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Time To Reconsider Australian Wines

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Limestone Coast Shiraz

‘E’ Wine of the week

By Bruce Cochran


Australia’s wines are similar in style to California wines, and often at very good prices. Both California and Australia are mostly warm places looking for cool spots in which to grow grape varieties native to Europe’s cooler climate. Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah (aka shiraz in Australia) and others have long thrived in their new “New World” homes.

While most of the wine world struggles with current economic conditions, Australia’s wineries have been having a particularly difficult time. In addition to a down world economy and a rising home currency (making Australia’s imports more expensive), many of their vineyard areas have faced droughts, floods and fires. They’ve lost market share from the U.S. to Britain.

Perhaps the greatest challenge they’ve brought on themselves. Younger readers may not know that Australian wines haven’t been in the U.S. market for very long. They rocketed from not much to a lot in only a few years, mainly in the 1990s. What they did was popularize their California-style wines at inexpensive prices. What they didn’t do was effectively promote their best quality areas, as Napa Valley vintners did for example.

Few Americans really know that much about Australia’s various wine regions. Mostly along the cooler southern coast (being south of the equator), names like Hunter Valley, Victoria, Coonawarra and Barossa were emphasized early on, but not enough. In most consumers’ idea of Australian wines the really good independent wineries are mostly lumped together with low priced “critter wines” (labels with animals). Even Fred Franzia, inventor of “Two Buck Chuck” has announced a new venture called “Three Dolla Koala.”

Part of the problem has been the appellation South East Australia. This name incorporates three wine producing states under one name, so wines can be blended together for greater efficiency and volume. At the same time, it has confused consumers, who mostly don’t remember smaller, often higher-quality appellations, or even individual states, like South Australia.

It’s said that sometimes you have to hit bottom to get back up, and Australia’s wine business looks like it must be close to a bottom. I sure hope so, because I like Australian wines and have a very friendly feeling toward Australians. Motivated sellers tend to offer bargains, and that’s what is happening now across Australia. For good quality at a good price, I think it’s time to consider Australian wines again. And I really hate to say “again.”

Your local wine retailer can likely suggest good wines from independent wineries in a variety of price ranges. One that I like is also easy to remember. Greg Norman Shiraz, “Limestone Coast” comes from the fine Limestone Coast area in the state of South Australia. It’s a deeply colored red that’s rich in fruit, with dark berry flavors over a backbone of fine tannins and enough, but not too much, toasty oak. Retail price is $15 to $20.

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