Drinking Outside The Box

With Simon Woods – wine for people who have a life

When is a region not a region? November 13, 2007 at 10:43 am

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Ah, regionality and wine, eh? Dontcha just love it? There’s a story on Decanter’s web site about how the Aussies are struggling with the problem of having a wine blended from different states. The current SE Australia designation only covers the states in the south and east, and means that any inclusion of Western Australian wine is limited to 15%. With WA currently being the one place destined to have a surfeit of grog in the next few years, unsurprisingly those out east are looking at ways of getting their hands on the precious stuff. But there is opposition from some who see the creation of a new designation called Greater Australia or Southern Australia as denying regionality. Get real guys. The whole point of the SE Aus appellation is to produce a cheap homogenous blended wine, so talking of any regional identity is pointless. Terroir? Schmerroir.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fully paid up member of the terroir club – where the grapes are grown has a definite impact on a wine’s flavour. But I’m also a realist. The main factor in the flavour of a wine is not terroir, it is human influence. The ways in which grapes are grown and wine is made outweigh the impact of terroir, and this is as much true in Australia as in France. Yet the Australians, or at least those in charge of the wine industry, seem hell-bent on pursuing regionality, even though most of the wines are marked more by winemaking than region. Further proof of this was provided by a tasting of Clare Valley wines last week. Yes, there were some great wines in which the character of the region shone through, but they were outnumbered by ones where the word ‘made’ appeared in my notes.

Look at it this way. Does Clarendon Hills have a following because it tastes of McLaren Vale or because it tastes of Clarendon Hills? Ditto for Henschke, Cullen, Brokenwood, Yarra Yering, Bannockburn and their respected regions. In an ideal world, all wine would be made by great producers in great regions. But it isn’t, so the question we have to answer is this – which would we rather have: a wine made by a so-so producer in a great region or one made by a great producer in a so-so region? Anyone who wouldn’t take the second option every time is deluding themselves.

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