I got a great comment from an Australian reader on Friday's post. I'm going to excerpt some of his points and address them below, but I thought that first a quick geography lesson was in order. I feel certain that if I asked any of you to map a route from Adelaide to Darwin without going through Alice Springs you could do so as easily as you could give directions to the nearest Starbucks. But on the off chance that someone is less familiar with the land down under...
I wanted to clarify Australian population density and wine regions for the benefit of the average American. Unless you decide to study the topic yourself, or have some connection to the country, few of us understand that continent. Since there's no existing map that explains these two topics well, I built my own non-scientific, mostly factual* map from scratch. I call it "Benito's Bruised Mango Map of Australian Wine & People" (click for big glorious version). First off, the "Lower 48" (all of the US minus Alaska and Hawaii) is about the same physical size and shape as Australia, but the population is totally different:
US Lower 48 = 8 million km2
Australia = 7.6 million km2
US Population = 307 million
Australia Population = 22 million
The US population (99% in the Lower 48) is concentrated in the eastern third of the country bordered by the Mississippi River, but we have 30 million people in California and 24 million in Texas--the latter group is bigger than Australia, and that's just one state. In Australia the population is almost entirely coastal, with the vast majority in the southeast and smaller groups in the southwest. Imagine taking the population of Texas and spreading them out from North Carolina to Florida, and taking a handful to San Diego and Seattle.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at Hieronymous' discussion points:
As an Aussie wine-lover I always find it fascinating to read international reviews of our wines. For a start many of the wines that make it out of the country are barely known here - there is a distinct segment of the market who produce for the export market only, some of which have trashed the brand internationally.
We had a great set of comments on this issue back in August from American retailers and distributors. I'm curious as to what all of you are drinking down there--I see reviews occasionally in magazines, but as you say, some bottles just don't make their way onto a boat or plane. What sort of American wines show up on Australian shelves and menus?
Yellow Tail is certainly available here in Oz, but is very much a budget brand that no-one of my acquaintance would dream of drinking. Likewise, there are a lot of elegant reds now being produced, but our rep has been tainted by the disproportionate proportion of 'fruit bombs' heading overseas.
Yellow Tail, Little Penguin, and others are hugely popular here, and I think the sales help keep wine shops running on a day-to-day basis. There are a lot of arguments in wine circles over these type of bottles. I don't really drink them anymore, but I did when I was freshly legal to purchase wine. I think that they're decent introductory material for novice wine drinkers. As I've said many times, a label full of confusing French or German can be scary to the neophyte; a cute animal is reassuring.
I was delighted with the wines I tried last week because I felt many of them broke the mold of the "standard Aussie wine" that shows up on American shelves. I hope they are successful and that as Americans, we don't develop a one-dimensional attitude towards an entire nation's industry.
That little rant over I'm glad to see some of the more diverse wine growing areas of the country getting some exposure. WA is certainly an up and coming area, and I would direct your readers to wines from Mornington and Yarra Valley in Victoria, and some of the Tassie wines. Orange is another region worth keeping an eye on.
I'm sad to say that I've only seen and tasted one Tasmanian wine in my life, but I loved it. Victorian wines are a bit easier to find around these parts. Western Australia wines are becoming more common, and I'll almost always grab one if I find it. But of course the vast majority of Oz juice is from the powerhouses of South Australia.
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I think it's always helpful to examine your own prejudices and preconceptions. I know my own selection of wines reviewed here is skewed in several weird ways. I tend to ignore Germany unfairly due to the dominance of Riesling. Italy's vast and varied grapes fascinate me. Looking back over my notes I have a strong preference towards California red blends that I could not have recognized without analyzing the data. Not everybody has the time or inclination for such reflection, but if you've found yourself in a rut with Australian wines or any other category, step back and look for the under-appreciated wines and regions within that country.
*I started with a vector map of the continent to establish the basic design. For the wine and populations, I overlaid maps of major wine regions and population and painted over the main points to achieve the Mango Map. While it doesn't do proper service to the island of Tasmania, I think it does a decent job of showing population and wine densities in the southwest and southeast, the sources of most Aussie wine and people.