Drink like a local

WineOur resident libertarian, Ben Canaider, discusses how to choose the best domestic tipples for your tables and the most effective ways to highlight them on your menu.

The nation’s wine-o-phile obsession with all things imported is hardly surprising. They want their cars imported, their mineral water imported, their Calasparra paella rice imported, their clothes, their furniture, and maybe even their pets imported.

And this general obsession has been good for wine-list profits, let’s face it. It has allowed restaurateurs to leverage mark-ups on low-LUC imported wines that have no retail presence, thereby avoiding the age-old, time-honoured customer complaint “How dare they charge x,y, and z for that wine when I can buy it from Dan O’Flaherty’s for $12!”

Furthermore, and if anything, this has helped—in a good way—to stratify the domestic wine market, where more and more smaller domestic labels are focusing on local wholesale, on-premise opportunities—as opposed to the depressing retail monopolies, or Mrs Snuffleupagus-style export markets.

The overall trend in wine is towards ‘less is more’, and towards wines that have a sense of place and individuality (or terroir… ), and therefore towards wines that customers can really call their own, rather than drinking a label that labels them. Our niche domestic wines are once again finding favour.

Here are some ways to market them on your wine lists and chalkboards.

Single vineyards

Arguably the biggest trend in the world of wine today, from the Yarra Valley to Rioja. A return to wines made with a strong and evident link to the place from which they come. This is wine once again leading a broader food and beverage trend.

Australian prawns or Tasmanian apples were once localised brand monikers, but wine’s single and often quite small vineyards are now taking customers—through the wine in the glass on your table—straight to that one bit of longitude and latitude where the grapes give life to the wine in the glass. This very reason is why Henschke Hill of Grace will soon be Australia’s best icon red wine, outshining Grange. The former is a single vineyard, the latter a dinosaur-like multi-vineyard and multi-regional blend.

“Henschke Hill of Grace will soon be Australia’s best icon red wine, outshining Grange.”
Natural wines

Goodness me. How divisive. Little pop-up, laneway, cargo-bike wine bars are doing very well with this natural wine trend. The trend being wine made with zero intervention by the cruel hand of man. Natural wines are often either orange (white) or brown (red) and proudly wear their natural winemaking badge of honour by colour and sediment. They are wines as Mother Nature intended them, with all the a) “funk”, or b) faults inherent.

They might be funky if you’re a free spirit with only a regard for personal pleasure, or they might be hideously faulty if you are a wine technocrat. Whatever, as a licensee you can’t ignore drinking trends that get the till churning over. Australian natural wines are probably the biggest talking point around the wine drinking country at the moment so my advice is to give them plenty of wine list room, letting the customer decide…

Regional highlights

Once a quarter, along with your seasonal menu changes, it doesn’t hurt to try a regional wine offering that suits the menu. Tasmania pinot and chardonnay, for example, in the spring; Hunter Valley semillons and shiraz in the autumn; Barossa rosé in the early summer, that sort of thing.

Taking aim at one region on one page of your wine list attracts attention to your seriousness as a wine destination venue. Regional offerings from around Australia also act as an educational tool, whereby your customers assume a top-up of wine knowledge without being lectured. They walk away informed, as if they’ve known these wine facts all along. another good way of highlighting the smaller, low-volume regional producers; and it is a good way to bring intelligent attention to those regions that are not necessarily the geographic references that spring off every customer’s lips when thinking about wine.

You could concentrate on Canberra, for instance, which is doing incredible things with shiraz and riesling. Or the Adelaide Hills, where chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz, and sparkling wines are of the highest quality.

Varietals and styles

Take chardonnay, for instance. When an internationally renowned wine writer like Jancis Robinson comes out and says that she reckons Australia’s new-style chardonnay offers better quality and certainly better value than white burgundy, then you know you’re on the start of a new trend. Comparing some of Australia’s new-style chardonnays, marketed on their own page in the wine list, might be one way to leverage this. The key is to talk about tension and restraint. Australian chardonnay was once so terribly much sunshine-in-a-bottle that it tasted and poured like pineapple juice. Today, it is more akin to chablis—with minerality, acidity, ethereal weight, and by default great drinkability. Indeed, it is better than chablis. Australian chardonnay from a cool climate suits fresher, less fussed-over food, and it comes from vineyards that tie into
so many of the abovementioned points. Regionality, single vineyards, and in many cases wines that, while they may not be uber-hippy ‘natural’, they are made with low winemaker distortion—with little oak, with no added acid, and with natural yeasts. Gravity-fed wineries, minimal filtration, low SO2 addition, gosh, I should stop going on.

If Curtis Stone could manage to sell me a supermarket porkchop with the Garden of Eden-like properties of a bottle of Western Australian or Tasmanian or Yarra Valley chardonnay, I’d marry him.

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