Price the issue for Australia's 'alternative varieties'

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

27 January 2017

One of the biggest trends in Australia over the last decade – the increase of Italian and Iberian varieties – has received a mixed reaction from the on-trade. While there were few qualms over the quality of the wines on show at the Australia Day Tasting, the price – and saleability of them – raised eyebrows.

'We are trying a few, and so far they don't sell a lot, but I think their time is coming,' said Hakkasan's Head of Wine, Christine Parkinson. 'A key factor will be whether a few wines will break through into 'by glass' price points, which would set them flying.'

Australia's 'millennium drought' led to a big increase in growers experimenting with varieties that could handle hotter, drier conditions better – mostly from Italy and Spain, though there are a growing number of Greek and Portuguese varieties as well.

Value exports of these so-called 'alternative varieties' saw a big increase in the UK in 2016 – albeit from a small base. Sales of Touriga Nacional were up over 500%, Fiano by 270%, Vermentino by 185% and the largest 'alternative' variety, Sangiovese, by 83%.

'There are some great Australian wines made with Spanish and Italian varieties knocking around,' said Vinoteca's Charlie Young. 'But they're coming in at high prices and are difficult to compare with their humble Italian counterparts. Wines made with grapes from The Riverland seem to be much more sensibly priced.'

The Harrow at Little Bedwyn's Roger Jones, however, was more sceptical. 'Australia should keep to the basics – it's what put the country on the map,' he said. 'We haven’t seen enough Grenache, for instance. And why not look at a more Syrah style of Shiraz?

'Some of these are perfectly good wines, but there are amazing Fianos in Italy for half the price if you know where to look,' said Roger Jones.

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