When you think of ‘old-world wine,’ places like Bordeaux, Provence and Rioja probably swirl to mind.
When you think of ‘Australian wine,’ $8 paint stripper (or worse: Yellowtail) probably clamp onto your noggin.
Suffice to say: even if they don’t all pickle your tongue, Australian wines have an image problem.
Until last week, I’m ashamed to say the above tropes were both bouncing firmly around my brain.
I’d been this way ever since living in Spain for three years. After drinking enough Tempranillo and cafe con leche to develop IBS (true story), I came back to Australia in 2018 a self-proclaimed expert on all things vino.
I also came back dismissive of what the land of salt plains might produce – and determined to keep living my best life (come at me, gout).
However, though I have become partial to bottle shop roulette (those Aldi specials can sometimes surprise you), I’ve maintained the snobbish suspicion that wine must be European to be truly classy.
“Australian wines are full of sulphites.”
“Australian wines don’t have the history of Europe’s.”
“St Émilion is the only thing that won’t give me a headache.”
I had faith in each of the above statements until last week, when a trip to South Australia changed my mind (I travelled as a guest of Qantas).
In fact, at the very first winery I visited, my rude belief that Australian wine isn’t as classy as Europe’s was pulled from my mouth.
I learned at Henschke, a family-owned, 152-year-old Australian winery located in Eden Valley, that – despite my scoffing – Europe doesn’t even have the oldest wines in the world. That title belongs to Australia.
Thanks to some forward-thinking governance (as well as a helping geographical hand), Australia avoided the ravages of phylloxera (a vine eating louse) that hit most of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, Ashleigh Evans, brand ambassador for Henschke, explained.
In contrast to the rest of the globe, South Australia guarded its precious vines (the oldest of which date back to 1853) with strict quarantine laws. Winegrowing regions like the Barossa remain phylloxera free to this day.
“Australian wine is actually made from more longstanding vineyards than Europe’s thanks to pest control.”
I got to experience this ‘first foot,’ as our group was asked to rinse our shoes in a light chlorine solution, to ensure no nasties were brought into the area.
I then toured Henschke’s world-famous Hill of Grace vineyard – a hidden gem, nestled in the slopey landscape, with no official cellar door. It’s not signposted, so the only way die-hard Henschke fans can find it is by looking up the Lutheran church across the road from it.
Here I learned about Henschke’s history, and about the legendary Henschke viticulturalist Pru Henschke, who spent years in Europe, and refined her art at Germany’s Geisenheim Institute.
Not bad for Australian wine being made by a bunch of ‘heathens’…
I was then whisked to the Barossa’s Seppeltsfield Wines – a place that totally upended my ‘Old World vs. New World’ preconceptions. Not only was I able to taste my birth year in wine directly from the barrel, but I was also treated to a story that put my snobbish past even further to shame.
Seppeltsfield ambassador Nigel Thiele told my group about the time an important member of Seppeltsfield visited a winery in Porto – a prestigious producer of (you guessed it) port – whilst on holiday. The Porto winery didn’t believe that Seppeltsfield had a complete catalogue of wine dating back to 1878. In any case: the Porto winery admitted (loosely paraphrased), “We certainly don’t.”
“So how could you?”
It’s a fair assumption: there have been two world wars, much social upheaval, and huge economic (and environmental) challenges facing any winemaker hoping to achieve such a feat.
Seppeltsfield has done it though: it has the longest lineage of single vintage wines in the world, with no gaps, dating back to 1878. It’s also the only winery to release a hundred-year-old port every year.
Take that Porto.
After visiting Seppeltsfield I thought I would redeem myself from my initial sin of snobbery, having been enlightened with this old world knowledge. Alas, I only dug myself a deeper hole. Upon heading to McLaren Vale’s iconic d’Arenberg Cube, which offers visitors the chance to taste (and blend) their own wines, as well as to explore the iconic Alternate Realities Museum, I put my foot in my mouth almost immediately.
This time it was arrogance. Assuming all 25 million people who live in Australia run in the same circles as me, I asked our d’Arenberg wine blending instructor Judy Eccleston: “Why do Australians still think you have to go overseas to get good wines?”
“I don’t think they think that at all,” Judy said – or words to that effect – kindly informing me that within wine enthusiast circles, “The quality of top Australian wines is widely known.”
Ouch. There went my much-jotted theory that all Australians think like me – an Oat Milk Flat White sipping post-modern knowledge worker – and that we all mytho-poetically rhapsodize the quality of European wines to the same self-conscious tune.
Luckily, one winery was left on the cards, just in time for me to show off my newfound, humble knowledge of The Great Grape: Bekkers Wine. A story of romance that would make Homer rap lyrical, Toby Bekker met his French-born wife and winemaker Emmanuell in 1995.
Together they created Bekkers Wine, a winery that takes a high-end approach to McLaren Vale, focussing on hero varietals like Grenache and Shiraz, and working off the logic, “If you can’t have a second glass…[there must be something wrong with it].”
Cue: many knowing glances around the table…
Meaningful looks aside, Bekkers Wine is classy but not pretentious – a refreshing change from some of the Big Stuffy Energy on the Big Red market. It was also the perfect place to end my wine trail.
The views from Bekkers Wine’s cellar door also wouldn’t look out of place in the south of Spain (not to mention, if you live in Sydney, it’s a 2 hour flight rather than a 20 hour one).
If this plonk pilgrimage has piqued your palette, you might be interested to know that Qantas, who invited DMARGE on this wine trail, yesterday released $99 one way flights (available only as part of a return trip booking, which brings the minimum price to $198) to Adelaide so that you can see South Australia too.
This fare is available for passengers flying from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth or Canberra.
It’s a timely offer, with South Australia celebrating 2021 as the Year of South Australian Wine – an initiative that will showcase the quality and variety of winery experiences and events on offer across the state’s 18 wine regions.
“As a bonus,” Qantas announced, “Qantas Wine will also give customers a taste of the State’s wine regions with a curated selection of South Australian wines on sale exclusively to its members.”
SATC chief executive Rodney Harrex said it was an exciting time for Australians to visit Adelaide and explore the State’s wineries, wildlife and natural wonder, and highlighted the importance of supporting the domestic tourism industry in 2021.
“With South Australia in such a great position when it comes to managing the impacts of Covid-19, it makes it an ideal time to travel and enjoy the wide variety of experiences on offer,” said Mr Harrex.
“Wine tourism is a crucial segment of South Australia’s visitor economy, and welcoming interstate travellers to South Australia in support of our wine and tourism industry is a must. With such an array of experiences in Adelaide and regional South Australia, we really have something for everyone and there is no better time to explore our great state.”
Qantas Group Chief Customer Officer, Stephanie Tully said The Flying Roo was committed to helping boost tourism in South Australia and making it easier for Australians to explore their own backyard.
“We’re thrilled to encourage more Australians to visit South Australia and explore its fantastic food and wine scene. We’ve recently introduced even more flexibility on new bookings, so our customers can plan their next trip to Adelaide with confidence,” said Ms Tully.
We’ll drink to that.
The sale will run for one week until 11.59pm (AEDT) 18 March 2021 unless sold out prior. To book, and for full terms and conditions, visit qantas.com/sasale.
For further information about the 2021 Year of South Australian Wine, visit southaustralia.com.