Is Australia Back?

Time to take another look at the wines of Australia


You have to love Australia’s red wines. If for nothing else than the sheer simplicity of twisting off a baker’s dozen of screw-caps as opposed to setting out to fight with so many corks. OK that’s not a tremendous motivation to get you to try these wines but it was a sweet sight for my sore eyes, or hand as the case may be. Some of these wines were also tasted at a formal tasting, just to make clear that samples that fetch multiple 100s of dollars are not making it to Snooth central.

I went to this tasting, which is a rare outing for me indeed, because I am interested in Australian wines, as I should be. A little lost at times as I work my through them, but on several levels they are fascinating wines. The most obvious level is of course their rapid rise and then fall from grace that marked their foray into the US market circa 2000-2007. It’s tough to pinpoint what drove their demand, but the fall may be a bit easier to frame into a discussion.

Simply put their market was undermined. Undermined by the inexpensive Aussie Shiraz that the wines became identified with, and undermined by some remarkable if relatively inexpensive Shiraz that made many people reconsider spending more for a wine that had little more to offer. Inexpensive Shiraz was able to match expensive Shiraz on many levels including the explosive fruit, richness and power that made these wines appealing. In fact it is those same traits that proved it’s downfall. Sure the great examples of Shiraz pack in so much more. They have depth and complexity, and refinement of tannins, but these more esoteric considerations appeal to a relatively small part of the consumer base. For the most part rich, and chewy and packed with fruit was, and remains enough for a Shiraz to be consider successful.
And so the screw turned, no pun intended.  $20 Shiraz were receiving critical acclaim that rivaled wines costing multiples more. Those more expensive examples began to stall in the marketplace, and that stall not so gradually moved down the pricing scale until all that was successful were value priced Shiraz. In less than a decade Australian Shiraz went from a media darling to a wine sold primarily on price, low price. The wines also did change over time and this change contributed to their demise. In response to wines that received mega scores from the noted critics of the day, producers tended to ratchet up their wines. Bigger wines got bigger scores so a fuse was lit. If ever a market segment revealed the disconnect between wines that win tasting competitions and wines that drink well it was Australian Shiraz.
And so here we sit, five years plus since the bottom fell out of the Australian wine market here in the USA, with Australia still struggling to get some of it back. To begin with by reintroducing Shiraz to the US market. A Shiraz that is slightly less effusive and powerful than those of half a dozen years ago, due both to climatic conditions and recognition on the part of producers that ultimately they needed to make wines for consumers and not critics. And back they are to a certain extent, though I am surprised by the prices asked for some of these wines. In that regard there seems to be a bit of nostalgia at work here. The wine world has changed since these wines were last ‘hot’ and I think producers need to take that into account. Many of these wines were tasted at a tasting designed to feature the creme de la creme, I recognize that but ultimately this represents a tiny slice of the sales of Australian wines and it would probably be better to focus on wines that live a little down market first.

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Top Australian Shiraz tasted 10/13

Yalumba Shiraz Barossa Valley the Octavius (2006)
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Giaconda Shiraz Estate Vineyard (2010)
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Greenock Creek Alices Shiraz Australia (2011)
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Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz (2009)
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Yangarra Shiraz Estate Mclaren (2010)
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Yalumba the Signature Cabernet-Shiraz Blend Barossa Valley (2008)
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Langmeil Shiraz Orphan Bank (2010)
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Jim Barry Lodge Hill Dry Clare Valley (2011)
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Henschke Keyneton Euphonium Eden Valley (2010)
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Langmeil Barossa Valley Floor Shiraz (2010)
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Wirra Wirra Shiraz Catapult (2010)
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Shingleback Shiraz the Davey Estate (2011)
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Wirra Wirra Church Block Mclaren Vale (2010)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: cucreek
    1324710 22

    Descriptors like "ripe, jammy, lush, rich" (to name but a few), this only convinces me that the basic problems with the Australian craze have not been addressed. These reviews suggest they are still overripe, overly alcoholic, not age worthy and not worth the $$ many still ask. In addition to the loss of distinction between expensive and inexpensive (why pay $100 for an overly-extracted wine when you can get one for $20), it was the RP effect--huge scores for wines which, after a short time in cellars (including mine), were finished. Too ripe, too hot and not balanced to drink, let alone age.

    Oct 15, 2013 at 6:20 PM

  • Snooth User: gerrad
    79282 57

    can i point out that all but one wine in your list (i think) is from barossa/eden valley! if you want more restrained less jammy wines-buy from cooler climate producers! try, margaret river (earthy and med body, maybe some mint), great southern (dark, brooding savoury fruit), tasmania (try glaetzer-dixon) and victoria (espec. grampians, alpine valley, beechworth regions). in the same way as many of the best wines of france or usa never make it here- same goes here. look into; plantagenet, leeuwin estate, castle rock est., frankland estate, forest hill, faber, xanadu etc. and theyre just some of the gems from the west coast. ok, ul have trouble getting many of them, but have u looked? good drinking.

    Oct 16, 2013 at 6:27 AM

  • Snooth User: gerrad
    79282 57

    cu creek, could you name any of the producers and vintages to which you refer..and how many of them DONT come from barossa valley? i agree with your general sentiment in respect to wines from that region..otherwise no! (see my comment above)

    Oct 16, 2013 at 6:28 AM

  • Snooth User: Pagarsi
    1264679 15

    At first glance there are as many wines from Mcclarenvale as anywhere. Shingleback are also Mcclarenvale, Their best shiraz is The Gate and D block. I agree with you about Grampions, very under-rated particularly Langi Ghirran.

    Oct 16, 2013 at 10:52 AM

  • Snooth User: cucreek
    1324710 22

    First, I have enjoyed this exchange. Unlike many website comment sections, this is civil, pleasant and informative. Just people interested in the subjects at hand. I will stipulate areas other than Barossa (and sometimes McClaren Vale) can make very different wines. I was responding to the wines in this report, since that is what was presented. And this article highlights the problem: by the choice of wines, it reinforces the perceptions, and the wines most often encountered. Cheers to all.

    Oct 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,296

    "Unlike many website comment sections, this is civil, pleasant and informative."

    I think you will find that attitude pervades throughout the Snooth site.

    I have sat outside this conversation and have learned a lot. I would like to thank the contributors.

    Oct 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Pagarsi
    1264679 15

    There are many, many mid-tier restaurants in Australia which still allow (encourage ?)people to bring their own wine. I took a bottle of shiraz with me to an Afghannee reataurant last night. (Charging a corkage fee of $10 to $30 per bottle,)In contrast to most of the Western world. The upshot of this is 95% of all wine bought in Australia is drunk the day it is bought, the vast majority within two hours of being bought. (I have three clients in the wine industry, I know more about the wine industry than I do about wine.) This seems a fairly insignificant point but in practice it is a great influence on the market. The emphasis is to produce wines drunk straight from the shelf and not for collectors to put down for a number of years.

    We have the richest 2 year old horse race in the world, it could be argued that culturally we don't have a lot of patience and we want to get on with things straight away.

    Oct 16, 2013 at 9:15 PM

  • I think some of you guys had better spend some dosh and get acquainted with phase 2 of wines and their diversity in Australia. You are only replicating old Bob P stereotypes . I travel the world and the mid tier and above wines of the country are sensational. And there are terroirs of great substance ( and e,enhance ) in each quality region including Barossa and Eden Valleys. In any case good wine is good wine beyond stigmatization.

    Oct 27, 2013 at 6:12 AM

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