My Round: Which country's wine could we live without?

The New World loses out to the old masters
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Last week I reported on my anonymous poll of wine journalists. I asked them: which country's wines would they be most willing to see wiped out by a vine-destroying weapon of mass destruction? The replies split between Australia and California. Last week we heard from the anti-California brigade. This week it's the turn of Australia – the country whose wine I would least mind losing. I agree with the correspondent who began his explanation by saying: "Australia, for reasons of boredom."

Last week I reported on my anonymous poll of wine journalists. I asked them: which country's wines would they be most willing to see wiped out by a vine-destroying weapon of mass destruction? The replies split between Australia and California. Last week we heard from the anti-California brigade. This week it's the turn of Australia – the country whose wine I would least mind losing. I agree with the correspondent who began his explanation by saying: "Australia, for reasons of boredom."

He goes on: "Yes, they have some great wines, and the Aussies are probably more responsible than anyone for elevating standards at the bottom end of the market. But the rest of the world has learnt how to make simple, clean wines. It would be worth targeting Down Under just to see the back of all those bland, over-promoted wines that seem to be elbowing everything else with a bit of character off the shelves."

Another writer uses almost the same language, saying "the brands are bland and increasingly boring; the fine wines aren't as good as people think; and most of the reds are alcoholic and over-oaked. I also don't like what Australia has done to the wine world: made people forget that wine is made from grapes grown in a specific place. Australia only just beats Chile in my view."

Another anti-antipodean wrote me an e-mail so impassioned, eloquent and libellous that I wish I could quote the whole thing. Here are some choice bits.

"Australia is gulling the world. I honestly think its wines are worse today than they were 10 or 20 years ago. But its huge marketing power lets it buy its way on to the shelves and into wine competitions, buy journalistic approbation, buy advertising space in newspapers, and buy its way into people's shopping baskets. As it does so, it is pushing top-quality wines from smaller producers in other countries towards oblivion.

"Australians might reply: 'If these wines are popular, it's because UK consumers like them.' Indeed. Most 'new' British consumers who have driven the great Australian wine wave have grown up eating sausages with HP sauce and pizzas covered in pineapple, and drinking Diet Coke and Dr Pepper. If it's not Australian wine, it might be a pint of Carling or a vodka and Red Bull. We get what we deserve. The Australians deserve to be congratulated for having exploited our gullible market so successfully."

I asked some of my respondents which country's wines they would be the most unhappy to lose. All but one named France first and Italy second; one put Italy first for the simple reason that "France has been in front too long". This is interesting because recent import figures showed that Australia had overtaken French for the first time. But it isn't quite so simple. Those figures were for the off-trade. In restaurants, French still has a 43 per cent market share. When people go out, they seem to think of France.

Needless to say, no country's vines need actually be destroyed. If Oz did bite the WMD dust, an ocean of overpriced, over-sweet plonk would be lost, but so would Clare and Eden Valley Riesling and the deeply gorgeous Pinot Noir by Farr, whose new vintage (around £16.50, Tanners, 01743 234 500) will soon be arriving. California's overpriced hype-monsters would be lost, but so would the planet's only great Zinfandels, such as Ridge Geyserville and Lytton Springs (Morris & Verdin, 020 7921 5300).

Don't make me choose! I force others to do that. But listen to my press-ganged press corps. California has problems you probably already know about. Australia may be a crashing bore – if only you allow yourself to recognise it as such.

Comments