After an unimpressive tasting of Australian brands earlier in the year, my faith in Australian wine has only just been restored. The reason? The Decanter World Wine Awards.
The total number of wines tasted by the 200-plus judges topped 15,000 wines for the first time and Australia's contribution, more than 1,000 wines, was substantial. Numbers don't necessarily add up to quality, though, and it was our job, sitting nose in glass for a week, to sort the wheat of trophies from the also-ran chaff. Despite inevitable differences of opinion, this type of group judging ensures standards stay high, something you will see for yourself when the results are announced next month.
It's heartening that despite perfidious climate and strong currency exchange rates, Australia has embraced the modern wine era with such a vigour that it is now producing fabulous wines across a palette of styles. Some might say that Australia is too focused on shiraz, but when our panel sat down to choose a regional trophy from the 18 shiraz gold medals, a broad diversity was immediately apparent. The wines ranged from generously-rich reds from the hot Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, to the spicier more elegant shirazes of cooler Victoria; to say nothing of the traditional blends of cabernet sauvignon, and new-wave viognier. The regional diversity is not confined to shiraz, either, but repeated in Bordeaux-style reds, riesling, semillon and chardonnay.
Earlier this year, I had tasted a range of South Australian shiraz and from one state alone: styles varied considerably. There was the rich spice and pepper of Ben Glaetzer's 2012 Barossa Valley Shiraz, £21-£27.99, The Wine Society, Great Western Wine, Booths, and, from Clare Valley, a sleek black-cherryish 2010 Wakefield St Andrews Shiraz, £30, Bordeaux Index. There were pricier reds, sure, but good-value ones, too, such as the gamey 2007 De Bortoli McLaren Vale Shiraz, £13.99, Corkscrew Wines, Portland Wine Cellars, and the glossy 2010 The Colonial Estate, Explorateur, Shiraz, £13, Oz Wines.
The Wine Society's current Australian offer, closing tomorrow, boasts the stylish, Margaux-like 2005 Glenmore Cabernet Sauvignon, £22, the richly full-flavoured 2011 Leeuwin 'Prelude' Margaret River Chardonnay, £24, and the complex, chablis-like 2011 Ocean Eight 'Verve' Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay, £24. The diversity narrative continues with the mouthwateringly dry, lemon and lime-like 2013 Peter Lehmann Portrait Riesling, £10.49, buy 2 = £8.92, Majestic; a fresh, apricoty 2012 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier, £12.99-£15.99, Waitrose Wine Direct, Hoults; and the juicy, blackberry-spicy 2012 Sister's Run Barossa Grenache, £48, 6-bottle case, tesco.com/wine.