By Jenny Benzie of Pour Sip Savor
When dining at your favorite restaurant or browsing the shelves of the local neighborhood wine store, US consumers are still looking for a great value in their wine selection with so many choices available these days. Value regions that may come to mind typically lie on the outskirts of more well-known regions: Pernand Vergelleses is next to Corton-Charlemagne, you can't get to Montsant without going through Priorat and Sant'Antimo has no problem having some many wine 'cousins' in Tuscany. This regional recognition for lesser-known wine regions is common for most Old World wines, but not so easily discernable for New World wines that highlight grape varietal first in their labeling regime versus promotion of a regional designation. This type of labeling and promotion is the beginning of many challenges Australian wines have in marketing regionally specific wines to the US market.
Americans perception in general of what they think represents the Australian wine industry is not a fair cross-reference of what is truly available. Preconceived notions of Australian wine range from consumers' idea that all riesling is sweet and shiraz is too big to the misconception that Australia only offers low priced, poor quality exports that do not evoke a sense of place. This lack of awareness for regional character, variety and quality leads to a false image and identity of Australian wines. Americans are unaware of the amazing white wines from Australia and how they compare to their international counterparts: the well-balanced, elegant Chardonnays of Margaret River in comparison to white Burgundy, the dry rieslings of Eden Valley versus those from Austria's Wachau and the classic, under-appreciated Semillons of the Hunter Valley. The image of Australian reds as big, heavy, rich and concentrated is not the case for many of them: Pinot Noir from Pemberton may be confused as red Burgundy, the Rhône-style cool climate Shiraz/Viognier wines from Yarra Valley or the distinctive earthiness of a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon are both cellar-worthy. While these wines may be known to some collectors, these wines are not typically the first talked about when discussing your wine collection.
How can you learn more about these regionally specific wines that Australia has to offer? Ask your respected wine professional to recommend these types of wines so you can try them. Have the sommelier or wine merchant share with you the stories and history of the people who have produced wines from these locations, discuss the terroir from where the grapes are grown and discover the passion behind these wines. Truth in labeling laws and emphasis on where the wine came from in these small areas will help consumers to recognize place of origin with the grape variety. You would not take a wine tour around the entire United States of America, much less all of California in one visit. Much is the same for Australia in that wine region visits need to be divided, recognized and absorbed for each of their parts that make up the entire sum of its wine nation. By continuing to discuss the regional differences in Australian wines and how they relate to more familiar regions, collectors are then given a frame of reference and a comfort level that allows them to feel safe in further exploration of what Australian wines truly do have to offer and to learn some new gems that can be added to your wine cellar.