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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.

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