Wine: Where niche operators go, volume follows

2011 Lirac Domaine de Garrigues, one of Brian Elliott's best buys this week. Picture: Complimentary
2011 Lirac Domaine de Garrigues, one of Brian Elliott's best buys this week. Picture: Complimentary
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GIVEN the UK’s obsession with price and the end of our love affair with bold, ripe, oaky wines, I wasn’t sure how a recent gathering of New World producers would regard us.

So I was relieved to discover how much respect remains for the knowledge and open-mindedness of wine drinkers in the UK. Many producers are still keen to sell here.

Each country, nevertheless, faces its own problem. Australia is responding to demand with a focus on subtle, citrus-oriented wines with significant acidity. This puts the spotlight on cooler wine regions. Happily, nature is helping with climate change making the ripening of the grapes there more consistent.

Obviously, many people already know about cool-climate South Australian whites, like the beautifully rounded greengage fruit and balance of 2012 Dandelion Vineyards Wonderland of Eden Riesling (£12.99, Lockett Bros). But even Eden Valley’s highest sub-region is now producing superb shiraz. I recently enjoyed the stunningly good, intense, bramble-charged 2008 Gatt High Eden Shiraz from Len Gatt (who will surely be retailing in the UK soon).

In another cool area, look at the terrific wines being made by Martin Spedding in the highest part of Victoria’s Mornington peninsula. His 2011 Ten Minutes by Tractor 10X Chardonnay (£21.95, Bancroft Wines) is a light and lively white with delicate lime and grapefruit acidity. He also produces top single-vineyard versions of both chardonnay and pinot noir. To illustrate the sheer quality of one such red, try 2010 Ten Minutes by Tractor Wallis Vineyard Pinot Noir (£51.95, Bancroft Wines). It’s a sophisticated, long, mint and raspberry-centred wine with an outstanding marriage between tannin and acidity.

Another chardonnay superstar in Victoria is Phil Sexton. I enjoyed his 2010 Giant Steps Arthur’s Creek Vineyard Chardonnay (£24.95, Luvians), with its smooth vanilla, textured citrus fruit and hints of limestone. It captures the fine-boned chablis style he so admires. He also makes the distinctive, raspberry-charged 2010 Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir (£24.95, Luvians), with delightful herbal, earthy – volcanic even – touches.

Across the Pacific, Oregon growers have no concerns that customers have tired of their wines. Quite the reverse – they feel the potential of their pinot noir is yet to be fully recognised. They may have a point, judging by two very good reds from the Bergström family. One is the beautifully balanced 2011 Bergström Cumberland Reserve Pinot Noir (£29.95, Roberson Wine). It has intense but earthy cherry fruit, while 2010 Bergström De Lancellotti Pinot Noir (£46.95, Roberson Wine) offers superb leafy, raspberry flavours and appealing minerality.

Another producer, Deb Hatcher from A to Z Wineworks, insists that Oregon pinot easily matches anything from New Zealand. Her top-notch pinot noir reinforces this but also try 2011 A to Z Oregon Pinot Gris (£14.15, Bibendum), with its excellent creamy, soft peach flavours and hints of ripe melon.

Further north, it’s seen as a plus that Washington state lacks a signature grape. With an ideal climate (and largely phylloxera free), it is perfect for developing impressive versions of several varieties – try the smooth, minty and cherry-centred 2010 Walla Walla Gramercy Syrah (36.95, Flint Wines).

Admittedly, none of these wines is cheap, but volume producers often follow once niche operations have blazed a successful trail. But whatever happens, sound strategies have been forged and omens for the New World seem positive.

Wines of the week

2012 Raats Family Original Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch, South Africa 13.5 per cent

This classy and sophisticated chenin blanc has delightfully textured banana flavours that mingle with soft, peach fruit and are all supercharged with clean, grassy acidity. £9.75, Bon Vivant’s Companion

2011 Lirac Domaine de Garrigues, Rhône, France 13.5 per cent

This is an excellent, quite complex blend (with more syrah than grenache and no oak). The result is a soft, warm wine with touches of plum and raspberry fruit and a figgy finish that also combines with sweetish spices. £8.99 (in a mixed case of six), Majestic