Lower alcohol wines a response to Aussie success29th July, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
The trend for lower alcohol wines in Europe is a response to the global success of Australia’s rich, ripe reds, according to the chief winemaker of Wolf Blass.
Speaking to the drinks business during a tasting of the estate’s icon wines in London, Chris Hatcher said: “A lot of the lower alcohol wines and the big push they have been given in Europe is a response to the fact that Australia’s rich, ripe red wines have been so successful.
“The big irony is that while Europe bangs the lower alcohol drum, Bordeaux wines have gone up significantly in alcohol over the past decade, which I believe has made them better – they’re richer and have more intensity now,” he added.
While some of the wines in the Wolf Blass range reach up to 15.5% abv, Hatcher insists he’s not out to make big Aussie blockbusters.
“I’m not trying to make big, ripe, heavy styles of Shiraz – I hate the overripe, Port-like styles; I’m pursuing freshness and brightness,” he said.
“But some years you’re forced to go riper as there’s nothing worse than lean, mean, green fruit,” he added.
Hatcher admitted that in the early days, Wolf Blass used oak to hide poor fruit.
“The early Wolf Blass wines were very oaky in the ‘70s and ‘80s – we were using a lot of American oak to mask the fruit as it wasn’t great at the time, but as the fruit improved, the use of oak lessened,” he said.
Despite this practice, Hatcher is confident of the ageability of Australian Shiraz.
“The best examples age exceptionally well – we’ve got wines in our archives dating back to the ‘30s that are still looking magnificent.
“They take on leathery notes and have a plush, chocolate character to them,” he said.
While Australia’s focus on regionality has been criticised in the wine press, Hatcher is adamant that it’s the only way forward for the country.
“It doesn’t matter at this stage whether or not the consumer gets the concept of regionality.
“It will be another 10 years at least before UK consumers understand the smaller details about sub-regionality
“But we’ve got to lead the charge to ensure long-term education,” he said.
One country where education is proving particularly important is China.
“Chinese consumers struggle to know where half of Australia is at the moment but that’s not the point – they’ll learn eventually,” Hatcher told db.
“We’re in China through ASC Fine Wines and it’s very much a long-term commitment.
“A lot of people think cracking China will be an easy overnight success, but it doesn’t work like that. Those who think that way will be in and out quickly.
“We’re pushing our icon wines hard out there. It’s a good thing that government spending on wine was cut as it gives brands other than Lafite a chance,” he added.
Hatcher was voted Red Winemaker of the Year 2013 at the International Wine Challenge.