Recently in a Facebook post, blogger and wine retailer Michael Hughes wondered aloud if the curse of Sideways had been lifted from Merlot. That was a bizarre and frustrating time for many wine fans, and a bunch of the folks parroting the lines from the movie at restaurants and wine tastings were missing the point entirely.
The Sideways phenomenon was interesting because it was sparked by a one-time crossover between erratic pop culture and staid wine appreciation. It took a relatively minor issue (one dimensional, overly fruity California Merlot) and thrust it in the face of wine sellers and waiters all over the country. Likewise, this was met with a huge burst of enthusiasm for Pinot Noir, though I'm sure things have settled back down to their earlier positions.
I wondered what might be the next object of wine hatred. To quote Tower of Power, "What's hip today, might become passé." There have been a lot of articles about negative trends in Australian wine after a decade of explosive growth. Have they pushed too hard too fast? Labels got ridiculous? Too much fruit? Too much alcohol? I'm overjoyed with the democratizing effects Australian wines had on the US market--there's nothing scary or threatening about an $8 bottle with a kangaroo on it, and it brought people into stores--but I understand what those writers mean about some of the things coming out of the land down under.
I sincerely hope that Australian wines don't suffer the same impact that Sideways had on legitimately good Merlot. Do these occasional flareups of anger at a certain wine steer the industry back on course, or does it hurt the good wine while sparing the original and deserving targets of criticism? I'd love to hear opinions of those readers and fellow bloggers who are directly impacted by things like this.
Here are two brief reviews of good Australian wines I've had recently that, aside from their size as giant wineries, seem to buck the trends mentioned above. Classy labels, interesting complexity, good balance, and while they're edging up on the alcohol scale they're not hot or too strong.
2002 Rosemount Hill of Gold Mudgee Shiraz. $20, 14.5% abv. Looks like the first great vintage after three rough years in the Mudgee region. Leather, tobacco, dried cherries, cassis, touch of licorice. It's often a gamble with these slightly older bottles but this one just got more and more interesting as it went along.
2007 Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvèdre from South Australia. $17, 14.5% abv. 77% Shiraz, 23% Mourvèdre. Perhaps the smoothest Penfolds I've ever tried. Creamy with lots of black cherry and leather notes, little touches of cinnamon and plum as it warms up. I picked it up purely for the novelty of a GSM - G, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
I really hope that wines like these are able to thrive and survive out there in the marketplace, but as this is part of a longer trend than the flash-in-the-pan Sideways effect, it may be a decade before we see how things turn out.
Update 1: Interesting rebuttal to the anti-Australian wine news from The Jug Shop in San Francisco.
Note: The top photo is of an unnamed winery in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. It was taken by my paternal grandmother on one of her recent adventures. Aussie wine country isn't quite as exotic as Antarctica or Russia just after the fall of the Soviet Union (to name but two of her previous trips), but she had a great time.