Food and Drink 

The Aussies are coming

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If the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is on your to-do list next month, you’d best pick up the phone or get online today. Tickets have never sold so fast to the country’s best wine festival and with Australia as its theme region/country and riesling as its featured grape, the 2007 show will be sold out long before it opens in late March.

The last time Australia was in the spotlight was 1999 and what was thought to be a considerable contingent of 27 wineries attended the show using the marketing slogan “cutting edge, New World-style wines.” Down Under producers were touting a complete turnabout in modern-day Australian winemaking.

Plenty has changed since then, beginning with Australia’s dominance of the import market. Nationally, Oz producers own 14 per cent of the table wine (9-litre case) market, equal to Italy and just behind France at 17 per cent. Here in B.C., the share is a staggering 30 per cent, topping all imported wine sales and grossing some $136 million.

Given consumers are so enthralled with Australia’s wine, festival organizers have invited over 50 Australian producers to the show, making it the largest single collection of wineries to ever attend the Playhouse bash.

While most consumers will be focused on the rich and various shiraz from all over Down Under, I would suggest the emergence of other varieties, including grenache, viognier, riesling and what’s lately known in Oz as the SSBs   — sémillon sauvignon blanc — and SBSs — sauvignon blanc sémillon. They make up the new story of Australia.

And if there is an unwritten story behind this year’s show it could be the screw cap. Australia is practically a cork-free zone and to see most every wine under screw cap is to realize the commitment made by Australia producers to serve taint-free wine.

So what is it about Oz wine that makes it the go-to choice for so many consumers? The quick answer points to its easy-drinking style. It’s chock full of ripe, fruit flavours and soft tannins and, to put it bluntly, it’s simply fun to drink.

Unencumbered by history, traditional techniques and legislation, Australia's winemakers experiment freely. Their insistence on employing several methods to make the same wine stems from a firm belief that by doing so they will create endless options.

The options begin in the vineyards that stretch from coast to coast. In a country scaled much like Canada, you can imagine the myriad soil types and micro-climates that are available. While this in itself is not unusual, the routine transfer of grapes and or grape must (crushed but unfermented juice) across the countryside is something of an Australian specialty. In fact, winemakers think nothing of shipping shiraz from McLaren Vale just south of Adelaide to the Upper Hunter Valley well north of Sydney — right across New South Wales, or a distance of more than 1,500 km — in search of the perfect blend.

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