I was thinking about fads the other day as I waited for my coffee to be made by a bearded, top knot wearing, hipster barista.
All I needed, was a Craft beer maker and a Natural winemaker to turn up and I could yell bingo.
I am all for fads but at some point you do need a little originality.
Although who am I to talk, as I sit at my desk wearing the middle age uniform of a polo shirt and chinos. But at least I am staying away from another fad, that of the MAMIL – Middle Aged Man In Lycra.
Fads are everywhere and they tend to come in cycles. So this got me thinking about fads in the wine industry.
Here are a few I thought of.
This was the fad that brought wine into the suburbs of Australia during the 1970’s. It is hard to imagine, but before this invention wine was really only drunk by the European immigrants. However almost overnight a backyard BBQ was not complete without a 4 litre cask of Lindemans. As a bonus, when you blew up the empty foil inners of the cask, they became a great toy in the pool for the kids, thus introducing the next generation to wine. What an invention! In fact my earliest memory of wine is sneaking a swig or two from the cask in the fridge.
The cask wine is still a feature of the industry, but much reduced. Sadly it does tend to be abused by people just wanting the cheapest alcohol high
Big Butter Oaky Chardonnay
When you think of the 1980’s you think of Allan Bond, Christopher Skase and Big Oaky Chardonnay. It was as ubiquitous as shoulder pads, big hair and pony tails. See those hipsters with their top knots are just doing what their fathers did 30 years ago.
The bigger the Chardonnay the better, with winemakers outdoing themselves with fancy new French oak barrels and soon wine snobs all over the country became experts on MLF. This is also the wine that spear headed the Export boom into the UK and USA. (Rosemount Diamond Label and Lindemans BIN 65 were as popular then, as Oyster Bay and Villa Maria is today.)
All fads and trends eventually move on and Chardonnay became a very hard sell in the naughties, but thankfully a new leaner, more drinkable breed of Australian Chardonnay is hitting the restaurants and retail shelves and I for one am loving these new styles from our cooler climates. I have been saying for ages, Chardonnay is the new Black
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Most people in the wine industry thought this would have faded by now, but it continues to grow. Readers of this blog will note I am not a massive fan of this wine, which I have unkindly referred to as bottled water. (It is refreshing, you can buy it everywhere and it all tastes the same). If I was being honest, there is a little bit of jealousy here, for I work selling Australian wine and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc just dominates all white wine sales in this country. Part of the reason why consumers feel so comfortable buying this wine, is that, it has a very consistent style and flavour profile, regardless of the brand you buy. Champagne is also a bit like this. At the entry level they all kind of taste the same, with both wine styles insanely popular. Perhaps all the other wine regions should follow this trend, but then that would get very boring, very quickly.
Will this fad eventually fade? Of course, but I wouldn’t like to bet on when!
Big Barossa Shiraz
The bigger the better – 16.5 % alcohol, hell why not. In the 1990’s Americans fell in love with big rich over the top Shiraz. As long as there was plenty of American oak and rich chocolate overtones, they couldn’t get enough of this stuff. Until they did!
Then the whole trend fell apart and sales plummeted, as people started to realise you just couldn’t drink very much of these wines.
Sure they were nice to taste, which is why all the US wine critics jumped on board, but when you came to drink the wine with a meal, well it was just not that pleasant and everything was out of balance with the food.
A lot of Barossa Wineries made their fortune selling this style into the US market, but now these winemakers are toning down their wines and looking for new markets. The famous wine critics like Robert Parker just aren’t that famous anymore and the US is just not buying the big “Aussie Shiraz” like they used to.
Medium weight wines full of flavour, complexity and elegance are now the rage, but not quite a fad yet.
I share a warehouse with one of the better Sydney based importers and they are selling 100 cases a day of their Rose from Provence. I thought they were exaggerating, until I was at a trendy new bar on the weekend and literally saw every table with a bottle of Rose. My table ended up drinking 5 bottles. You see, Rose is here and if you believe in the trends, it is here to stay. Well until something else comes along!
The key is the colour ,the paler the better. The Rose’s from the South of France are the market leaders, but thankfully the winemakers from Australia and starting to take this wine seriously and not as an afterthought. They are growing and picking grapes specifically for this style and have toned down the sweetness. Rose is a serious wine and a seriously good wine for our climate and our food. Long may the fad continue.
Most wine drinkers in Australia have heard of Yellowtail and seen the kangaroo on the bottle. Whilst it is a good seller in Australia, for the rest of the world, it is all they really know about Australian wine. We are famous overseas for 2 wines; Penfold’s Grange and Yellowtail.
Yellowtail was and still is the fastest growing wine brand in the history of the world. It still sells over 8 million cases and represents almost 50% of all the Australian wine exported into the USA. It is hard to explain the continued success of this brand, as there have been plenty of copy cats, but it is still going strong and is used as a case study in Harvard Business school.
Quite an achievement and it has brought a lot of wealth to the Casella family in Griffith, who have soaked up a lot of surplus wine, saving a lot of rural families.
I must admit, these are not the type of wines I drink and enjoy, but you cannot undervalue the hard work and commitment that goes into building this brand. The family have recently purchased the Peter Lehman brand and winery, very cheaply, as they continue their growth strategy, but Yellowtail is still alive and very much still kicking.
There is an argument that the success of yellowtail overseas has ruined the reputation of fine wine from Australia, but that is another subject for another blog.
Despite the fact that Australia and NZ produce about 95% of their wines under screwcap, in the rest of the world it is just a passing fad and represents only about 5-10% of the wine bottled. Why is that so, well that is another blog, but as I like to always say, it is better to Screw than Pull and if given a chose between Screw Cap and cork, I will always choose Screw Cap. I have had just too many great wines ruined by TCA and cork issues.