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Australia’s alternative varieties buck trend in UK market

Published:  14 August, 2017

Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Verdelho and Fiano are among a host of alternative and less established varieties from Australia that are on the rise, helping drive premium sales from Down Under in the UK.

Against a backdrop of declining sales in its number one export market, with value down 7% to AUD$341m in 2016-2017, and a 10% volume decline, the Australian Wine Export Report for the year to 30 June reported a 19% value rise in exports at AUD$7.50-9.99.

While Australia’s three biggest export varieties of Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon continued to show strong growth on the back of global demand from territories including China and the US, in the UK the fastest movers upward have been a growing roster of alternative varieties, albeit typically from a small base.

Leading the charge in terms of increasing market share have been: Montepulciano, up 613%; Viognier/Chardonnay blends, up 377%, Dolcetto, up 161%; Nebbiolo, up 97%; Verdelho, up 82%; and Malbec. Up 43%.

With lower-end sales of Australia continuing to suffer from the strength of the Australian dollar against the weakened pound, Wine Australia has been promoting its alternative varieties through a series of focused tastings in the UK, with special emphasis on engaging with the on-trade and independent sectors.

And, at the higher end at least, the strategy appears to be paying off, with such varieties reinvigorating interest in the Australian category at a more premium level. At a recent Alternative Varieties Tasting in London, where tasters voted for the varieties that most impressed them, Assyrtiko, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo headed a list that included diverse grapes such as Arneis, Friulinano, Dolcetto, Sagrantino, Taminga and Teroldego among its featured wines.

Speaking to Harpers about this trend, Alex Tilling of Armit Wines said: “[Australian winemakers’] focus on alternative varieties is both symptomatic of their awareness of the increasingly adventurous palates of mid to premium-level drinkers, and to finding grape varieties – often Mediterranean or Italian – that are increasingly more suited to hotter regions.”

Such varieties will remain niche due to current limited plantings, but it appears in the UK, at least, they are punching well above their weight.

Increase in Australian alternative grape varieties exported to the UK 2016-2017

(Australian Wine Export Report for the year to 30 June 2017)

Variety Value % growth
Durif/Shiraz  $3,594,084  9%
Malbec $756,523  43%
Viognier/Chardonnay  $254,942  377%
Verdelho $235,965  82%
Tarrango $226,256  31%
Dolcetto/Lagrein  $121,586  161%
Fiano $114,330  26%
Montepulciano $104,500  613%
Marsanne $65,993  38%
Roussanne $65,555  40%
Gewurztraminer/Riesling  $65,084  17%
Nebbiolo $54,093  97%