Ramblings: Style v Substance (1 of 4)

Consider this:

“Wine producers of the Old World have had hundreds of years to figure out how each variety best expresses itself. Therefore, we should look to these wines and to Old World approaches for stylistic inspiration in our local product.”

And this:

“Australia as a wine producing nation is definitively New World. We should focus on authentically Australian wines that aren’t afraid to violate Old World notions of regionality and style.”

Not direct quotes, mind you, but distillations of two especially interesting threads in the ongoing local wine conversation. Given they represent somewhat contradictory directions, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider them in more detail.

The spectre of our cultural cringe hovers over both trains of thought. Just as we imbue the phrase “European-designed” with positive associations, I see a tendency to benchmark Old World wines and (tacitly) position them as inherently superior to local wines. For example, it’s quite common to see a wine described in terms of its similarity to an Old World style. Ostensibly, this comparison indicates a stylistic similarity, and can be quite useful. What’s perhaps less overt in these comparisons, but I would argue very much present nonetheless, is an implicit mark of quality by association conferred on the local wine. When one reads “Burgundy-like,” this suggests not only a general style but in many cases a level of quality too.

So, if we believe best wines are, say, French, then surely we should aim to emulate them? As a consumer, I’ll never argue with a drive to higher quality. What’s less clear to me is whether the quality equation implies a stylistic relationship between Australian wines and those from the Old World. Do we align ourselves with the first conversation, which suggests a single path to ultimate quality? My instinct tells me this approach introduces constraints that are fundamentally artificial to our wines. I just don’t see the point in Australian wine trying to be something it’s not. And yet, when I consider the second conversation, I can’t believe lessons learned over hundreds of years deserve to be branded irrelevant. So I find myself sitting, somewhat ambivalently, between these two positions.

With your indulgence, I’d like to post a series of loosely connected thoughts on this topic over the next little while. Feedback and (dis)agreement encouraged. To be clear, my perspective is that of an inquisitive enthusiast, not someone with deep technical expertise or even especially close industry ties. I write from a position of personal taste and limited means.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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