Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is Australia now Austria? WS Top 100 dings Aussies

Wine Spectator have just completed their major marketing release of their annual Top 100 wines, and there was thing I was particularly keen to see. It wasn't the identity of the number one wine (Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009), or the top ranked Barolo (Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra 2006), but rather how many Australian wines made it on to the list this year. As recently as 2009 there were 10 Australians in the Top 100, and last year there was still six, including two in the top 10. However, something told me that it was going to be ugly this year.

First of all, there's the exchange rate. While the economies of the USA and Europe struggle to maintain a pulse, the Australian economy has kept on truckin' (commodities to China), and the A$ has gone through parity with the US$. Can't be good for Australian exporters. Secondly, there's fashion. Australian wine, and Shiraz in particular, benefited from this for many years, but that phase is over, and the new black is no longer black Shiraz. In the December 15 edition of Wine Spectator there are a number of articles in relation to Argentinian wine, especially Malbec, which is apparently the new black, or has been in recent times at least. In Nathan Wesley's article 'Malbec's Moment' he has this to say about Australian Shiraz,

"Many winemakers are worried Argentina is overinvested in Malbec, as Australia seems to be in Shiraz. During America's recession and Malbec's ascent, Australian Shiraz, the wine-world darling only a few years ago, got caught with a glut of wine priced either too low or too high. As a result, sales declined in the United States from 6.1 million cases in 2006 to 5.2 million cases in 2009"

And there was the third point - Schild Estate. Their 2007 Barossa Shiraz had made the list in 2009 at #43, and then done even better in 2010, finishing at #7 with the 2008 vintage ($20). But then came the scandal. Tipped off by another Barossa winery, Two Hands, it turned out that with demand boosted by their inclusion in the Top 10 of 2010, Schild were running out of stock. So they made some more. It's allowable, but not so ethical when the demand is for one rated bottling, and you make a different batch with the same label. Wine Spectator didn't like it, and it wasn't just bad for Schild, it was bad for the Australian wine export market. The 2009 vintage of the Schild Estate Shiraz has been released, but not reviewed by the Wine Spectator, so i wasn't expecting to see it, but what did I see?

Two wines. The same as Austria, which also got two in 2009 and 2010. Two Hands Barossa Shiraz Bella's Garden 2009 was in at 35 (down from #2 the year before), and at #33 was the Chateau Tanunda Shiraz Grand Barossa 2008. And that was it. It's not just Shiraz that's out of fashion apparently (and both wines are, of course, Shiraz). In 2009, three of the ten Australian wines were whites, and there were certainly whites that could have made the list this year based on the numbers. However, in addition to rating score, price, and availability, there's the mysterious 'Wow Factor'. And for the Australian exporters, that might not be "Wow, this Aussie wine is good", but "Wow, I can't believe they did that".

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