Drinking Outside the Square
Walk into any good wine store or better yet switch on the computer and put your favourite grape variety into the search engine and you’ll find an imposing array of choice. 15 years of dizzying growth in production, varieties and brands has led to a situation of chronic oversupply. Recent effects of the GFC and strengthening Aussie dollar have brought the industry to a screeching (if temporary) halt. Bargains are plentiful and the rewards great should you occasionally venture away from the safety of familiar offerings. What does this mean for the consumer?  Twenty years ago choosing wine was much easier with around only 400 producers sharing the market. Now that number is over 2800, ouch! Equally ‘alternative’ varieties now have a presence which is quasi mainstream, well supported by wine writers and increasingly widely available and accepted.  The recent multiplication in brands and varietals makes for an intimidating array of choice but there has never been a better time to drink outside the square. The big brands provide drinkers a safe haven. Most of these iconic brands have become part of large breweries, multi national beverage companies or foreign owned wine producers. Throw in a retail industry increasingly controlled by two competitors and you’d think the industry had in fact become more homogenised and bereft of choice. So where can you drink outside the square? Independent retailers, wine bars and online retailers are picking up the slack and offering wine drinkers a vast array of choices in every category and the current oversupply situation means that value as a good as it has been for decades. The winedirect.com.au tasting panel is always looking at alternative varieties, and my colleague Matt Wallace has written about many of these in the past. A great place to start is Gemtree Vineyards from McLaren Vale, the creation of the Buttery family with wines cleverly crafted by winemaker Mike Brown. Gemtree boasts one of the best premium value shiraz on the market (Gemtree Uncut Shiraz) in addition to fantastic examples tempranillo and savagnin. The current edition Tempranillo already has 1 trophy under its belt. Their reputation for innovation and uncompromising, affordable reds makes them an astute choice. Bird In Hand from the Adelaide Hills make superb wines under the watchful eye of Andrew and Justin Nugent. Andrew operates with the ultimate winemakers brief where he is only using the fruit he wants to use. This is reflected in the critical acclaim Bird In Hand has received included winemaker of the year from Winestate Magazine. The estate cabernet and shiraz offer stunning value for money. A visit to cellar door will also reward you with the opportunity to taste their fantastic Tempranillo. Tim Adams from the Clare Valley has had a distinguished career not only developing his own brand in addition to assisting others. Leasingham, Wolf Blass, Queltaler Estate are among the beneficiaries of his expertise. Tim’s wines draw fruit from a loyal band of growers who continue to support his brand and in recent times he has added Pinot Gris and Tempranillo to an impressive portfolio of wine offering quality and great value too. It is also worth checking out Coriole with their truly excellent wines made from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sagrantino and Fiano. Just down the road Piramimma are doing interesting things with Tannat. There are enough wines from smaller producers to fill this website 20 times over, importantly, there is an ocean of excellent wine that will not only challenge but surpass the bigger brands.