Australia shows a lighter side – Wine Australia Trade Tasting analysis
“We're seeing a lot of interest in lighter style reds, which isn't just for Australia,” explains Laura Jewell MW, regional general manager at trade organisation Wine Australia. “I think that goes across a lot of countries, but we're seeing it more coming from Australia in terms of Grenache, Grenache-based blends and also Pinot Noir.”
Jewell flags the forthcoming Pinot celebration in Mornington Peninsula this February, which she says will drive discussion and “hopefully lead to more listings”. She adds that Australian Pinot Noir can represent good value for money. “I don’t mean cheap, but good value for money, especially from some of the smaller, more interesting areas.”
Elliot Awin, partner at Awin Barratt Siegel Wine Agencies (ABS) also highlights earlier picking in terms of the trend towards lighter reds. “Grenache from Barossa has always been overripe with fall-apart tannins, but a lot of the wines you’re seeing coming through, especially Grenache from some new forward-thinking producers, are early picked, light maceration – and I think that’s the style everyone is looking for at the moment.”
Awin adds that this means lower abv and higher natural acidity as well as crunchy, rather than stewed, fruits.
Elsewhere, Jewell says whites are in demand, though she notes that this is more “supply led rather than demand led, in that we've obviously got a bit of a surplus of red wines”. This is down to continued high import tariffs imposed by China – a previously very important export market for Australia, especially for red wines.
Awin says the situation in China means that at the volume end, prices for markets such as the UK are stable. “It’s one of the only countries that hasn’t wholesale increased prices,” he adds.
Looking more closely at white wine trends, Jewell and several other producers flag a return for Chardonnay. “Particularly the crisp styles,” Jewell adds, recalling a time when big, oaky Chardonnays were fashionable. “I think Australian Chardonnay has really found its niche. It did that pendulum swing to the really lean, and it's come back and is sitting in that perfect middle area,” she says.
Others agree, and Awin adds that this middle ground includes “an elegant use of oak and more mindful picking dates”.
Katie Bowden, category & insights manager at Casella Family Brands also notes a resurgence for Chardonnay, describing the trending style as “sophisticated and modern”.
“People are kind of catching on,” she adds. “So, we're actually seeing Chardonnay doing quite well.”
At Fine Wines Direct UK, sales director Bastien Martinole also talks about the lighter side for whites, but this time regarding Riesling.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a trend towards reduced alcohol and higher natural acidity,” he says, flagging up the Eden Valley Riesling from Thorn-Clarke.
“The Riesling, for example, is not your typical sort of oily, rich, petrol Riesling. It’s fresh and it’s only 11.5% abv.”
Awin adds Viognier to the mix and he highlights producer Philip Shaw from Orange in New South Wales.
“About five or six years ago, he moved away from your heavy 13, 14% alcohol, down to 10, 11% abv. We lost all the customers that listed it but in the long term, it has ended up being way more popular. Again, it’s that higher acidity, fresher flavour profile – I think winemakers that are innovating in that way are really seeing the benefit of a new Australian wine drinker.”
The trend towards lower abvs could also be driven further by the expected duty reform.
Casella’s Bowden says that “probably one of the biggest things from the manufacturing side is what’s going to happen with duty and abv. From a customer perspective there is more awareness of lower abv,” she adds, “but Australia trends naturally towards higher abvs.” And there are still plenty of big wines on show at the tasting.
But talk on the side lines suggests some producers are already investigating more lower abv options, in time for duty reform, and this is a trend we can expect to see from across the world, not just Australia.