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Down Under wines on the way up | David Williams

The Australian wine industry is experiencing some challenging times, but there are still some surprising benefits for Aussie wine lovers

Thistledown Summer Road Old Vine Grenache, Riverland, South Australia 2020 (£8.49, Waitrose) These are interesting times for Australian wine. And by “interesting” I’m thinking of the supposedly (actually apocryphally) Chinese curse, since Australian wine producers are currently reeling from a near-complete collapse of sales to China, a country that was, until this year, their most valuable export market. The cause is a trade dispute that has led to the Chinese government applying a set of swingeing tariffs on Australian wine. According to figures released last month by the industry association Wine Australia, those tariffs have led to a 77% drop in the value of Australian wine exports to China. Meanwhile, problems in the deep-sea shipping industry are creating big delays for shipments of Australian wines to its other main markets, of which the UK is once again the most important by both value and volume. Still, there’s no let-up in demand for Australian wine on the ground on these shores: sales were up by 7% in value in the past year, our appetite for sun-filled fruit-driven reds such as Thistledown’s, apparently undimmed.

Distant Noises Cabernet Sauvignon, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia 2019 (£16.49, The Thistledown is an example of a wine made from an increasingly popular grape variety in Australia, grenache. It’s about time this sun-loving variety had its moment in the spotlight: the country’s vineyards, especially in its South Australian winemaking heartlands, have some fabulous stocks of very old (100 years old or more in some cases) grenache vines. And while old vines may not be a guarantee of quality, they are responsible for a high proportion of the world’s most interesting bottles, providing (albeit in low yields) fruit that is concentrated but naturally balanced. In the case of the 100-year old and 83-year-old vineyards in McLaren Vale that provide the fruit for Ministry of Clouds Grenache 2019 (£29.50,, the resulting wine is gloriously silky and fragrant, like pinot noir in texture, but with a berry-juiciness all its own. It’s an example of a particular modern idiom of Australian wine in which elegance takes priority over power and of which the very pretty, sappy, refreshingly light Distant Noises cabernet is another excellent, compulsively drinkable example.

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