Australian wine-growing is quite typical of the New World scene with huge vineyards spread across enormous territories between South Australia (Barossa and Coonawarra),
Victoria (Yarra), and New South Wales (Hunter), plus hi-tech equipment and methodology and staggering yields. Despite all this Australia is not anywhere near the output of wine-producing countries like Italy, France, and Spain. A large proportion of the potential harvest is destroyed by natural hazards such as hail, rain, extreme heat, fire, kangaroos, foxes, crows, and greybacked silvereyes.
Considerable government support has been invested developing and extending the local wine industry. Up to the 1970s the most popular wines were mainly sweet Rieslings. The plantings of Riesling have been decimated since the arrival of Chardonnay vines, because the wines from these are more successful in the export market.
Chardonnay is now the most widely planted grape variety but Shiraz is also gaining ground too. Besides these there are also a number of other varieties which are new to Australia that are gaining popularity.
Hence in addition to new plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Ruby Cabernet (Cabernet and Cinsaut), increasing numbers of Sangiovese and Barbera vines are also being planted. The white grape that surprises everyone and is gaining popularity at the expense of Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscadelle, and Traminer is the Verdelho.
Australian wine-makers are often accused of putting more emphasis on the variety of grape than on the aspects related to terroir. The criticism is not entirely justified because each wine is a combination of factors: the grape variety, soil, climate, and of course the underground water.
Australian winemakers can guarantee their customers constant quality by blending together wines from different areas. This can compensate year in year out for the vagaries of the Australian climate. The result is a superb wine with a distinctive character. Australian wines are almost always produced from a number of vineyards. It is possible for 'single vineyard' wines to be made in Australia, but given the enormous size of many of them, this would lack credibility while also adding unnecessary costs and uncertainty. This would also be contrary to the 'flavour for dollar' policy that has made Australian wines world famous. A 'single vineyard' wine would vary in quality from year to year and this is not what today's consumers want.
It is often essential in Australia to irrigate the vines. This is strictly forbidden in most European countries, even during the most extreme periods of dry weather. New World wine countries though regard irrigation as a perfectly natural occurrence. Their systems are so well refined that the vines can be drip fed at whatever height is required. Spray equipment is installed on both sides of the vines but it is also possible to spray from just one side. This gives the vine a contrasting signal so that the leaves absorb water rather than the grapes in order to maintain a good balance between sun and moisture.
The technique by which the skins are left in contact to extract the maximum possible aromatic and flavour substances in the juice (maceration pelliculaire), is only used in poor years in Australia. The grapes normally have more than adequate aromatic and flavour substances in them as a result of the good sun/moisture balance.
The malolactic fermentation with lactic acids that is used in Europe is only partially used here. Australian wines do not by nature have high levels of acidity, so that it makes no sense, nor is it desirable for a complete malolactic fermentation to take place. The sun also has a beneficial effect on the growth of the vines. Australian winemakers rarely need to add fertilizer to the soil. Those in favour of organic winemaking do not need to ring any alarm bells here as they do in Europe.
Australian wine-makers ideas about cask maturing in wood are also different. In order to provide plenty of flavour at a price they have used wood chips to give cheaper wines a characteristic 'oaked' taste. This is a thing of the past though for today the best Australian companies use huge tanks in which a sort of giant wheel constantly agitates the young wine.
This gives the wine regular contact with large oak planks that can be pushed into the tank through special apertures. The length of time that the wine spends in these tanks is determined by the desired strength of the taste of oak required. The eventual result has much greater finesse than the use of oak chips.
California is a very large wine region in which the following guaranteed places of origin are the best known: Mendocino Country, Lake Country, Sonoma Country (includes the famous Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley),
Napa Valley, Los Carneros, Central Valley, Sierra Foothills, Livermore Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey Country, San Joaquin Valley, San Luis Obispo Valley, and Santa Barbara Country.
Irrigation is permitted throughout California but not necessary everywhere. The most popular grape varieties are Chardonnay, Colonbard, Chenin Blanc, Fumé Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Viognier for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Grenache for red wine. The classic Californian grape variety of Zinfandel is starting to play an incresingly important role.
You mai encounter thousands of different types of Californian wine because of the great differences in climate, soil, wine-making method, yield, and target group for marketing.
The powerful house of Champagne forbid everyone from using their name outside the designated area of Champagne in France yet you will find the term ‘Champagne’ used in the USA on other wines. To avoid long drawn out and costly law siuts in the American courts, the Champagne houses have had to accept that names such as ‘Californian Champagne’ are legally permitted here.
They are however restricted to the domestic markets so that the so-called Californian Champagne must be sold in Europe merely as ‘sparkling wine’. American sparkling wines are made in both pink (rosé) and white and from quite dry to sweet. The driest is the Brut, followed by Extra Dry, Dry/Sec, and Demi-Sec, which is the sweetest.
Only the highest quality sparkling are made in the United States by the traditional method with second fermentation in the bottle. Most are produced by the charmat or bulk method. This shows to be made down to a price. A thrid method is the transfer method which combines aspects of both the other methods. The results are of better quality than with the ordinary bulk method but remain cheaper than the traditional way.
Whether white or rosé, some of these wines are well worth discovering. Two of the leading Champagne nouses make good ‘Champagne’ style wines in America. Those of Mumm are good while the Taittinger product is excellent.
Although the Americans have great difficulty with the name this wine is certainly no joke. Most of the local Gewurztramier is made as sweet wine with floral notes, suggestions of Muscat, a hint of spice, and sultry, but Gewurtraminer Dry is becoming increasingly popular.
Many Americans drink the sweet of slightly sweet ‘off-dry’ Gewurztraminer as an apertif. The dry Gewürztraminer is excellent with chichen and Oriental dishes. Drinking temperature is 50-53.6°F (10-12°C) for dry, 46.4-50°F (8-10°C) for off-dry, and 42.8-46.4°F (6-8°C) for sweet.
Zinfandel and Grenache are famous blue grapes but there are also white wines made with them. The wine is of course not truly white but a light pink. These are quite recent creations which are mainly aimed at the younger market.
Most wines are not wholly dry and some of them are even slightly sweet. They have a nos in which vanilla ice cream with strawberries can be found in the White Zin or res fruit in the White Grenache. Drinkling temperature is 50-53°F (10-12°C).
There are sultry, sweet wines that in addition to the recongnisable Muscat grape nose hane apricot, peach, and ripe pear in their bouquet. The wine is often served with goose liver in California but it is better suited to serve with a fruit dessert. Drinking temperature is 42.8-46.4°F (6-8°C).
The name is often unceremoniously shorted to ‘Cab’. This classic is one of the better wines of California. It is dark coloured and very aromatic with grassy and vegetal hints here, plus suggestions of green tea and leaves.
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