Australia is a vast country; west to east it’s almost the same size as the United States or, if you want to compare it to Europe, it would stretch from Portugal to Turkey. So, even though most of Australia’s vineyards are concentrated in the southern third of the country, there is such a diverse range of climatic conditions that you can find virtually any wine style there. And, even better, Australia has the skilled winemakers able to make the best of those conditions.
Given that, perhaps I should have set aside more than a single day to run a course on the subject, but those who joined me at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge centre recently had plenty to think about – and to taste.
60% of the grapes harvested in Australia each year are from just 3 grape varieties – Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon – and we tasted some attractive examples of each of those. Other familiar styles such as Eden Valley Riesling, Yarra Pinot Noir and Hunter Semillon also featured and showed very well. But, in the vote to choose the favourite wine of the day, all were comprehensively defeated by a red wine made from an obscure variety that hardly anyone in the group had previously heard of:
Durif was first propagated in the Rhône in south-west France in the 1880s, but, these days, is more commonly seen in California, where it’s usually known as Petite Sirah and, as I discovered when I bought De Bortoli’s 1628 Durif in Majestic (£8.99), there are also plantings in the Riverina District of New South Wales. Rich, chunky and full bodied with intense black fruits, a decided spicy tang and firmish tannins, this was a wine that I thought might divide opinion. But no! It proved to be one of the clearest winners I remember.
It obviously thrives in Australia’s heat and looks to be a useful variety there for the future.