It is believed that the Australians drink more wine per head than any other English-speaking country. Australia has a contemporary ground-breaking wine industry that produces surprising ranges of styles at prices that make Australia a very lucky country for anyone who get pleasure from wine.
For a country with a reputation for beer and meat pies, the remarkable increase of interest in wine and creative cuisine in the last 20 years is amazing. Many things have been accountable for this striking change in the Australian life style. Above all the influences of post-war immigration from Europe and the large number of Australians who have been to Europe during the same period add to this. They have resulted in the introduction and ready acceptance off a wide range of ethnic food styles. French, Italian, Greek, German, Chinese and Japanese food has all become popular in Australia.
With this embracing of European food styles, it has increased the interest in wine, particularly table wine. Until the early 60’s, "wine" in Australia meant only fortified wine. Three quarters of the total production of wines were Ports and Sherries. Table wine was either received with suspicion and ‘plonk’ or was the preserve of the well-to-do. Even when sparkling pearl wines became popular in the 1950’s it was still very much a drink for special occasions only.
Today, wine has definitely become a drink for all occasions and it has been accepted as very much a part of the contemporary standard of living. Without doubt it can be mentioned that the biggest single influence in this has been the expansion of the wine cask. It is fascinating that this observable fact which began in Australia in the early 1970's has now started to take off in Europe.
What the casks did was to remove wine from the constraints of a rigid glass container which required a specific excuse or occasion to be opened. The convenience of having a glass at a time when ever you felt like it - and at a price which made wines the cheapest alcoholic beverage you could buy - started an extraordinary growth in wine consumption.
It was all on a sudden that people found more and more times when wine was a perfect accompaniment - the quiet drink after a hard days work, the unexpected visit from friends, the glass with the evening meal, the party when all you wanted was to enjoy wine without the splendour and formal procedure of continuously opening bottles. All of which has lead to a smaller proportion of flagon and cask sales.
This has not stopped up the wine industry from exploring new regions and new varieties and creating new wine styles which are better made and more attractive to drink while young than the wines which helped switch on the wine boom in the early 1960's. It is mesmerizing to look back at the wine styles that helped create the boom and put them side by side with today’s new wave of exciting varietals and regional styles
Then red wines were all the rage. The fashion wines were cabernet sauvignon and cabernet Shiraz, despite the fact that very little cabernet was actually grown in Australia at that time. Oak was starting to gain its popularity as a flavour component of red wines. What about white wines? Apart from a few exceptions, Australian whites were a pretty average lot, lacking in freshness and light, attractive fruit flavour.
Today, things are reversed from top to bottom. White wines dominate the market while red wines are fading away. Yet in other respects, there are many similarities. Oak is again the fashionable flavour component - this time in white wine. The significant differences, however, are the greater consistency in wines, generally due to greater use of new wine technology, and the demand for wine styles which can be drunk at a much earlier age.
Cellaring, a serious attempt to bottle-age wines, is very much a thing of the past. Today it is all 'drink now'. Even styles which we know need some bottle age to show at their best are being rushed on to the market.
In whites, even Semillon, the great ageing white grape is producing early maturing styles. In short, there is no disagreement with that today’s white wines are fresher and more attractive to drink than their predecessors.