Australia rivals grand cru Burgundy

“Australia is the only country in the world that can hold up against Burgundy,” claimed Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director at Berkmann Wine Cellars.

This praise for the country’s Chardonnay came as Hunt showed off the UK merchant’s thoroughly revamped Australian portfolio at yesterday’s A+ Australian Wine trade tasting in London.

In total, Berkmann has now replaced 85% of its existing Australian range, with Hunt summing up the end result of around 60 listings as “two wines smaller but much more diverse.”

He explained to the drinks business: “The idea is to be as representative as possible across regions, varieties, price point and alcohol level in as few wines as possible. There are no redundants here.”

This revision of Berkmann’s Australian range represents just one result from a busy 12-month period which has seen the Burgundy specialist bring in wines from Russia, Turkey, China, Hungary and Switzerland, as well as returning India to its portfolio.

“Since the recession we’ve been in conservative mode, but we’re bored of that,” remarked Hunt.

Picking up on the positive momentum and image makeover being generated by Australian wine in the UK, Hunt confirmed: “The fact that Australia is so exciting at the moment meant we couldn’t afford to stand still.”

At a time when Australian Chardonnay is widely agreed to be leading the country’s comeback, Hunt remarked: “On the world stage, I would say Chardonnay is its strongest suit. Other countries can jostle a bit, but Australia is the only country in the world that can hold up against Burgundy”

Within Australia itself, Hunt remarked: “Geelong is our pinnacle for Chardonnay,” describing Berkmann’s listing from Lethbridge, a small producer which otherwise sells its entire production within Victoria, as “comfortable junior grand cru level.”

As for the challenge of convincing UK consumers and trade that it is worth paying for Australia’s top Chardonnays, Hunt observed: “You have to sell on quality. For Chassagne at the same quality you’d pay £50. If you want an appellation, you have to double your money.”

Despite being more commonly viewed as a leading region in Australian’s modern Chardonnay revival, Hunt argued: “The Yarra for me is exciting for its Shiraz.”

Tracking the evolution of this red flagship Australian variety, Hunt observed: “I don’t think it needed to reinvent itself to such an extent as Chardonnay. At the far end, a 15% [abv] Shiraz can work and be balanced, just like Zinfandel can.”

However, he highlighted the breadth of styles which have now become more widely available, saying: “Australia just needed to spread its wings and diversify to find those 13.5%, floral wines, but which are still very Australian, not chasing the Rhône.”

Looking beyond Shiraz, Hunt praised Australia for having “a more diverse range of red cards than other countries.” In particular, he picked out Cabernet Sauvignon as one to watch, saying: “There’s real regional excitement coming out of Cabernet; I’m glad it seems to be being taken seriously again.”

The new line up of Berkmann’s exclusive Australian agencies comprises: Deakin Estate from Victoria, Allegory from Western Australia, Fraser Gallop from Margaret River, Chapel Hill from McLaren Vale, Langmeil from Barossa, Katnook Estate from Coonawarra, Deviation Road from Adelaide Hills and Lethbridge from Geelong.

7 Responses to “Australia rivals grand cru Burgundy”

  1. Konrad Ejbich says:

    Pretty ballsy to be saying that only Australia can hold up against Burgundy. What has this MW tasted from Canada and specifically from the Prince Edward County region of Ontario? Wines such as Closson Chase, Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run, Exultet, Lighthall, Long Dog, 3630 and numerous others would blow away any experienced taster who’s not previously encountered them. The MW’s generalization would be laughable if not for the fact that he sells the Australian wines he so proudly touts.

  2. Alex Hunt says:

    There are individual producers of great Chardonnay in many countries: USA, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and – if you say so – Canada. This I would never dispute, and it’s certainly true that Chardonnay is being understood afresh the world over at the moment.

    However, I stand by my opinion that no country is capable of competing with France en masse better than Australia when it comes to Chardonnay on the world stage. The point is not just that the peaks of quality are exceptionally high, but that there is also a high number and a relatively high volume of very good examples from which to choose. This means that export markets benefit from a magnificent selection (as they do with Burgundy), whereas for the handful of Canadian producers above, only domestic stockists (or in one case North American) appear on wine-searcher.

    Furthermore, Australia now offers a regional diversity that, as far as I can tell from the previous comment, Canada cannot, the quality seemingly being concentrated in the one region of Ontario.

    Finally, top-end Chardonnay from anywhere other than Burgundy (or Cervaro della Sala) remains a pretty tough sell, at least in the UK, so don’t think I’m enthusing about these wines because I have to sell them. It’s quite the reverse – I chose to import some because they are compelling.

  3. Gy says:

    Dear sir,

    When you say that,” only Australia can hold up against Burgundy”, I hope you were joking.

    Do you have a true Terroir ? Can you say that you have a comparative unique “Climat” such as Burgundy ?

    The world would have heard about it if this were the case. I greatly enjoy Australian wines but, let not over react.

    Have a look at this and tell us if Australia can compare to Burgundy.

    http://www.burgundy-wines.fr/home-press-room/release/gallery_files/site/289/1910/9647.pdf

    Best regards,

    Gy,

    France

    • Alex Hunt says:

      No country or region has a monopoly on terroir.

      Thanks to its thousand-year history, we are more intimately acquainted with the terroir of the Côte d’Or than most other growing regions, although many of its intricacies remain dimly understood. As a passionate burgundy lover, I think the application to UNESCO is an excellent idea, but it is tangential to the point I’m making. Burgundy is worth mapping because it makes great wine; it does not make great wine because it has been mapped.

      In fact, I think it’s commendable that Australian winemakers have managed to raise their Chardonnay game this high in mere decades, rather than the centuries it has taken Burgundy!

  4. James Reina says:

    Very good point, very well made Alex. The market familiarity with Australian Chardonnay, and the efforts its representative body is making to expose these superb wines is highly commendable. It gives a great platform for what is an exciting time for Australian wines in general. Burgundy is laced in history and ‘the burgundy effect’ of over-priced wines based on terroir (in an almost unique way) and name. There is no doubting Burgundy remains the pinnacle and will do, but in a flat market people need more compelling reasons to spend their money at the sub £50 price point and Australia provides those reasons. I look forward to reading more of your enlightening comments in wine periodicals.

  5. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your support of Australian chardonnays.

    GY – Australia is a huge continent, with over 60 wine regions, each with a very unique ‘terroir’ . We have the oldest soils in the world and some of the oldest vines in the world. Chardonnay grows in the warm regions as well as our very cool regions (some of which are emerging as Australia’s most exciting regions).

    I actually hate comparing ‘Old world’ and ‘New world’ wines, because we prefer to focus on our own sense of place – the ‘terroir’ of our own unique vineyard site. However when Jancis Robinson, recently told the story of a MW blind tasting , where a humble Australian chardonnay was confused for a Grand Cru Burgundy, then “the world” starts to take notice.

    In Australia we have a lot of small wineries, that are hand crafting their wines and creating something very special, which is a unique expression of their region (or vineyard). Australia’s greatest ‘terroirs’ are still being discovered. Exciting times!

    Kind regards

    Jennie Mooney
    Capital Wines, Canberra District

  6. Alex’s call is certainly a big one, but none the less one which deserves consideration. Australia does have terroir, if that is what you wish to call it (one wonders how it is possible to not have terroir) and Australian grapegrowers and winemakers are producing distinctive and high quality Chardonnay which holds up well to any international competition. The evolution of Chardonnay style in the last five years or so is something to celebrate. Well said Alex.

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