maritime climate and very consistent ripening. Luscious, concentrated and velvet-smooth Shiraz, rustic Cabernet Sauvignon and uncomplicated Sauvignon Blanc

Price: Modest to ultra-premium

Top producers: Chapel Hill, Clarendon Hills, Coriole, d'Arenberg, Fox Creek, Gemtree, Hardys, Kangarilla Road, Kilikanoon, Mitolo, Mr Riggs, Oliver's Taranga, Primo Estate, Wirra Wirra, Woodstock

2007 vintage: Very challenging, with best results likely from the cooler Clarendon subregion

Future direction: While Shiraz is likely to remain king, some interesting wines are being made from Grenache-based blends, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, especially in Clarendon.

Barossa Valley

Principal varieties: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Semillon, Chardonnay, Mourvèdre

Climate and style: Warm to hot, typically very consistent and even, with dry summers and winter rains. Ancient and relatively fertile soils by Australian standards promote moderate, well-ripened crops of intense flavours and a typically rich, generous palate structure. Ripe, voluptuous Shiraz; luscious but refreshing riper, sometimes wood-matured, Semillons; juicy, smooth and savoury blends from the red Rhône varieties; wonderful old oak-matured fortifieds

Price: Inexpensive to ultra-premium

Top producers: Barossa Valley Estate, Burge Family, Charles Melton, Glaetzer, Grant Burge, Greenock Creek, Henschke, Hewitson, Jacob's Creek, John Duval, Kaesler, Kalleske, Langmeil, Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Rockford, Saltram, St Hallett, Teusner, Thorn Clarke, Torbreck, Veritas, Yalumba

2007 vintage: Warmer sites produced fruit with accelerated sugar ripening but less flavour quality, and are less likely to produce wine of typical standard. Later varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, performed better

Future direction: Fascinatingly divided between makers chasing high Parker scores and those more intent on crafting Shiraz of elegance and longevity, and Shiraz/Grenache blends.

Riverlands

Principal varieties: Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon

Climate and style: Continental climate, with reliably warm and dry ripening season aided by the (usual) availability of irrigation water, produces medium-weight, flavoursome table wines that mature relatively early

Price: Low to mid-market

Top producers: Angoves, Kingston, Oxford Landing

2007 vintage: Good fruit brightness and intensity

Future direction: A focus on lower yields and more flavoursome fruit will enable this region to compete in more lucrative markets.

Victoria

Yarra Valley

Principal varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc

Climate and style: Cool climate, marginally warmer than the Mornington Peninsula. The valley floor is considerably warmer and earlier than the surrounding hillsides. The entire gamut of still and sparkling Australian table wine is made here, with the exception of high-class Riesling.

Price: Mid-range to ultra-premium

Top producers: Chandon, Coldsteam Hills, Coombe Farm, Diamond Valley, Mount Mary, Oakridge, TarraWarra, Toolangi, Wantirna Estate, Yarra Yarra, Yarra Yering, Yeringberg, Yering Station

2007 vintage: Initially hammered by frost and then with the lingering spectre of possible smoke taint, this is a small and very challenging season that could still yet produce some classy Pinot.

Future direction: While the region's geographical diversity lends itself to a number of different styles, its makers need to figure out what their sites do best and then focus more closely on their strengths.

Mornington Peninsula

Principal varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Shiraz

Climate and style: Cool maritime climate combined with some exceptional sites can produce outstanding wines which are improving as vines age. Spicy, ethereal and intensely-flavoured Pinot Noir, some very stylish and layered expressions of Chardonnay, and the occasional head-turning Pinot Gris.

Price range: Medium to top level

Top producers: Hurley Vineyard, Kooyong, Main Ridge Estate, Paringa Estate, Port Phillip Estate, Stonier, Yabby Lake

2007 vintage: Tricky, small and early, ripening in warmer conditions than usual. Some fine Pinot can still be expected

Future direction: Continued focus and refinement of its key varieties, likely to be enhanced by concentration on better sites.

New South Wales

Big Rivers -Victoria & NSW (Murray Darling, Riverina, Swan Hill, Perricoota)

Principal varieties: Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon

Climate & style: Continental, with warm to hot dry summers and cooler, wet winters. A reliably warm and dry ripening season is aided by the (usual) availability of irrigation water, producing relatively early-maturing, flavoursome table wines. Irrigation channels provide humidity essential for luscious, concentrated late-harvest dessert styles, including Semillon and fortifieds

Price: Low to mid-market

Top producers: De Bortoli, Lillypilly, McWilliam's, Westend

2007 vintage: While yields were well down in Griffith, its reds are bright and intense. Whites were less impressive, but rains in May helped growers produce good botrytis-affected late harvest whites

Future direction: A movement towards lower yields, higher quality and a more sustainable approach should produce better, but still reliable, quality.

Hunter Valley

Principal varieties: Semillon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Verdelho

Climate and style: A typically early harvest to avoid seasonal rains tends to promote the region's specialities of tightly-focused, long-term Semillons and meaty, rustic Shiraz. Drier seasons develop reds of more power, depth and structure. Hunter Semillon is Australia's unique dry white, with exceptional cellaring potential. Its Chardonnay is typically rich, round and earlier to develop, while Shiraz is earthy, spicy and distinctive

Price: Moderate to top end

Top producers: Briar Ridge, Brokenwood, Capercaillie, Lake's Folly, Margan, Mount Pleasant, Thomas, Tyrrell's

2007 vintage: Some exceptional Semillons and riper expressions of Shiraz. The Hunter managed to escape smoke taint entirely in 2007

Future direction: The Hunter's fortunes have ebbed and flowed with its popularity as a weekend destination for Sydney residents. Its unique Semillon and Shiraz should be better known and respected.




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