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Wine drinking habits were revolutionised in the 1970s when Australian offerings started to appear on our shelves. The hot and sunny conditions of the country’s wine growing regions delivered flavours that had rarely been seen in the classical wines, produced from countries like Italy and France.
These super ripe grapes from Australia produced full, fruity wines, and a dollop of vanilla sweetness was also added when the wines were aged in oak barrels.
Another big revolution was the way in which the wines were labelled. For the first time, the Australians put the name of the grape on every bottle. Up until then, wines had carried the name of the region that they hailed from – such as Sancerre, Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape – but not the grape itself.
This change led to a whole different way of thinking about wine for UK drinkers, who could recognise a Chardonnay or Merlot on a label, and choose their next wine knowing that the liked the taste of that particular grape.
The final way that Oz changed the way we drink was to introduce the concept of the wine ‘brand’. Until then European wines had been sold based on the the specific wine estate from which the grapes had come: a Château in Bordeaux, or Bodega in Spain for example.
But the Australians threw out that rule book too and big companies like Jacob’s Creek or Hardys would produce dozens of wines, using grapes from all over Australia, instead of just one 'estate wine'.
This week we celebrate some of the great grapes and wine names of Australia, as well as some of the ‘newer kids’ of the wine world. Here are wine expert Tom Cannavan’s top three picks:
1. Jacob's Creek Chardonnay, 2009, £6.99 from Tesco
Chardonnay is the grape that made Australia, and the one we all fell in - and then out - of love with. This is a classic example from the giant Jacob's Creek company, the is typically ripe and delicious, but is now made in a slightly more subtle style thanks to our changing tastes.
With lovely tropical flavours of pineapples and peaches, this particular tipple matches up really nicely with firm white fish such as cod, turbot and monkfish, as well as creamy pasta dishes.
2. Fox Hollow Hunter Valley Verdelho, 2008, £9.99 from Marks & Spencer
Verdelho is one of the four main grapes grown on the island of Madeira to produce the top Madeira wines, which are usually sweet and strong, but Australia has planted it too. This wine demonstrates the use of this grape, in a dry table wine which has a mouth-watering style.
Tastes of lemons and apricots make this the perfect wine to go with Moroccan tagines, tapas-style food or fish and chips.
3. Oxford Landing Cabernet Shiraz 2009, £6.24 at Majestic (or buy two at £4.99 each)
The classic Australian pairing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz is one that would never have happened in France where Cabernet (from Bordeaux) and Shiraz (from the Rhône Valley) could never have shared the same bottle.
This is a typically rich, fruity but savoury and food-friendly wine. Tastes of blackcurrants and black plums make this a nice match for roast lamb or beef, venison casserole or really good quality beef burgers.