James Halliday noted some trends among the wines from this year's Halliday Wine Companion guide: "The Barossa and McLaren Vale have an increasing number of wineries with lower than traditional alcohol levels in the red wines, led by shiraz and grenache. Fresher and more vibrant wines are the result, and I hope that we’ll see a strengthening of that trend in future vintages. The standout varietal is chardonnay. Whether reduction in oak levels and earlier picking is driven by winemaker conviction or public demand is a good question. I incline to the view that it has been driven by winemakers, but has resonated with many consumers who had turned their back on oaky, buttercup yellow, fat chardonnays. Reinforcement of the new style comes from Jancis Robinson (the most important wine writer in countries with English as their first language) and the often hard-to-please Andrew Jefford, both of whom have been unstinting in their praise, equating them with Burgundy’s best."
In terms of trends in the wine industry at large, James points to a market strengthened by China: "Australian wine is in a good place right now. The green shoots of a few years ago are now leaves, flowers and grapes. Thirty million glasses of Australian wines are enjoyed worldwide everyday. For the FY16 domestic sales were up 6.9% to $2.97 billion and export sales were up 11.4% to $2.11 billion.
"Exports are driving the rapidly changing environment, which has some similarities to the previous boom years between 2000 and ‘07 (when it peaked at $2.99 billion). Then the boom burst and the low point came as recently as ‘14, with sales of $1.808 billion. The upward trajectory is driven almost entirely by China and Hong Kong.
"Turning the coin over, France has 44% by value of the China market, Australia 25%, Chile 9.6%, Spain 6.5%, Italy 5.3% and the US 2.3%. And just to keep New Zealand’s success in the US market in focus, it has slightly less than 1% of the China market.
"There is also shopping by buyers purchasing premium wine on the Australian domestic market and shipping it to China for on-selling. Finally, compared with other forms of alcohol, most notably spirits, wine has both social and health benefits that will become increasingly understood as the market matures."
The Australian industry is making great strides, and the following wines, winemakers and wineries are leading the pack. The 2018 Halliday award winners, including Wine of the Year, Winery of the Year, Winemaker of the Year, Best Value Winery and Best New Winery, should be on your radar. Mark them down and seek them out.