Country Focus: Australia & New Zealand
Every edition we ask John Mansfield of The Society of Vintners about what is happening in the world of wine. This issue, his focus is Australasia…
Australian wines have been the best selling wines in the off trade for the last 15 years, so are a must-have on any wine list, as people obviously love them – and that love affair is spreading to neighbouring New Zealand with WSTA figures showing that their wine sales in the UK increased by 15% in 2016 to a total of more than 63 million bottles! There are changes afoot though; driven by the effect of recent trade deals that have resulted in more and more wine going to China, which is pushing up grape prices. The exchange rate is also putting pressure on wholesale prices, meaning that quality Antipodean wine is starting to cost more.
It is, of course, still possible to source entry level wines, but care has to be taken. The answer is to adapt your wine lists, and offer a greater number of premium Australian and New Zealand wines. That way, your customers will continue to enjoy the very best drinking experience. So, what should you look for?
The move to premiumisation
As I mentioned, demand from China and exchange rates are hitting wine prices. It is therefore important to spend a little more to get the quality of wine that drinkers will recognise and appreciate. For the on trade, the Tempus Two wines – in particular the Silver Series, from a winery founded 20 years ago – by the very well known McGuigan family are great examples of what I mean.
Of course, classic blends such as Semillon/Chardonnay and the distinctive Semillon/Sauvignon remain popular and need to be stocked. The Captain’s Table range has built up a strong reputation in the UK over the last 15 years and represents super value and quality. And at the entry level, look for interesting labels and marketing that can spark an interest in generic blends – the fun labels seen on the Joey Brown range of wines work well.
Then with Shiraz, at the lower end you’ll have blends like Shiraz-Cabernet, but if you want to demonstrate the full bold flavour and pepper characteristics of this fine grape you’ll need to spend more to get quality. Mountbridge Reserve Shiraz is a good example at a commercial price level – it pairs particularly well with full meats like beef, barbecue flavours, cheese, or indeed, dark chocolate.
21 red and 16 white grape varieties are grown in Australia, with the best-known red being Shiraz, and white, Chardonnay. For Shiraz, the biggest production areas are Riverland, Riverina, Murray Darling (Victoria) and Barossa, totalling nearly 40,000 hectares of vineyards. In the case of Chardonnay the area is smaller – some 22,000 hectares. Within that there are specific areas you should look out for on labels, top names being the Yarra Valley of Victoria, Hunter Valley of New South Wales, the coastal areas of South Australia and the Margaret River district of Western Australia.
For many people, New Zealand wine is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. And that’s not really a surprise, as the Marlborough region’s sheltered climate and free draining terrain makes it the largest wine growing region in New Zealand, further boosted by the high yield of the Sauvignon Blanc grape which means there’s plenty around!
Interestingly, the grape had a fall from grace in the 1990s when cheap liquid flooded the market, but this is now a distant memory with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc being a premium wine
But there are other New Zealand grapes and regions you should consider for your wine lists. Pinot Noir (or Burgundy to Old World wine drinkers) is a good option. New Zealand’s are generally oaked, fruit driven, have medium depth of colour with attractive spicy berry and bramble fruits along with black cherry notes. A classic example is Neptune Point – with well integrated tannins and a good length. Serve at a cool 17°C with game or poultry. This grape also does well in Martinborough (Wairapa).
Look out too for wines from Hawkes Bay, which is the oldest wine region in New Zealand, dating back to the French Missionaries in the 1850s. With a climate that’s similar to Bordeaux it excels in full-bodied Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (Shiraz) reds, as well as some delicious peachy Chardonnays.