Landmark Tutorial: Seminars, Wines & Opinion

Introductory Session: Explaining the wide diversity of climates in Australia’s viticultural areas with Dr. Tony Jordan

Tony Jordan opened the Tutorial with a review of the big picture that is Australia’s tapestry of climates, carefully distinguishing between ‘cold’, ‘cool’, ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ zones.

Jordan explained how winemaking in the cradle of South-Eastern Australia would not be possible were it not for the cooling currents of the Great Southern Ocean. Even with rising global temperatures, however, Jordan noted that viticulture at higher elevations in Victoria and, of course, in the genuinely cool Tasmania should be sustainable. But no one should be surprised to see uprooting and retreat from hot inland areas supported by irrigation, for example Riverina (New South Wales) or Riverland (South Australia), the sources of most of Australia’s bulk wine. Replanting at the very least will have to occur, ideally to less water-intensive, earlier ripening grape varietals (e.g. Tempranillo) and experimentation by the likes of Brown Bros. combining with cutting edge research from the AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) will provide growers/producers with vital information as vineyards are replanted and management of water is more effectively controlled.

As Jordan quipped, however, we should be wary of producers who claim they are making ‘cool climate’ or so-called ‘cooler climate’ wines in what are still often warm to hotter parts of Australia. Of course, the push to convince consumers that ‘cooler climate’ somehow equates with ‘higher quality’ has a lot to do with trying to persuade wine drinkers that Australia does not just equal ‘sunshine in a bottle’. Longer growing seasons in which grapes can achieve phenolic ripeness and physiological maturity – i.e. without accumulating sugars too quickly, dropping acids significantly and having sufficient ‘hang-time’ to develop flavour precursors – are, of course, preferable for many table wines. But much depends on the kind of wine you want to produce and Australia makes them all!

The Landmark Tutorial, it transpired, was precisely an investigation of the stunning diversity of styles Australian wine offers from cool-climate Tasmanian and Victorian sparklers to the abundantly rich and necessarily hot climate Liqueur Muscats of Rutherglen.

Moreover, if ‘Eurosnobs’ – as Andrew Caillard playfully calls them – are willing to appreciate table wines from the Douro (i.e. not merely Port), then why shouldn’t the greatest wines of Australia’s equally warm to hot regions get due notice? (Note: acidification is allowed in both countries, if monitored by zone in the EU).

Tony Jordan’s overview of Australia’s diverse viticultural sites reminded everyone in attendance that it would be rash to judge contemporary Australia by the ‘sunshine in a bottle’ motif; even though Australians would, hand on heart, admit that that image has dominated both production and Australia’s international image, at least in mature markets.

Seminar 1: ‘Australia’s Regional Classics’ – Michael Hill Smith MW


Lisa Perotti-Brown, MW

Michael Hill-Smith, MW

Michael Hill Smith, Master of Wine and veteran of cult Adelaide Hills producer Shaw + Smith, was more than well placed to provide a picture of the diversity of Australia’s fine table wines. Among an obviously impressive line-up of wines, the more controversial example here was the 2007 Glaetzer Amon-Ra, Lisa Perotti-Brown MW worrying that its acidity was not in balance with the rest of the wine. Whilst balance for the long-term could be a concern, I found this wine to be very much on the young side.

Wines of undeniable balance, but again very much in the early phases of their evolutions were the 2009 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling and 2006 Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the majority of the above Shiraz wines, all classics (the trio of 2006 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, 2007 Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, 2006 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz was superb).

Showing more development was the predictably excellent 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon, Hunter Valley being the home of the most complex (usually unoaked) Semillon in the world with great ageing capability.

For those of us familiar with some of Australia’s top wines, this seminar was more a source of confirmation as to the spread and levels of Australian fine wine rather than a revelation as such. But a number of participants were especially struck by the evocative nature of the whites on show, not least the aforementioned Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling and Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon as well as the finesse of the above Chardonnays.

One participant, privately however, expressed concern that some of the Chardonnays, especially the 2009 Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay, was so delicate that some of its nominal ‘Australian character’ could be said to have been lost (the comment, ‘if I want to buy white Burgundy, I’ll buy white Burgundy’ was in the air). But in the case of white Burgundy, caveat emptor (buyer beware). If Australia could be faulted for having a crisis of confidence in the case of Chardonnay – i.e. that imitating Burgundy’s best is now the alleged problem – then at least quality control is such that you won’t find expensive bottles of dreadful wine on the market (still a frequent problem with the likes of Burgundy and those who remember the over-use of lees-stirring on 1996 white Burgundy will recall what premature oxidation on Chardonnay in bottle means).

The issue of whether Australia’s Chardonnays were too much in love with Old World expressions of the grape arose again during the Chardonnay seminar led by Steve Webber of De Bortoli, although was formulated in slightly different terms. Personally, I believe the world of Chardonnay styles in premium wines is sufficiently broad, both internationally and, critically, within Australia, that there is something for everyone in that captivating mix. Moreover, it seems rather uncharitable to take Australia to task for producing mostly commercial wines whilst also criticizing its premium producers for allegedly conforming with nominal Old World elegance. These are somewhat simplified terms for approaching the world of wine.

However, there remains the nagging point that fine wine lovers usually look for marks of differentiation between wines and it won’t do for Australia to let itself be caught between two stools. In other words, the greatest Australian wines will have to be true to their sense of place as well as embracing the very best vinification methods in a holistic sense. Fortunately, this is already occurring and in the case of some Australian producers has been the goal for some time.

~ Edward Ragg

Editor’s note: This is an ongoing 13-part series of Edward Ragg’s account of Australia’s Landmark Tutorial. Each week, Edward will give us an insider’s view of the program. Stay tuned for next week’s post.


About the Author:

Based in Beijing, Edward Ragg reports on the ever-changing and developing wine industry in China and abroad. Edward Ragg is co-founder, with his wife Fongyee Walker, of Dragon Phoenix Fine Wine Consulting, Beijing’s first independent wine consulting company. A former Captain of the Cambridge University Blind-Wine Tasting Team and a Landmark Tutorial Scholar (2010), he has judged at the International Wine Challenge (UK), Shanghai International Wine Challenge, China Wine Challenge, Wine 100 (Shanghai) and was guest international judge at the 2012 McLaren Vale Wine Show. Ragg holds the WSET Diploma and qualifications from The Court of Master Sommeliers and Society of Wine Educators. He is a WSET Educator and WSET Level 3 Assessor. A writer in a number of fields, his books include A Force That Takes (Cinnamon Press, 2013), Wallace Stevens and the Aesthetics of Abstraction (Cambridge University Press, 2010), and Wallace Stevens across the Atlantic – co-edited with Bart Eeckhout – (Palgrave, 2008). He contributes regularly to poetry magazines and wine journals (selections from his poetry can be found in Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam [2012] and the Carcanet anthology New Poetries IV [2007]). He is Associate Professor in English at Tsinghua University and brother to Michael Ragg, MD of Burgundy producer Mischief & Mayhem.


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