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Aussie winemakers work to bust stereotypes of native wines

By Greg Horton

The new slogan is almost militaristic: Defend Australia! That’s the rallying cry for a new generation of winemakers in Australia who are working very hard to overcome the stereotypes associated with their native wines.

No country benefitted more from the ballooning interest in wine that occurred in the mid-2000s than Australia, except maybe Chile.

Driven by an near ravenous desire for critter label wines—Little Penguin and Yellow Tail, for example—the U.S. helped boost Australia’s wine exports to 20 million cases in 2004.

Shortly after, the bottom fell out. Overproduction, heavy-handed winemaking techniques, and a suicidal obsession with wine ratings caused Australia’s wine production and exports to plummet.

Rather than receive the critical praise that their massive, fruit-bomb style Shiraz had enjoyed for decades, consumers moved on to Chile and Argentina, countries closer to home that made big value reds with equal heavy-handedness and at better prices.

Quietly, the new generation of Aussie winemakers have adopted a new philosophy, and Ronnie Sanders, owner of Vine Street Imports, an importer that specializes in Australian wines, said the philosophy can be summed up in three words: balance, structure, and acid.

The cardinal sin of the mid-2000s Australian wines was that they were badly out of balance: too much fruit, not enough acid, too ripe, too one dimensional, and manipulated to the point that all character and structure were removed. It was drinkable wine, but it wasn’t interesting.

Beginning this month, those new Australian wines are available in Oklahoma, and the first batch is impressive.

You will spend more on these wines than you’re accustomed to with Australian wines, unless you love Ben Glaetzer’s big reds like Amon Ra, Bishop, and Wallace, or Relic from Standish, but the money is well spent.

The wines really are remarkably well balanced, with equal parts fruit, structure, and acid, and they are restrained at times, which is not something we are used to when discussing Australian wine.

Another factor that stands out immediately is just how fun some of the blends are. Australia has very little regulation in terms of what winemakers are allowed to do, so unlike France, where certain regions have to use certain grapes, Australian winemakers can experiment freely all over the country.

The new wines include grapes that we are all familiar with, as well as some that might be new for Oklahoma wine drinkers.

Syrah is still a popular choice, and yes, they have taken to calling their wines Syrah. It’s a wise move, both because it distances them from the critter labels of the mid 2000s and because they really are made in a more Old World style.

Two of the labels, Ochota Barrels and Samuel’s Gorge, have been in the state previously. All the others are new. The wines were introduced at Will Rogers Theater, and they are represented in the state by Thirst Wine Merchants.

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