The UK on-trade and independents are opening up for premium, artisanal Australian wines, producers at yesterday's Australia Day tastings in London told Imbibe.
Things have changed radically in the last few years. Australia is no longer perceived as being primarily a producer of entry-level, mainstream on-trade wines, and buyers are now looking for modern, cool climate wines from different producers.
If this is a revolution it's only the very beginning, of course, but the buzz at the big tasting in central London was all to do with premium and artisanal wines from defined regions, for independent retailers and the on-trade. You hardly heard the words multiple or supermarkets.
'A few years ago sommeliers would say, "Don’t talk to us about premium wines",' Steve Daniel of Hallgarten Druitt & Novum told Imbibe. 'Now any good restaurant wants a premium offering.'
'They're interested in regionality and the modern style', Daniel added: cool climate styles from Mornington and Western Australia. 'They're looking for alternatives, especially with the prices in Burgundy, a £20 Chardonnay from Australia is very good value.'
The new breed of London venue in ultra-trendy areas like Shoreditch, Hackney, Clapton and Brixton (last year's Artisans of Australia tasting was held in a dank Shoreditch nightclub), are rich pickings for hip wines like Chaffey Bros Wine Company's 'Not Your Grandma’s' and 'Düfte Punkt' ranges. In terms of label, style and name, the Eden Valley Rieslings and a Grenache blend are aimed squarely at a young, independent market.
'We're going straight for the indies and the on-trade with these,' Chaffeys’ winemaker Daniel Hartwig told Imbibe. 'We're not going for the diminishing returns of the supermarkets.'
As for independent retailers, Chris Smith of WD Wines – which looks after four wineries, including the renowned Parker Coonawarra – says so far Brexit has not dented their enthusiasm. 'We're seeing traction despite the uncertainty Brexit has caused.' In his opinion, 'uncertainty breeds caution, but the excitement around Australia at the moment counteracts that.'
Natural wines are looking healthy as well. Mornington Peninsula's Quealy Wines – whose Pinot Gris and Friulano cuvées undergo weeks of skin contact – is in a range of restaurants from the exclusive (Fera at Claridges) to the modern (the Shed, Bubbledogs). 'Nowadays we're bringing over one container of natural wines three times a year. Before, it was one palate once a year,' Quealy importer Doug Wregg of Caves de Pyrene said.
There's no doubt that the new generation is on a roll, but some importers sound a note of caution. 'Australia has reputation for making very good house wines, and that's hard to shake,' Kate Dowdeswell of distributors ABS said. 'The on trade increasingly wants premium, better-structured, cool climate wines, but remember sixty per cent of Australian wine is still sold in supermarkets. The door’s unlocked, but it's not wide open yet.'