What Australia wants America to know about their wine: We’re more than Shiraz

Australia showcases top Rieslings and Pinot Noir at Landmark in New York

Landmark, a Wine Australia event, New York City, January 2011

This week I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse (and taste) of 25 Australian wines with 38 top sommeliers and wine writers.
Even with a blizzard blowing down the streets of New York outside, some of the most well-tuned palates on the East Coast turned out at Landmarc restaurant in the Time Warner Center to discover what Australia wants to tell the world. Australia sent Michael Hill Smith and Tom Carson, two prestigious wine experts over to tell the story. After all, according to Wine Australia, every wine has a story.

The East Coast wine world probably wouldn’t have showed up for a Shiraz tasting, but this is new and different. Australia is deliberately promoting the country’s top Rieslings and Pinot Noir: a very strategic tasting to address their biggest marketing challenge.

We’re more than Shiraz
When Americans think of Australian wine they either think of mass-produced cheaper wine, or big, higher alcohol “fruit bomb” wines. Yes, we all think of Shiraz. And who doesn’t love an Aussie Shiraz. But this tasting was not meant to downplay Shiraz. The truth is that America is missing out on Australia’s other prized wines for a couple of reasons:

1. Consumers don’t know to ask for other types of Australian wine so there is no demand for it to be brought into the country, and
2. Importers and sommeliers need to be convinced that it is worth importing or recommending.

These influencers hold the keys to wine stores and restaurants so they need to be convinced. If the marketing organization for Australian Wine (Wine Australia) succeeds in their mission to help this along you will soon be drinking some incredible wine.

Michael Hill Smith discusses Australian Riesling at Landmark

We kicked off the morning with a tasting of 10 top Rieslings. Michael Hill Smith, Master of Wine and owner of Shaw & Smith in the Adelaide Hills, explained that Australia’s Eden Valley and Clare Valley in South Australia are the classic regions for Riesling. Riesling has a long history in Australia and along with Semillion, were the first white grapes planted. Riesling grows best in “mean sites”, meaning the soil is infertile.

We tried several Rieslings from the 2010 vintage, which were good, but the wine doesn’t develop tertiary characters until a few years into aging. Be sure to look out for the 2008 vintage. If you don’t know much about Riesling, take my word for it, if you know what to look for they are excellent, and I’m not alone. To quote the wine master: “I think that Riesling is indisputably the greatest white wine grape in the world.” – Jancis Robinson

As we went on to the Pinot Noir tasting, Tom Carson, one of Australia’s leading winemaker’s (currently at Yabby Lake) pointed out why Southern Australia’s cool climate is an ideal region to grow this grape. The biggest surprise of the day, after tasting 15 excellent Pinots, I found that Tasmanian Pinot tops my list.

We don’t want to make “tadpole wines”
When the topic of Pinot Noir from other countries came up, Michael explained why Australia’s Pinot can rank higher than their Kiwi counterparts. “We don’t want to make tadpole wines,” he said. “Tadpole wines” are what he is referring to as Pinot Noir from New Zealand, mainly wines with a big start and small finish. Ouch, I had to ask him about this later, after all I am a Kiwi. I grew up very close to Central Otago where New Zealand’s best Pinot is grown. I got Michael to agree New Zealand Pinot is pretty good too.

Compared to French wines, Australia believes it has huge potential to grow. It can make meaningful and dramatic improvements every year, unlike producers in Burgundy that have already reached the pinnacle of success over the hundreds of years they have been producing wine. French wine has already reached such a high standard that it is very difficult for winemakers to improve on.

Australia wants to show you they have exciting wines. “There is a gap, and we want to close that gap,” said Michael Hill Smith. In other words, “the gap” is the difference between what gets imported and what doesn’t. You can also help the Aussies broaden the variety of what is imported into the US. Go to your local wine store and ask for some of these great labels:

Highlights:
2010 Bay of Fires Riesling, Tasmania (Constellation)
2009 Shaw & Smith Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills (Vintus Wines)
2008 Stefano Lubiana Estate Pinot Noir, Tasmania (No current USA importer)
2008 Yabby Lake Vineyard Single Block Release, Block 5 Pinot Noir (Yabby Lake)
2008 Kooyong Single Vineyard Selection Haven Pinot Noir (Vine Street)

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3 Comments on “What Australia wants America to know about their wine: We’re more than Shiraz”

  1. Sharon Wilkinson January 31, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    What a great read! I couldn’t agree more.

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