New Releases from Australia, Part 2

At this point I’m beginning to feel—and probably sound—like a broken record, but the message just doesn’t seem to be getting out that stereotyping “Australian wine” is as ridiculous as referring to “European wine.” The two geographic regions are just as vast, and nearly as diverse. Discussing a vinho verde from the north of Portugal or a riesling from the Saar in the same breath as an aglianico from Campania would be absurd, but this is precisely how most American wine lovers view Australia.

What this climatic diversity means to adventurous winos is the opportunity to do some highly rewarding sleuthing around a category that remains largely uncharted outside Australia. In fact, it’s not so much an opportunity as an obligation, as even the largest retail outlets in the U.S. weight their Australian departments heavily toward the full-throttle red wines of South Australia, especially those from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. But most reports from the field say that this category is in a serious slump right now, with names that created buying frenzies in the late 1990s and early 2000s now languishing on the shelves or in warehouses. As the American palate shifts away from high-alcohol, high-oak wines of all colors, this category’s slump is only natural.

On the other hand, and on a brighter note, more Australian wines from the country’s cooler growing regions are beginning to sneak into the market thanks to aggressive, mostly small specialist importers. Fingers are crossed Down Under that steady headway can be made to educate the all-important American market to appreciate that Australia is not a single-region, single-variety, one-style, one-hit wonder.

This issue’s coverage supplements the hundreds of wines reviewed in Issue 139. The latest set of wines was tasted in New York this summer as well as during my trip to southern Australia in late June.