Sour grapes

by The Listener / 21 February, 2013
Only 9% of the wine Australians drink is from New Zealand.
Wine - sauvignon blanc

Judging by their recent comments in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s winemakers are struggling to accept the runaway popularity of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in their domestic market.

After pouring a glass of Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – the biggest-selling white wine in Australia – Bruce Tyrrell sipped, then winced: “Acid!” Another prominent Hunter Valley winemaker declared, “It’s the McDonald’s of wines.”

What are they grizzling about? Sauvignon blanc now outsells chardonnay and riesling in Australia, but only 9% of the wine Australians drink is from New Zealand. By contrast, Tyrrell and his mates command a far bigger slice of the New Zealand market – 24% and rising.

Australia’s winemakers don’t seem to realise that Kiwis have engaged in a love affair with their wines for as long as anyone can remember. Mitchell Taylor, of the large, family-owned
Taylors winery in South Australia, advised New Zealand Herald readers recently that he supports free trade. “So I’m going to stand on a pedestal and entice my compatriots and you to drink more Aussie wine … it’s definitely time to even up the ledger.”

Really? For more than 20 years, Australia’s winemakers have contested the New Zealand market on an equal footing with local producers and enjoyed strong demand for their robust, rich reds and cask wines. Shelves here are crammed with Aussie wines under such familiar brands as Jacob’s Creek, Hardys, Banrock Station, Wyndham Estate – and Taylors.

But across the Tasman, imported sales have also surged recently, reflecting the strong Australian dollar. Decanter magazine reported that some winemakers who attended an Australia Day tasting in London last year “mentioned the word ‘xenophobia’ in connection with Australians’ antipathy towards imports”.

Troy Christensen, CEO of Accolade (formerly Hardy), has conceded that “Tasmania makes some excellent sparkling at A$50, but if you have Moët coming in at A$30, it’s not a tough call to make.”

Countless Kiwis enjoy Australia’s bold, beefy reds. But as a chilled white wine to enjoy outdoors in that country’s brutal heat, Marlborough’s refreshingly crisp sauvignon blancs are hard to beat.


Forrest Marlborough Chardonnay 2010
Full-bodied and smooth, with citrusy, slightly creamy and biscuity flavours, this is a fresh, “fruit-driven” chardonnay style with a subtle seasoning of oak, drinking well now. $23 (4/5)
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