A Fresh Start for Australian Wines

April 29, 2010

In some ways the Australian wine industry is like the pro athlete who in one week, gets caught with a hooker, punches his coach, inadvertently fires his illegal firearm in public, tests positive for eleven of the twenty something substances banned by his sport, tears a hamstring, and drives his car into a parade float–all while having a performance slump.

 Right now wines from down under are reeling from both bad luck and bad decisions. Recent droughts, hot summers and unfavorable exchange rates with the Australian currency create real obstacles for the wineries.  In addition, large multinational corporations pumping out swill rather than building a better brand with their finer wines have wreaked havoc with Australia’s reputation. Finally, the trend in wines has been away from the bigger, bolder juice that Australia has become known for. One in every six wineries in Australia is unprofitable today as prices have been slashed, and the surplus of wine creates a problem for selling their newer vintages.

 Although Australian wines have taken a few hits recently, they’re also a lot like the All-Star Wrestler that keeps getting up again and again in spite of the beating he takes. If the wine’s problems seem like a terminal diagnosis, tasting the wines I recommend below gives me new hope for the region, like a doctor saying: “Yes, the prognosis is correct, you have four months to live. Oh…. Wait…I’m sorry. I was looking at the wrong test results. Your results look fine.”

 Now many Australian wineries are diversifying to new styles of wine offering an option to the flabby, heavier fruit bombs that were so popular a few years ago. There is a broader showcase of terrific regional wines emerging that promises to pull them from their own NBA rookie-like public relations nightmare.

 Yalumba 2008, Viognier ($11.99): Peaches, citrus, spice, apricots and all the other flavors work together in this wine for the greater good. No prima donnas here to spoil a great team effort.

 Small Gully 2004, The Formula Robert’s Shiraz ($16.99): The Charles Barkley of wine:  A little flabbiness doesn’t matter if it’s doing everything else right . Just when you think it will be another over-the-top example of what Australia was doing wrong, structured flavors of mocha, dark fruit, and menthol arrive to give it game. 

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