New Releases from Australia, Part 2

Australia's image among American wine hobbyists continues to take a beating, but it seems that the abuse might be letting up a bit. Recent developments in the U.S. marketplace suggest that relief might be coming, even if it’s not exactly around the corner. First, the wines from mostly cooler-climate Victoria are enjoying increased attention here, even from those who were doing their best to stereotype Australia as being all Barossa all the time and slagging anything out of that mold as European wannabes a few years back. Australia's often outstanding dry rieslings have become more available here in recent years as well, which has been critical to making the case that Australia can do something besides bland, confected critter wines and outsized, over-the-top ooze-monster shirazes. The key to Australia being accepted into the fold of serious wine producers, at least among label-conscious Americans, is for word to spread that the country makes more than dirt-cheap, industrial bottles and Xtreme wines that are suited for fraternity hazing.

Unfortunately, with government backing, the Australian wine industry is currently trying a variety of slick marketing angles to promote their wines to export markets, complete with stereotypical, knee-slapping corporate gibberish like "collaborative marketing opportunities," "strategic initiatives," "high-involved consumer interest," and "outcome-driven agendas." Campaigns like "Brand Australia" and its "Regional Heroes," "Landmark," "Generation Next" and "Brand Champions" subdivisions ostensibly emphasize regional distinction and variety of styles but these programs have already begun to fracture. Smaller producers have predictably felt left out of the decision-making process and believe that the large producers, who, to be fair, are footing most of the bills, are hogging the spotlight. And they're mostly right. All this serves to do is reinforce the image of the Australian wine industry as marketing-driven and corporate, which translates to bland and predictable for most serious American wine drinkers. Until Australia's smaller, more idealistic and world-class producers get their wines into American glasses, the struggle for respect for all Australian wine is going be uphill, no matter how much money is dumped into fancy ad campaigns. Real wine will trump corporate mumbo jumbo in the long run.

The second installation of this year's survey of Australian wines covers the vast range of styles offered today. I’ve highlighted the variety of wines now available to American wine lovers. The irony is that while the Australian wine industry is trying to overcome serious image problems, the Australians are producing a more interesting and higher-quality range of wines than ever before.