In recent years, there has been an increasing and deliberate focus on the identification and expression of regional and subregional Australian wine styles. I have largely been a wholehearted supporter of greater regional differentiation, since after all, Australia’s wine regions cover a vast area and in some cases the differences in regions probably outweigh the similarities (think Freycinet v Queensland’s Granite Belt, or less obviously Coal River v. Gippsland). And difference is unique and interesting. I have even pondered whether Australian wine ought consider an appellation system (that resembles the EU’s Appellation d’Origine Protégée classification), rather than the current regional classification system that more closely resembles the EU’s Indication Géographique Protégée designation. After all, subregional differentiation reaches is apogee in the great wines of Burgundy and frankly most of the classic wine regions of Europe. If nothing else, therefore, sub regional expression seems a worthy objective by association.
Nonetheless I’ve always felt that subregionality must yield to one gloss, namely that the wine must in fact taste good. Therefore, at least in terms of my personal preferences, I am willing to sacrifice regionality for quality, and mostly unwilling to excuse poor quality on the grounds of regionality. It also means that I can comfortably see ostensibly incongruous blends of shiraz and cabernet, and creations such as Penfolds Grange from multiple regions, without falling into an obsessive compulsive classification abyss. At least on Tuesdays.
A further niggle though has taken a tentative hold as I have poured over the wine regions of California, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa, Hungary and Romania, among others as part of my vinous studies. And, that is, there appears to be an increasingly large number of sub regions in the wine world, with many more promised. And those sub regions, with perhaps the exception of the classical European wine regions (although they are not free from sub delineation either), are seemingly seeking wine consumer recognition as such, more or less simultaneously. Thus, viewed in a wider context, the Australian quest for subregionality might, through a less bright eyed lens, be viewed as more or less what every other new world wine producing region in the world is undertaking or considering, more or less at about the same time.
Now, as mentioned, I do think the quest for regional expression in wine is valid. But is its corollary complexity? And does the approach still produce unique, different and interesting wines when multiplied by a number of countries, regions and producers doing similarish things at once? There’s only so many names of regions and subregions and styles that I can remember. That doesn’t make the quest an unworthy endeavour. But it can perhaps change its course unexpectedly if few are able (or willing) to listen.