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Anne Krebiehl blog: Australia looks to the future

Published:  20 January, 2011

They showed us the future, there and then. Three sell-out masterclasses at the Australian Annual Trade Tasting looked resolutely ahead and allowed us glimpses of where this huge country intends to go.

They showed us the future, there and then. Three sell-out masterclasses at the Australian Annual Trade Tasting looked resolutely ahead and allowed us glimpses of where this huge country intends to go.

Presented at the über-cool Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road, the message was as deliberate and contemporary as the art exhibited alongside the wines. The first masterclass was dedicated to Riesling, a grape variety that covers a mere 4,400ha or 3% of Australia's almost 173,000ha of vineyards, the second to the even less planted Pinot Noir and the third was a faultlessly argued and inspired polemic on Australian terroir by Andrew Jefford.

Despite presenting very diverse wines, the three masterclasses encompassed all the hot topics: cool climate viticulture, the relatively uncharted ground of many often marginal growing regions and the importance and desire of expressing those places, environmental and economic sustainability, a trend for more subtle tastes and lower alcohol levels.

In the Riesling Review masterclass, Petaluma's winemaker Andrew Hardy showed different vintages from the classic Clare and Eden Valleys alongside superb examples from Tasmania and Great Southern in Western Australia where, so Hardy said, "Riesling has become a rising star". Will Great Southern and Tasmania become distinct regional Riesling styles in future? "I think so, they will in time, Tasmania is still so young," Hardy said, but the challenge remains to convince consumers to try it, because "once they've got it in their mouth, bang, they're hooked". No wonder, bone-dry and whistle-clean, the wines had pristine fruit in their youth and layered tertiary flavours with a little bottle age - at exceptionally good value.

The Regional Pinot Noir class was presented by Martin Spedding, owner of Ten Minutes By Tractor, and Phil Sexton, owner of Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander. They focussed on subtle, almost tender Pinot Noirs from Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsular and demonstrated the cool climate credentials of these areas with interactive maps. "We are highlighting boutique wines that are handmade and have not really been exposed to markets like the UK," said Spedding. "It's really early days for Australia," added Sexton when asked about Pinot's future, explaining that growing it is a constant and expensive learning curve that will only work in the right spot with the right clones. "Pinot is constrained by its beauty in many ways," he said. In these marginal climates this means quality over quantity.

Outside the classroom Jacob's Creek provided an interesting counterpoint: for an rrp of £7, the Classic cross-regional Pinot Noir is fruity, pretty and charming and makes a convincing case for the variety, as do its Barossa Riesling and Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir from the Regional Reserve series launched in 2010 at rrp £9.99. "We want to extend the consumers' knowledge of Australia, these wines are expressive of region and variety," says Adrian Atkinson, wine development director of brand owner Pernod Ricard. All of Oz, it seems, is on message for regionality.

In the Trusting the Vineyard class acclaimed wine writer Andrew Jefford effectively destroyed the notion that Australia is one big, homogenous landmass. Armed with bare facts, Jefford talked heat summation and degrees of latitude, diurnal swing and topography, altitudes, bedrock and topsoils and painted a picture of dazzling diversity. Enlightening data on pH, total acidity and percentage ABV for each of the eight wines presented jumbled any hasty judgement about taste.

For Jefford, "respecting the integrity of the raw materials" means everything. He underlined that "drinkability and digestibility are clearly related to naturalness in wine". Thus, he mostly lined up wines he calls "unadjusted" - fermented with indigenous yeast, without enzymes, not acidified and often unfiltered. The outstanding wines, among them the 2008 JR Millbrook Viognier from Western Australia and the 2008 Cumulus Shiraz from Orange, NSW, bore witness to his every word.