While it is increasingly fashionable to be seen with a nice glass of wine in hand, wine itself has always been at the mercy of fashion. Not so distant in my memory is the fad of over-oaked chardonnays that were often broad, flabby with oak-stave flavours, which later gave ground to the unwooded version.
I also recall the rise of Viognier, with its billboard advertising showing us how to pronounce it phonetically, which ended up being blended with red shiraz rather than staying white. While pinot gris is still climbing the charts sauvignon blanc has taken down the house, consequently enjoying the golden spot on the sales charts. We have repeatedly been told about a riesling revival, which seems to have taken place on wine columns rather than in real life, and that cabernet will one day or is indeed on its way back, or is it?
To add to this profusion of style we have the onslaught of natural and minimalist wines that are encroaching our local wine lists, often selling an ideological narrative above sensory enjoyment. Against this backdrop, as fleeting as last season’s hemline, we also have some perennial favourites such as shiraz especially from the Barossa Valley or Heathcote and cool-climate pinot noir.
But wine doesn’t necessarily have to ride along cultural fashions. In fact, wine moves outside of fashion when it is redeeming a unique taste from a particular area, when it articulates a sense of place and style above a forced stylistic approach or a pure varietal focus. Australia is now starting to follow an ‘old world’ pattern where regions are associated with producing wines with a distinctive style that can be termed regionality. It is the whole wine region focusing on a speciality that best suits the area, climate and variety.
So when choosing a chardonnay, for example, we can move beyond the fact that it might be oaked or ‘unoaked’. We can redeem a cooler, crisp and lightly wooded example from the higher reaches of the Yarra Valley for its typicity and freshness, or a complex fresh and savoury example from the Margaret River, or a Hunter Valley one for its own distinct regional characters. All chardonnays, but unique in their own way.