Australia and the Wines of Winter

By / Magazine / March 22nd, 2011 / 1

What the heck happened to the popularity of Australian wines?

That’s probably the same question Paul Hogan is asking about Australia in general. What the heck did happen? Back in the 1980s, the Aussies were everywhere. Think INXS, Men At Work, Hogan Crocodile Dundeeing it all over the place and, of course, the emergence of Down Under as a major wine player.

Back then, with their boozy, big-fruited wines, simple grape-varietal-as-identifier labels and a growing market base of newbie wine lovers, Australia could do no wrong. When other New World countries tried to ride their liquid coattails they upped the cutesy quota by pioneering critter labels (those that sported some local flora or fauna as an iconic image to push product).

But, as I really hope Lady Gaga realizes, nothing cool stays cool forever and as Australian wines entered the new millennium, a perfect storm of anti-animal sentiment and repetitive flavours was swirling with enough strength to dismantle the tower of Aussie power.

First came the animal thing. With everyone and their winemaker slapping a kangaroo or koala on their front panel there came a glut of those that looked better than they tasted. Not to mention that the knee jerk reaction was to make everything on the shelf look the same.

Okay, so once the visual appearance of the Australian section at liquor stores began to resemble wallpaper the next deconstructive step was for every winery in the country to chase what they thought was a sellable flavour profile. That led to…wait for it…most Aussie wines, no matter the price point, tasting exactly like one another.

And they wonder why consumers love Argentina (which, by the way, is on the exact same path of flavour homogeny).

So what does the future hold? The folks that control the media spin on Australian wine want you to focus on regional diversity. As much as I like that idea, I think a spotlight on those wineries that are producing original, unique, or whatever fancy word you want to use to describe “different” (and there are plenty Aussies doing it) will bring palates back to their creative wine endeavours. Paul Hogan, I’m not so sure of…

As we work our way into winter should I be giving up white wines in favour of reds?

Huh, who ever said you couldn’t drink white wine no matter the season? Sure, warmer temperatures may politely request some thirst quenching vino bianco, but just because the sun isn’t shining as aggressively doesn’t mean you have to abandon the best that white grapes have to offer.

Granted, while I do like me a glass of rustic red to pair with the aromas of leaves dying, there are plenty of alternative drinking opportunities with a paler complexion that match just as well.

Though a nice oaky Chardonnay is an all-season player I’m sure most of you are bored with all that wood and butter so allow me give a shout out to Riesling — the universal white grape that fits in perfectly no matter what month it’s served. Soft, generally off-dry and freshly fruited, the average Riesling — whether German, Canadian or whatever — has plenty of end-of-year aromas and a personality made for spicy dishes (anything from Thai to Szechuan to rustic stews and early winter barbecues).

I’ve always found Viognier to have plenty of muscle if you’re looking for a white replacement for red. Its peppery personality makes a lovely companion for fall/winter menus and an all around by-the-glasser no matter what the calendar dictates.

Need one more white match? Go for the Gewürztraminer. Though a hot property in Germany and France it’s now grown just about everywhere and its forward spice and mixed fruit-forward flavour registers a left hook to the chin of any red wine that thinks it rules the winter months.



Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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