Earlier this month, I attended one of the most unique wine tastings of my career, a retrospective of older selections of Australian red wines. This was November’s Austin Wine Salon, held at the beautiful home of Bob and Lauren Jahnke. I greatly appreciated the Terra Hill layout of their home, designed for entertaining a large group. While normally I am asked to help lead the discussion through the lineup or talk about geography, history, tradition or whatever, for this celebration of Oz, I could barley muster a word. My experience with Aussies-iconic or otherwise-with a little bit of age is zip.
My father taught me that most times it pays to listen more than anything else. The less you speak, the more you think, and I had a lot to think about as this was the first time I have tasted older reds from Australia. As a buyer, the wines from Oz-or anywhere else for that matter-are presented young. On the whole, these older selections were impressive. I concentrated on trying to memorize as much as I could about the flavor profile of aged Aussies, particularly older Shiraz from South Australia. You never know, I may encounter an older Shiraz in a blind tasting one day.
Normally, if i give a brief dissertation on an Old World wine region, for example, if i explain in depth the regions that make up the Touraine of the Loire Valley or the soils and geography of the Northern Rhône, the audience is very interested, finding some value in the information presented. In contrast, if i were to tell everyone how McLaren Vale is located inside the zone of Fleurieu, or that Clare Valley is inside Mount Lofty Ranges which is also inside the Adelaide Superzone, or that Coonawarra is inside the zone of Limestone Coast and all of these stated regions and zones are inside the state of South Australia, I think people would look at me and think or say, “Who cares? ” And they would be right. Except for an examiner for the Court of Master Sommeliers, nobody cares.
Why do people want to know that Cheverny is in the Touraine and that Savennieres is inside Anjou and that the soil of Saint-Joseph is sandy to stony clay, and that by law a winemaker can add Marsanne and Roussanne to Hermitage and so forth? And why did I suppose that nobody wanted to hear why Terra Rossa is really distinctive soil in Coonawarra? I think it might be because American wine lovers have already been exposed to Australia at all quality levels, and they already have firm opinions about them. Old World wines are still exotic, harder to grasp for many wine lovers. Information from a “so-called” expert helps others put together the puzzle that makes up the elusive world of wine; therefore, bits of knowledge about European wines are better received. Simply put, Australia doesn’t need my help because when in comes to wine, the Australian brand precedes the region.
There is a carbonated soft drink that dominates the world, it originated from Georgia. Does anyone care? Is that why people drink it? Because is comes from a place? Global consumers associate the brand with the united states and wine drinkers associate the different iconic brands of Oz with the country of Australia, not necessarily the regions within it. It’s Brand Australia before the brand Margaret River.
I discovered at this tasting, while Australia doesn’t need my help, I very much need Australia’s help and the help of everyone in the room that did have something to say. Aside for the actual tasting of the wines, the input that everyone gave was most insightful. I walked into the tasting with no preconceived notions and directions to myself not to compare these wines to other regions of the world. I simply wanted to experience the Australian-ness of these reds. And I think for the most part, I have a better appreciation of Oz. While I can’t say, “Okay I know it. ” I can say, “Okay, I get it, or understand it a little better. ” I am grateful to everyone who contributed wines to this event.