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Wines in the Press April 2-5

Published:  07 April, 2009

The national wine critics pass their judgement on the wines that have crossed their paths in recent weeks.

Financial Times

Something very strange has happened to Australian wine, says Jancis Robinson.

Although more fine wine is being produced by the country's producers its fortunes and reputation has plummeted.

"Fashions come and go," says Robinson. "But the speed with which Australia is being revered to being reviled is quite remarkable."

The UK is still the biggest market for Australian wine by far, taking 37% of all exports last year, but the supermarkets have played the big companies off against each other, such as Constellation and Fosters turning it into a "duel by discount."

"The average British winedrinker became conditioned into buying simply what was on promotion and Australian wine became synonymous with cheap wine," reports Robinson.

Total exports fell for the first time in 15 years and the value of wine exports to the US and UK shrank by 17.5 and 23% respectively.

Now the only growth seems to be in cheap wine marketed in bulk, claims Robinson.

Up to one quarter in the most industrial inland irrigated regions are reported to be on the brink of bankruptcy and new ventures are failing.

Additionally with problems of drought (most year), exceptional frosts (2007), bushfires (2009) Australia is suddenly in a perilous position, she explains.

Wine Australia are doing their best to address the problem.

But this is an "enormous shame," as there is a host of great, increasingly subtle, wine made by people every bit as driven as Europe's finest vignerons.


The growing quality of English sparkling wines and the desire to establish their credentials world wide is one reason to hold the first International Sparkling Wine Symposium in Dorking, reports Tim Atkin.

"Denbies in Dorking is one of six producers whose best fizzes can stand comparison with anything produced outside Champagne and, at the bottom end, within it.

England is one of the few wine-producing countries where global warming is regarded as a boon, explains Atkin.

But the biggest problem facing the industry is its size. Of the 2,000 million bottles produced worldwide, only 500,000 are made here.

Plus another problem is one of perception. When people were questioned for market research purposes at the symposium and asked if they drank English sparkling wine, they reacted like, "Dracula being faced with a crucifix."

Even though many of the same people confidently, yet erroneously, "identified" one blind-tasted example of English fizz as Champagne.

One that stood out for Atkin was Camel Valley Cornwall Pinot Noir 2005 (£29.95, 12.5%


"Life's too short. Take the bloody thing with you." Was the response a friend of Victoria Moore's who took a village Chassagne that cost about 11 euro from a supermarket to dinner with Master of Wine Clive Coates.

Another friend asked Moore if she could recommend wines lower in alcohol so she could drink more of them.

The more straightforward way of drinking less alcohol is to drink better, says Moore. "I find that if drinking poor wine, you drink it more quickly, looking in each gulp for that sense of satisfaction you did not find in the last.

"If wine pleases you, it's more likely that you'll sip it savouring each mouthful."

Moore recommends Hatzidakis Winery Assyrtiko 2007 (£9.19, Waitrose). "One sip makes you sit bolt upright."


More talk of fizz from Jane MacQuitty, who says that its time for a little apostasy - as the accepted faith is that Champagne is the bottle to celebrate easter.

But, she enthuses: "This year there are great rafts of delicious, great value fizzes from elsewhere for as little as £4.99, provided that you are selective."

If you only have a fiver to spend, why not use it on Spanish Cava, she suggests. The quality has improved over the past five years and Moore recommends Codorniu's cheaper blends in particular which she describes as being, "wonderfully sunny and steadily improving in the hands of a new winemaker."

MacQuitty recommends Sainsbury's own 2006 Vintage Cava which she says is, "predominantly Chardonnay, more lively and lemony in style and also just £5.99."


Jonathan Ray can't understand why the wines of Alsace are so underrated in the UK, nor why so few British tourists visit the region which he describes as being, "absurdly picturesque, with more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in France." And, "the wines are about as food friendly as can be."

Producer Etienne Hugel, the 12th generation to work in his family winery says: "For some reason as a rule, the British just pass us by. "They go to Paris, the Loire and the south of France but not here, unless they're on the way to visit their banker, or to go skiing. It's a shame because they'd be sure of a warm welcome."

"It's true," says Ray. Visitors who drop by are greeted with delight, ushered in and given glasses of whatever is open (with no obligation to buy).