The New World and the Challenge in Australia Fine wine is typically thought of as a European invention. Though wine was made in biblical times, most wine historians say that Roman grape plantings led to what eventually became the classic wines of the world.
Almost all of these were European – the Bordeaux and Burgundies of France, the Rieslings of Germany, Chianti and Barolo of Italy, the red wines and Sherries of Spain, and the fortified dessert wines of Portugal.
Many other European countries also made fine wine and all are made with wine makers’ understanding of the continental nature of the climate, which included rain during the growing season and other maladies.
Through the early 1970s, the overwhelming majority of northern hemisphere wine came from Europe; although South Africa and Australia had developed strong wine cultures starting more than a century earlier, most of those wines stayed at home, the victim of high shipping costs.
Prohibition dealt a severe blow to the growth of American wine, which didn’t recover fully until the mid-1960s; shortly thereafter wines from New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile became world class enough to get the attention of the world’s wine lovers.
And as shipping costs dropped, we began to see wines from the southern hemisphere, which carried a similar style to the wines of the U.S.’s West Coast.
This so-called New World style of wine featured more harvest-season days of sunlight than are seen most years in Europe. Thus New World wines tend to be fruitier.
In the last decade, with every U.S. state now making wine, and with wineries worldwide looking for more complexity and less power, we began to see diversity in New World offerings.
Two years ago, Australian Judith Kennedy, who runs the Boutique Wineries Association and had been conducting a southern hemisphere wine competition called the Five Nations, decided it was time to include the United States.
In 2013, U.S. wineries participated in the newly named Six Nations Wine Challenge for the first time. The six judges, who all nominated their nations’ top 100 wines, also judged in the blind tasting in Sydney.
I was the U.S. representative. The others: Fabricio Portelli of Argentina, Eduardo Brethauer of Chile, Michael Fridjhon of South Africa, Bob Campbell MW of New Zealand, and Huon Hooke of Australia.
Four weeks ago, I concluded judging at the 12th multi-nation judging, in which more than 550 wines were evaluated blind over three days. The other five judges were the same as 2013.
The results won’t be made public for a few weeks, but we do know that New Zealand won the trophy for Nation of Show, and I suspect the Kiwis did rather well in the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir classes.
Of the trophies awarded in the 16 varietal/blend classes, an American wine, not yet identified, won for the best Meritage (a Cabernet Sauvignon blend).
We all expected Argentina would win for the best Malbec and that Australia would win for the best Shiraz. But the trophies went the other way around, with a Syrah from Argentina winning in that keenly watched class, and an Aussie Malbec the overall winner of that class.
Best Riesling, a class that Australia has dominated over the years, this year was from New Zealand.
One reason the United States was asked to participate in this event was that the strong Australian and New Zealand dollars means U.S. wines now are more affordable Down Under, and there is growing interest in U.S. wines in the major Aussie cities Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane.
As such, doing well in this widely watched event here may help U.S. wineries’ marketing efforts. Moreover, participating in this event is an honor: the only way to get in is to be nominated.
Nominations start again in January. Email Dan. Image: Francis Ford Coppola’s wine company entered four wines this year.