Everybody knows by now the
greatest story ever told in modern wine. It
concerned a bunch of upstarts from way
down in the southern hemisphere who
came stomping into the sedate and fusty
world of European connoisseurship in the
1980s and rewrote the book.
Labelling wines by their grape varieties (a nobrainer when you think how few important grapes there are in the big names of French wine, erstwhile king of the jungle), and unleashing a torrent of sweet, sunny, mellifluous southern flavour on a market that had cut its teeth and scoured its gums on lean, acidic, grassy wines ever since Noah got cracking. The first wave of Australian wines cleaned up in the British market.
Add to this the frankly ridiculous
over-production there has been in
Australia in recent years, and you have a
sure-fire recipe for satisfying the pile-ithigh-
sell-it-cheap approach that is the
reflex sales strategy of some of the UK's
The price war on the UK high street has been rapacious, with wine, inevitably, an integral part. These retailers are, after all, the most important players in the ballpark when it comes to UK wine sales.
The result of this awkward confluence of economic factors is not hard to perceive. Volume of sales is up (and comfortably ahead of the main rival, France, itself slipping into helpless disarray) but total value of sales is down. This is a direct consequence of all those shelf-end 'BOGOF' and 'three for a tenner' promotions on big name brands. Unless it is careful, Australia could be well on the way to acquiring the image of a supplier of everyday, undifferentiated, bulk-produced slosh for the undiscerning.
must remain open for them to push their
premium bottlings - especially where
they are being marketed under different
'producer' names - to the same outlets
that are selling the more mundane stuff.
And by the way, when did Australia
become so content to produce such
volumes of mundane stuff anyway? The
theory was originally that they could
leave that to the big European négociants.
Whatever happened to that fabled quality/price
Australia needs to pull away from reckless promotional offers. The degree of support the big retailers are still getting for discounts on boring wines from those responsible for producing them is little short of a racket, and should be run down while there is still the economic flexibility to do so. At least in the area of production volumes, there is already hope of progress. With new plantings down in the last couple of years, there will be correspondingly less wine to sell in the foreseeable future.
As things stand, the picture looks ever so faintly familiar - an ocean of price-slashed mediocrity at one end of the market, and a huddle of super-premium wines sold by niche retailers at the other. Did somebody say Germany?