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Australia Revisted - Why the Gap in Mid-Range Wines?
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed September 2003. For more information go to

Today's topic serves a double purpose: First, I'm headed back to Australia next week to serve as a judge in the Sydney International Wine Competition; looking forward to renewing acquaintances with old friends Down Under and meeting new ones. Second, to get my palate recalibrated to the distinct character of Australian wines, I'm tasting my way through a smorgasbord of the country's wines this week.

My first Antipodean report focuses on the grape variety that Australia made famous: Shiraz, the Aussie name for the grape that the French (and most Americans) know as Syrah.

Before we move along to the tasting notes, though, I can't resist one comment from a U.S. wine consumer's perspective about Australian wines in general and Shiraz in particular: From the standpoint of value, seeking wines that boast what on-line wine enthusiasts call "Quality-Price Ratio," there seems to be a gaping hole in the middle of the price spectrum.

At the low end, you'll find plenty of Shiraz in the single-digit dollar range, a niche symbolized by the ubiquitous Yellow Tail brand. And at the high end, you'll find sought-after labels at nosebleed prices that range from $30ish (like Leeuwin Estate) up to the startling $199 price tag I saw attached to a Penfolds Grange at a local shop the other day.

But where's the in-between? In contrast with France, Italy and Spain, where I happily spend much of my shopping dollar for wines from $8 to $15 that offer "interesting" drinking at a reasonable price, there's relatively little Australian wine available - at least in the places I shop - in this comfortable middle range. For Australia, it seems that the interesting wine isn't cheap, and the cheap wine (with occasional happy exceptions) isn't interesting.

I don't think the producers can be held to blame for this. On my last visit, I was bemused to discover that many of the most sought-after Australian wines sell for rational prices at the "cellar door" (tasting room), even before the exchange rate is taken into account. So what happens to elevate the prices of the Oz wines that the critics like as they cross the Pacific?

I'll leave this as an exercise for the reader, but if you have a theory, you're invited to express it in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where I have posted this column under the title, "30 Second Wine Advisor: Australia Revisited." You are welcome to comment, ask questions and join in an online discussion. Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response.

I admire both the concept and the execution of the Sydney International Wine Competition "Top 1OO," the only major wine competition I know of that makes it a point to judge all winners both in isolation and on the basis of their compatibility with food. I think you'll enjoy the Competition's in-depth and informative Website, which features thoughtful tasting reports on past winners as well as lots of recipes for the creative dishes that the Competition's chef, Jacquie Mason, fashions to accompany selected wines for judging.


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