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ADT 2017: Spain and Italy getting more bang for their 1% buck

Published:  26 January, 2017

A quick glance around at London's very well attended Australia Day Tasting on Tuesday (January 24) showed that very few producers were without Italian and Spanish varieties such as Tempranillo, Fiano and Vermentino - one of Austria's fastest growing grapes.

While these Italian and Spanish varieties (along with Prosecco, Durif, Malbec, Montepulciano, Tempranillo among others) make up less than 1% of Oz's total vineyard area, it is clear that their collective influence continues to far exceed this percentage when it comes to appearances on shelves and Australian wine lists.

Their ability to offer a point of difference is largely to thank for their popularity, which is quite a feat considering how much the category is dominated by French mainstays.

Shiraz leads the charge on the top ten most planted list accounting for 32% of all plantings, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Chardonnay (20%), Merlot (7%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%), Pinot Noir (5%), Semillion (4%) and Pinot Gris (3%). 

Influences from below France continue to grow outwards geographically, as was the case at Neogiants UK's ADT table where Jim Barry Wines debuted its 2016 Assyrtiko - the first ever vintage for the Greek grape grown in Australia, and allegedly outside of Europe according to third generation family member Olivia Barry.

While the prominence of French and German influences hark back to early settlers, later influences form Italy, Spain and Greek continue to help the rise in focus on grapes such as Tempranillo from Spain and Nebbiolo and Sangiovese from Italy.

These have found a solid domestic market, thanks in part to the prevalence of Greek, Spanish and Italian restaurants in Southern Australia around the Mornington Peninsula.

But how does that translate to a UK market?

"Australia is most easily aligned with the UK in terms of wine culture," said Simon Thorpe, MD at Australia and New Zealand distributor Neogicants UK.

"But there is a tendency to think that if works domestically, then why not internationally?

"Wine needs three things to work: winemakers needs to be able to grow it, the demand needs to be there, and you need to be able to make a good version of it and I'd say that Australia's Spanish varieties meet those three criteria and are more suited to the UK than Italy's.

"Nebbiolo isn't very exciting, whereas there are some very interesting flavours coming from Tempranillo and Verdejo."

Australia is currently the most relevant for the UK market - one in five bottles sold in the UK are Australian.

While Italian grapes offer diversity for independents, this is but one of the areas in which Australia's love affair with Europe shows its complexity.

Hatch Mansfield's James Mason was at ADT to present Robert Oatley Wines - currently the sole face of their Australian portfolio.

He spoke to Harpers about how Syrah and Shiraz sit alongside each other in Robert Oatley's portfolio, and how they speak to a UK audience.

"Indies are placing more emphasis on elegant, lower ABV, less fruit driven wines and the Syrahs really reflect this. The European styles tend to be less spicy, cooler with black and white pepper, which fit very nicely into the 'second glass' category as opposed to the tobacco-heavy Shirazes from Barossa Valley.

"Australia is already well down that road. The next step is regionality and indies in the UK are beginning to talk about regionality a lot more. The nature of the indies is that they always want something as different as possible, which can be great but is also a challenge."