After a palate-numbing week tasting over 1,000 Australian wines at the Decanter World Wine Awards last month, it was plain to see that the map of Australian wine has changed rapidly over the decade since the awards began.
Australia 10 years ago was still little more than a faraway sunshine-blessed country of quaffable chardonnay and seductive shiraz grown in vast vineyards. Australia couldn't always plough a mass market furrow without ambitions to improve. Indeed, its short-term discounting operations and cute, cuddly-critter labels almost scuppered the long-term plan of matching grape variety to location just like the French had always done and making a virtue of the diversity of its regional characteristics.
It was damaged by the cheap-as-chips strategy and crippled by drought, forest fire and floods, adverse exchange rates and reactions of overseas customers. Yet its wineries have grown in number to more than 2,500, quality has improved and regional character differences emerged. Australian wine is growing up.
We may not look to Australia for cheapness any longer, but we can still find affordable wines of value. In my last piece on Oz wines, I concentrated on whites and promised to return to reds and in that category, I'd include the 2010 Route du Van Dolcetto/Shiraz, £9.33, Corking Wines (01904 636123, corkingwines.com), a distinctive blend showing strawberry succulence with cool-climate mint.
There's also the Rhône-like 2009 Blind Spot Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, £7.95, The Wine Society, which delivers cherryish fruit with a minty edge; and the 2010 McHenry Hohnen Shiraz, £8.96-£11, Hailsham Cellars (01323 441212), Tanners (01743 234500), Oddbins, whose aromatic fruit is opulent yet fresh.
Shiraz is an important component in the blend of these three wines and Rhône grape varieties remain Australia's strongest red suit. Even in the absence of shiraz, you see character in wines like the Hewitson 2008 Baby Bush Mourvèdre, Barossa Valley, £20, Oddbins, an Aussie answer to Provence's Bandol with its spicy aromatics and black-cherry-fruits flavours.
Bordeaux varieties are at their strongest in Western Australia, as the savoury, cassis-centred 2005 Voyager Estate Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, £29.17, Justerini & Brooks, Beaconsfield Wine Cellar (01494 675545) attests; or the 2009 Fraser Gallop Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, £28.49, allaboutwine.co.uk, an elegantly Bordeaux-style blend of juicy blackcurrant, dark chocolate and herbal notes.