It all started so promisingly back in the 90s. Up until then we had pretty much reserved our affections for cheeky little French numbers and flirtatious Italians. On occasions we might transfer our attentions to a sultry Spaniard or even, every now and again for old time's sake, the odd German. Sure, sometimes they weren't the most reliable dates. We weren't surprised when, from time to time, what had promised to be a classy if expensive evening's entertainment would wind up having none of the charm and grace we had hoped for. But we were young(er), more naive back then, they were all we knew. Of course there were good times too, great times! And like an addict we persevered, trying to recapture the giddy enjoyment of the great bottles we knew did lie out there.
And then they came, the Aussies, bringing with them an innocence, a joie de vivre and, not least among their charms, a very pocket friendly price tag. Sure, they might have lacked a little sophistication and polish but we could forgive that for their easy charms and "sunshine in a glass" style. And they were so eager to please. You like your wine packed with fruit? Sure we can cram more weight and concentration into that bottle, you just watch us. A bit more oak with that Chardonnay? You bet! Really it was our fault as much as theirs, they were just giving us even more of what we had told them we liked. And ever so slowly the wheels began to come off our love affair with Australian wine. The wines we had come to love had started to become parodies of themselves.
Of course we didn't completely break up with them but we definitely did start seeing other people. With those young Kiwis, South Africans and South Americans (to name a few) vying for our attentions, all offering something new and different it's hardly a surprise our heads were turned. And our old European paramours hadn't given up on us either. They had been watching our Australian infatuation from the sidelines, trying to work out what the Aussies had that they didn't. And they learned. They picked up many of Australia's best habits and turned them to their own advantage ensuring that they could woo us back without ever abandoning their heritage and individuality.
So where does this leave poor old Australia? After spending yesterday at Australia House in the company of Tim Atkin MW and Steve Weber (chief winemaker at De Bortoli Yarra Valley) I'm happy to report that it leaves them in a bloody good place (if you'll excuse my Australian). There certainly was some truth in the cliches about Australian wines. you can still find the occasional deep yellow, massively oaked Chardonnay, and the enormous fruit bomb red does still exist. But these stereotypes do not do justice to the massive range of exciting wines that Australia is producing.
It's when you start to get your head around the sheer mind-boggling size of Australia that it becomes readily apparent that this is a country that was always going to produce a myriad of differing styles of wine. With a continent's worth of different climates to play with there are very few grape varieties, if any, that aren't going to find a happy home somewhere.
Once you throw in an incredibly complex mix of soils (courtesy of being some of the planet's oldest landmass) and a vast array of climates (Australia is affected by not only by the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans but also El Nino/La Nina, the roaring forties and the trade winds) you have so many different terroirs that even winemakers from Burgundy or Barolo would be left trembling and crying for their mum.
And it's time for a 'mea culpa' from us at Connolly's. It's possible that we too took our eye off the ball a little with Australia and have let some of these gems slip under our radar. Old favourites like Grant Burge and Simon Hackett still produce great wines (the Filsell Shiraz was one of the wines being tasted yesterday as a great example of a classic Barossa Shiraz) but exciting regions such as Orange and Canberra are currently missing from our shelves. So over the next few months we will be rolling up our sleeves, ferreting out the best of these wines we can find, and putting them on the shelves to help brighten up the the gloomy British winter.
Watch this space!