Trees are naked, hedgerows sparse, birds forage frantically and hedgehogs hibernate. The world outside my window is holding its breath, recent mornings gripped in ice where sheep crunch through frost and bleat vapour in the frozen air. You can almost feel the year tilt upon its fulcrum, everything is waiting. Days slowly extend and signal renewal is near; we have passed the nadir and will awake to inhale the fresh atmosphere of spring.
Excuse the waffle. It’s that time of year and it tends to make one rather reflective.
It is also a time when we look at our list of wines and ponder what needs refreshment. Some changes are driven by external forces; wineries change distribution, winemakers retire (or expire) and others step in to take production forward, prices can change and trends evolve. Other changes are internally driven – we need to find new wines to keep our customers excited (and we too), offer something fresh & hopefully unusual, broaden choice and foster variety.
This year we face the departure of a pair of our most popular, reliable wines. We need to find suitable alternatives for these, and it is no simple task. Australian wine has been a big deal in the UK for many years; our customers have always appreciated the consistent quality, easy-drinking & approachable fruity style.
The arrival of Aussie wines here in the 1980s offered the UK something new – varietal labelled bottles where specialist knowledge was not required to understand the wine within; a straightforward proposition to the wine drinker otherwise not enticed by Hock, Claret or Burgundy. With Australian winemaking well into its third century it has inevitably evolved; sub-regional terroir has been explored and avenues of specialism have been travelled, winemakers seeking to achieve ever higher standards and distinction. While this is fascinating to the enthusiast and beneficial to the industry it does take Australia into the territory it captured so effectively a few decades ago. Is it becoming that with which it competed so well; a new rigour of Antipodean Appellation?
At entry level Australia does very well and there is choice, likewise at the upper end where the best expertise has produced stunning fine wines. But what of the middle ground - bottles which would retail under £10, but have identity & known origin? This has been where Australia has worked so well on our list, but is proving a little elusive right now. We could adopt well-known names seen on well-known shelves, and still compete on price, but where is the fun in that?
A growing line-up of bottles accumulates in our research laboratory (by the kitchen sink); hopefuls which we eye with anticipation, hope, and in some cases suspicion. Soon, at a “critical mass” we will open them and see what they say. We’re looking for that easy style; balance, smoothness & ripe fruit, backbone, quality and identity. Wine from a winemaker, not wine hung from a brand where someone should have put the brakes on (or possibly hung) the marketing department...
Before spring arrives we will have new arrivals in the cellar, and they will be good. Reflective waffle will give way to decisive action. Lambs will gambol and hedgehogs snuffle while the birds nest in abundant hedgerow, our list will be renewed.