Mythbusting popular misconceptions around Australian wines
It’s fair to say that Australia has a very positive perception amongst the Irish. The mere mention of the country evokes images of constant sun, sea, sand and ‘barbies’, not to mention the famously laidback lifestyle that goes with them.
But we have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to the country’s wines. On the one hand, Australia is the second most popular wine country for the Irish, accounting for 18 per cent of all wines we drink - that’s a whopping 18,579,696 bottles per year.
On the other hand, most of us see Aussie wine as ‘cheap’ and in some way not as ‘serious’ as wines from, say, France and Italy. Australia doesn’t have a wine history, they say, and only produces high-volume, commercial grape juice best for parties.
But nothing could be further from the truth. So let’s bust some Australian wine myths once and for all.
Fact: Australia is not a ‘new world’ country
In the wine industry, the ‘old world’ mostly refers to the European winemaking countries and the ‘new world’ is pretty much everywhere else, eg: South America, South Africa, New Zealand and, yes, Australia.
As convenient as these terms are, they’re extremely misleading. For example, the first grape harvest in Australia was recorded in 1791, and over the next thirty to forty years commercial viticulture was progressively established across the continent. So by any measure, 226 years is far from ‘young’.
And though Europe might have a winemaking history going back centuries, its commercial output is not much older than Australia’s. Those aforementioned grape vines from the Sydney Governor’s garden were planted only a decade or two after some of the most historic châteaux of Bordeaux were established in the late 17th century - before then the region was just a swamp.
It’s also worth noting that Australia’s oldest commercial winery - Wyndham Estate, which is still running successfully to this day - was established in 1828, with many others being set up in the decades after.
So, Australia: a ‘new’ winemaking country? Not likely.
Myth: Australian wines are all plonk
Another misconception of Australian wine is that they only make cheap plonk, but a quick look at the facts easily consigns this persistent ‘fake news’ to the bin.
For example, the famous Wolf Blass winery was named International Winemaker of the Year a total of three times (2013, 2002, and 1992) by the International Wine and Spirit Competition, and named International Red Winemaker of the Year - again three times (2016, 2013, and 2008) - by the International Wine Challenge.
These awards are two of the most highly respected organisations in the drinks industry, and pit the biggest names in the world against each other. So for an Australian wine to repeatedly beat some of the best from France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the world doesn't happen by accident.
And if you think Aussie wine consists of mostly just €5 specials in your local supermarket, then you clearly haven’t heard about Penfolds Grange, one of the world’s most revered - and expensive - wines: a single bottle of the 2009 is currently on sale in a Dublin wine shop for €650, and older vintages can go for thousands.
Indeed, a bottle of the 1951 vintage of Grange - the first ever produced - sold for AU$65,000 last year, approximately €44,000!
So sure, Australia has been able to produce lots of easy-drinking, affordable and widely-liked wines for everyday enjoyment, but there is a range of hundreds, if not thousands, of world-class wines above this category that persist on impressing the world’s most discerning critics.
Myth: Screwcaps equate to cheap wine
If a wine bottle doesn’t have a cork in it, then it must be low-quality, right?
The simple answer is no. Cork comes from the bark of cork trees, mostly from Portugal and Spain, and when the wine industry in Australia and New Zealand was flourishing in the 1980s they were unfortunately the recipients of some questionable shipments, which resulted in a huge amount of spoiled wines as the corks failed.
The answer? Devise your own closure that was almost 100 per cent reliable and didn’t need to be shipped from the other side of the world. And thus screwcaps were born.
If you don’t take our word for it, proof is easy to find: take, for example, the legendary Wolf Blass Black Label, the only wine to win Australia’s ‘wine Oscar’ the Jimmy Watson trophy a record four times: that’s sealed under screwcap, and a bottle will set you back over €100.
And remember the Henschke Hill of Grace mentioned earlier? Yes, that’s in screwcap too, and a single bottle will cost you a cool €950 in one Dublin wine shop.
Even Europeans are at it now: revered Italian producer Isole e Olena is now bottling their famous Cepparello with a screwcap, and this ‘Super Tuscan’ from Chianti sets you back €80.
Such experienced wine companies wouldn’t trust their most expensive wines with screwcap unless they were 100 per cent sure of its reliability and quality, so isn’t it time we changed our outlook on this modern closure too?
Fact: Australian wine has come a long way
The output of the wine industry worldwide has improved immeasurably in the last 20 years, and Australia is no exception - indeed, the country has driven innovation thanks to an enviable mix of different climates (remember that the country is a hugely diverse continent), progressive thinking, advanced technology, education and more.
Ultra-modern processes are now being used both in the vineyard and the winery to produce extremely high-quality wines with astonishing consistency, and all for relatively affordable prices when tasted against comparable wines from Europe.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating: whether it’s Wolf Blass’s impressive haul of international awards (10,000+ and counting); the reverence of Penfolds Grange as one of the most collectible wines on the planet; or indeed the hundreds of cutting-edge wines from boutique outfits around the country - Australia now has its wines to include in its enviable lifestyle.