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Check out these Australian wines

July 30, 2005 14:46 IST

When Frank Baum wrote the eponymous book back in 1900, little did he know that the Australians (who sometimes also call their country "Oz") would perform quite a bit of wizardry with wine a century or so down the line.

It's a bit of a surprise to know that wine-making in Australia is almost as old as the settlement itself: the first vines were planted in 1787, but it was nearly 100 years before the industry started flourishing with the advent of Burgundy-style "tonic" wines.

However, most Australian vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera (a root louse that causes vines to wither and die) at the end of the 19th century, and took over 50 years to recover.

Today, Australia is the sixth largest wine producer in the world (after France, Italy, Spain, the USA and Argentina) -- it has some 1,900 wineries producing 1.4 billion litres of wine on 1,65,000 hectares (4,12,000 acres), and in 2004 exported nearly 645 million litres valued at A$2.75 billion.

Australian wines have displaced French wines as the most imported wine in UK, and are nipping at the heels of the French in the USA.

What is amazing is that the boom has happened in just 10 years, shows no signs of abating, and is a measure of both the relative quality of Australian wines (great) and the aggressiveness with which "Oztralians" go about marketing their drop.

So it's no surprise to find that even in India Australian wines have the second largest volume of imported wines (after French wines). The range starts from table wines under the Cranswick banner, imported in bulk, bottled, and sold by Indage at between Rs 450-550 per bottle.

Then there is Hardy's Stamp of Australia series (Rs 800-900) -- two very drinkable whites and two reds, plus the delectable Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay (Rs 950). Seagrams have been very successfully pushing the Jacob's Creek red and white (Rs 850-900), and have recently added the JC Reserve wines (Rs 1,100-1,200).

There's a consortium of Ozzie companies who've started Echidna Wines, which is marketing a range of top-end wines (Mount Avoca, at Rs 1,450-1,650; Tahbilk Marsanne and Shiraz at Rs 1,200-1,800).

And at the top are a delightful range from Moet Hennessy India: Yalumba Oxford Landing and Ironstone (Rs 1,150-1,250), Greenpoint Pinot Noir/ Chardonnay (around Rs 1,650) and Greenpoint Shiraz (Rs 1,850) and last, the astounding Cabernet Merlot from Cape Mentelle vineyards (Rs 2,000).

However, as they say, "you ain't seen nothin' yet"! The biggest and best Australian wine companies have yet to make their presence felt in India: Foster's Wine Estates have an amazing range of wines (Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Rosemount, Lindemans), while McGuigan Simeon wines are totally unknown, as are wines from other biggies like FABAL, Riverina Estates, McWilliams, Evans & Tate and so on.

Mark my words: most of them will be here sooner or later, and that's when the wine market should get really interesting.

I personally prefer the Australian reds, which tend to be fruit-forward and often complex wines available at a fraction of the prices of comparable French or Italian wines.

So, the next time you're looking for a Yellow Brick Road, head for the Hunter /Barossa /Yarra valleys to sample their wares -- who knows, you may even find the Emerald City! Here's mud in yer eye, mate.
Alok Chandra
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