October 1st was World Sake Day, a day to celebrate sake and traditionally the start of a new sake brewing year in Japan. That event appears to have flown under the radar here in Sweden. On the 5th of October, however, it was Australia Day. Not that one was celebrating Australia up and down the country. It was, in fact, the name given by the nordic co-organisers of Wine Australia’s Annual Tasting in Stockholm. More than thirty exhibitors from different wine growing regions in Australia gathered in the Opera house in rooms overlooking a sunny Norrström and The Royal Palace.
A quick glance at the list of exhibitors confirms that the usual suspects are taking part, i.e. Penfolds, D’Arenberg, Hardys, Jacob’s Creek and Lindeman’s to name a few. I make my way around the tables and try to get a feel for any new trend or new angle in this year’s trade show. The welcome note from Australia’s wine marketing body made a point of the country’s diversity, and the theme of the introductory masterclass (reserved for a few trade members) was “History, Evolution, Revolution”. Whether or not that theme was a denominator of the wines presented, change if not revolution was tangible. A couple of weeks after the tasting, Wine Australia published a report (click here for Export Report September 2015) indicating that the 12 months up to 30 September 2015 had seen growth in the value of exports overtake growth in volumes (8% and 5% growth respectively) with 734 million litres of total exports and a value of A$1.96 billion (12 billion SEK). That value growth rate is the strongest since 2007. Premium wine is the category with the most growth: wines above A$10 (62 SEK) per litre increased in value by 28% to A$426 million (2.6 billion SEK), wines priced between A$20 (123 SEK) and A$50 (308 SEK) increased 13% to A$88 million (542 million SEK) and the top wines above A$50 per litre rose 54% to a record A$133 million (819 million SEK). The average value of bottled exports now stands at A$5 per litre having increased by 4% (www.wineaustralia.net.au). These figures are very good news for Australia that has been focusing on the premium category and fighting hard to shed its image as a producer of inexpensive wine.
How these figures will directly impact the offerings on the Swedish market remains to be seen. At present, Australia is the fifth most important exporter to Sweden in terms of volume behind Italy (1st), South Africa (2nd), France (3rd) and Spain (4th). A general trend for the monopoly in Sweden appears to be a decrease in wines cheaper than 70 SEK per bottle and a significant increase in wines above 100 SEK per bottle. Another marked trend is the increase in sales of organic wine. The latest report from Systembolaget show that third quarter sales of organic wine in Sweden (alcohol-free wine not included) were up 59% compared with the same period the previous year. Australia and the monopoly are steering pretty much in the same direction.
This bodes well for Joch Bosworth, winemaker and owner of the wine label Battle of Bosworth. (If this name rings a bell to English ears, yes, it is the famous battle that put an end in 1485 to the War of the Roses with the death of Richard III – the king whose remains were found a few years ago in a car park in Leicester). Joch Bosworth is an important figure in organic viticulture in Australia. He has been farming naturally for as long as 20 years and was the first organic producer in McLaren Vale. With 80 ha of vineyards at the foothills of the Mt Lofty Ranges in South Australia, he caters for a wide consumer group and produces wines under two labels: Spring Seed Wine Company and Battle of Bosworth. Systembolaget like his organic Spring Seed Wine Company tank fermented “Four O’Clock” Chardonnay and are selling it at SEK 99. They also like the labels on his Spring Seed range – contrary to some in the UK so I was told. The labels are reproductions of vintage flower seed packets and shout organic as well as convey the fresh, fruity flavours of the line. With Battle of Bosworth the winemaker experiments as well as produces classic wines that best reflect the terroir of this premium location. As part of the latter you will find a traditional single varietal McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 25% new oak and a McLaren Vale Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend that exude purity of fruit. An interesting and exciting wine released on November 2 by Systembolaget is Battle of Bosworth, Puritan Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2015. This wine has no added preservatives. It would not, however, be considered a “natural” wine. Made under reductive conditions and without touching oak, this Shiraz is pure elegance of fruit. If wines with no added SO2 are not a novelty at Systembolaget, there certainly is no search filter on their website that allows you to look specifically for wines “without added sulphites”. A category that will need to be created soon, for sure.
At Western Australia’s Howard Park Wines the mood is of quiet exhilaration. Sue Henderson, commercial director of sales at Burch Family Wines, a company that owns three other labels in addition to Howard Park, tells me that the region is hot. Western Australia produces 4% only of Australia’s wine and is a premium wine state. The wine region surrounds the city of Perth and stretches down to the south tip and along a portion of the south-eastern coast. Benefitting from a mediterranean climate, Western Australia is known for its benchmark Sauvignon Blancs and Semillons. But now it is its dry Rieslings that are highly sought after. Howard Park owns two wineries, one in Margaret River on the western coast towards the Indian Ocean and the other in Great Southern facing the Southern Ocean. Their Rieslings come from vineyards situated in Great Southern, on the coast, with their best plots in the Mount Barker area at a 400 metre elevation. There the climate is cool, and the soils poor. The Rieslings produced are marked by their dryness, fresh acidity, minerality with lashes of lemon and lime curd (Howard Park, Mount Barker Riesling, 2014). With age the wines develop great toastiness and aromas of ripe limes (Howard Park, Riesling, Museum Release, 2010). These wines would be a nice addition to Systembolaget’s selection of Australian Rieslings. As far as I can see there is only one Riesling from Western Australia on offer at this point in time. So that’s me ordering from The Wine Society in the UK…
Which red grape varieties marry the best with Shiraz, Australia’s most planted grape variety? Cabernet Sauvignon? Grenache? If Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon is the Australian blend par excellence, Shiraz/Grenache or rather GSM (Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre) is another blend that is gaining in popularity. South Australia and California are two regions that are producing their own style of southern Rhône blends. Is the “revolution” alluded to in the masterclass also to be taken as meaning “a circular movement around an axis”? Fifty years ago Rhône varietals ruled Terra Australis before bowing out to Cabernet Sauvignon and other grape types. Today Rhône wines and Rhône varietals are back in fashion.
I make my way over to Mike Brown, winemaker at biodynamic Gemtree Wines in McLaren Vale, who talks to me enthusiastically about Grenache. He tells me that Gemtree has some old, low-yielding bushvines growing on sandy soils that are making beautiful, concentrated table wines. Grenache, which was mainly used up until the sixties and seventies for fortified wines, is being rediscovered and McLaren Vale is making the variety its very own. Cinnabar is the name of Gemtree’s organic GSM that can be purchased at Systembolaget (Gemtree Wines, Cinnabar, 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia). With his 120 hectares on 23 different soil types Mike Brown vinifies a range of wines including single varietal Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot to name a few, as well as some interesting blends. Of note the Phantom, a certified organic red blend composed of a different set of grape types at each vintage. In 2012 the blend was 70% Cabernet with 10% Shiraz, and equal amounts of Mourvedre, Tempranillo and Sangiovese. The latest release, the 2014, is 60% Cabernet, 25% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache and 5% Shiraz. If the composition of the blend may be elusive, there is nothing phantom-like in the wine, which has a very strong presence; a deep concentrated, juicy potion with lots of dark and red fruit. Should you wish for a wine in a totally different style, you could try Gemtree Wines Moonstone, a refreshing citrusy wine from Savagnin, the Jura grape variety used for Vin Jaune… The Australians are certainly full of surprises…