Grapes do not equal wine. If it was that easy, hell I’d be in the wine business. While it is easy to overlook the complexity of the process when we are pouring a glass as part of our weekly (well, nightly if I’ve had one of those days) ritual, wine does not grow ready-bottled on the vine. There is a reason why shiraz from the Hunter Valley tastes different to shiraz in the Barossa. There is a reason why nebbiolo tastes different to tampranillo despite coming from the same vineyard. There are reasons why I like some (most) wines and not others. But, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what these reasons are.
I like good wine. It would be pretty hard not to, given my definition of “good wine” is “wine that I like” (Accordingly, my definition of “bad wine” is “wine that I don’t like”). If I want to maximise my chances of drinking “good” wine and minimise my exposure to “bad” wine, then I need to be able to identify what it is about “good” wine that I like. The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind (and the soil, and temperature and geographical location and wine maker’s preferences, as it will turn out).
The identification of wine, both here in Australia and in Europe, is governed by a system called “Geographical Indications” or GIs. Put simple, a GI is an area of land. There is a more complex definition1, but essentially, GIs are a way of classifying where a wine is from, governs labelling and exporting as well as protecting the quality/reputation of wine belonging to specific GIsa. In Australia, things can get a bit convoluted because a GI can be used to refer to a state (e.g., South Australia), superzone (e.g., Adelaide), zone (e.g., Barossa), region (e.g., Barossa Valley or Eden Valley) and subregion (e.g., High Eden)2,3. As most of us are more familiar with the concept of wine regions, aka wine areas, I’m going to stick to talking about GIs at this classification level.
There are 63 wine regions in Australiab. Unlike Europe, grape variety does not enter into the discussion when we talk about what defines a region4. The thing that defines a region in Australia is the number of vineyards (at least 5) and similarity in climate, soil and other wine growing attributes5. These “similarity” metrics are also used to distinguish between regions, in so far that they must be measurably different from each other5. The fact that wine regions are not distinguished by grape variety is actually really important: This is part of the reason why there are some wines in Australia that simply could not be produced anywhere else (and by that, I mean Europe).
Because Australia GI laws do not follow Europe’s appellation system (we’re not allowed to, but I think it’s a bit of a win-win situation), we do not have the same restrictions on grape varieties, harvesting times, picking methods, crushing protocols and fermentation processes synonymous with these Old School (cough. I mean Old World) locations. While this gives the Aussie wine industry a license to be really creative, it is also really important to us wine drinkers for a really simple reason: so we can tell what we’re drinking. Under the Australia GI laws, if a bottle says that you’re drinking a shiraz from the Grampians, at least 85% of the grape juice in that bottle must be from the Grampians6. The other 15% does not need to be labelled, provide it is the same grape variety – so we can all breathe deeply, we can’t be secretly slipped merlot (‘cause, quite frankly, ewwww!).
The point of all of that is we have 63 wine regions in Australia that are measurably different to each other (I’m not even going to start on the sub-regions – although to be honest, there aren’t that many of these). These wine regions can technically grow any variety of grape and produce any type of wine. Some are amazing, lots are good, some not so good and a few taste like dirt. Many of these regions are available in our local wine outlet, but these tend to be limited to the wine makers that produce thousands of tonnes of grapes so that they can keep up with quotas. Because these suppliers are also producing for the mass market, there is a really strong rationale for presenting a “typical” style for the region (as a scientist, I call this “regression to the mean”). There are many restaurants and smaller wine bars that are showcasing smaller winemakers, which is awesome. But I’m a scientist by trade and in order to make solid conclusions about what makes the wine that I like, wine that I like, I need to increase my sample size and validate my theories.
So, time for an adventure/science experiment.
To describe the climate, wine growing conditions and fermentation process that identify and distinguish good winec.
63 wine regions
1. Small winemakers
2. My attitude to wine is best stolen from Frederick Forsyth
“Vin et rouge. Everything else is fruit juice; with or without bubbles”.
(In order to avoid selection bias, I will be bringing along various white wine drinkers when a region is particularly well known for whites)
3. As stated by Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles Raymond, in Sideways (2004)
I am not drinking the F*cking merlot.
Deliciousness (10-point scale ranging from “I would prefer to drink merlot” to “I would like to drink this and only this for the rest of my life”)
Smashability (10-point scale ranging from “I could sit on a glass of this all night” to “Hide the bottle, this is going down!”)
Terrior, Climate, Winemaking
Synthesis of all information gathered and present as a decision support tool for future wine choices to be made by myself and friendsd who like wine
Hope you can join me. It’s going to be fun. Results to follow (hopefully)
a An example of the regulation arising from GIs is that Australia cannot label wine as Champagne or Port.
b Having been to Tassie, I would argue that the Tamar Valley, East Coast and Coal Valley produce distinctly different wines resulting from different climates and terroir, but hey I don’t make the rules.
c see previous definition
d the world is full of friends I haven’t met yet
- Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act 2013 https://www.legislation.gov.au/Series/C2004A02362 [cited 20 April 2017]
- Wine companion http://www.winecompanion.com.au/wineries/australian-wine-regions [cited 1 May 2017]
- Wine Australia. Geographical Indicators https://www.wineaustralia.com/labelling/register-of-protected-gis-and-other-terms/geographical-indications [cited 24 April 2017]
- Business News Western Australia. Australia needs its own appellation system. 13 April 1999. https://www.businessnews.com.au/article/Australia-needs-its-own-appellation-system [cited 20 April 2017]
- Wine Companion. Geographic Indications – Australia’s Appellation (AOC) system. http://www.winecompanion.com.au/wineries/top-100-australian-wineries/geographic-indications [cited 7 July 2017]
- Australian Grape and Wine Authority. Wine Australi for Australian Wine Producers Compliance Guide. https://www.wineaustralia.com/WineAustralia/media/WineAustralia/PDF/Selling-wine/Wine-Australia-Compliance-Guide-June-2016.pdf [cited 8 July 2017]