Sunday, May 23, 2010

Australia: Vintage 2009 by James Halliday

Way more qualified than I am to assess the Australian Vintage - James Halliday has been writing about wine for 40 years. Check out his web-site for complete details - it is the reference point for Australian wines.

Vintage 2009
The story across South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and, to a slightly lesser degree, New South Wales, has an eerie similarity as you move from region to region: a mild, indeed cool, growing season punctuated by between four and ten days of extreme heat from the end of January into the first week of February. Putting the Riverland and Riverina to one side, there was a constant refrain of significantly, frequently savagely, reduced yields. Curiously, the reduction in some instances was due to wet and cold weather at flowering; in other instances, the ongoing drought, but the net result was the same. Western Australia, too, had lower than average yields, but was unaffected by the heat; there, rain at inconvenient times increased disease pressure, pressure that the better growers were able to deal with. But right across Australia, early indications are of wines that will be of high to outstanding quality.
A state-by-state sprint around the regions comes up with the following.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Adelaide Hills Outstanding white and red wines; yields down 20% to 40%.
Barossa Valley Shiraz, in particular, very good; down 35% to 40%.
Eden Valley Good to very good, though not outstanding; down 30% to 40%.
Coonawarra Latest and best harvest since '04; reds outstanding; down 20% to 50%.
McLaren Vale Water and canopy management critically important; quality from poor to very good; down 15% to 50%, especially shiraz.
Padthaway Not as good as Coonawarra; down 25% to 50%.
Murray Darling Solid, full-flavoured whites; reds uneven; down 10%.

VICTORIA
Alpine Valley and King Valley No smoke taint; excellent flavour, balance and structure; yields down 20% to 50%.
Bendigo Heat and drought affected quality except for old vine shiraz and cabernet; severely reduced.
Geelong Grossly affected by heat; down by up to 65%.
Gippsland Drought and heat led to small berries; some smoke taint, but also good wine; down 30%.
Grampians Tiny berries and bunches, but no smoke taint; down 20%.
Henty Handled heat very well but whites down 60% (frost) and reds down 60% (poor set).
Mornington Peninsula A cool vintage overall, the heat wave causing some damage, though no smoke taint; yields down, especially pinot noir.
Murray Darling Those with water and large canopies fared well; acceptable quality; moderate yields, down 10%.
Beechworth Eight days over 40°C and some smoke taint; chardonnay down 50%.
Goulburn Valley Great reds, good whites; down 40%.
Rutherglen Heat and fire damage less impact than '08, but flavours modest; down 15% to 50%.
Pyrenees Outstanding red vintage; no smoke; minimal effect from the heat wave; down somewhat.
Strathbogie Ranges Shiraz and cabernet best performers; down 30%.
Sunbury No smoke taint but heat shrivel demanded careful hand-picking; down 20%.
Upper Goulburn Smoke taint concerns, but, if untainted, a very good red year; down significantly.
Macedon Ranges Drought, rain during flowering and bird pressure; what remained was very good; down 50%.
Heathcote Drought and heat, but no smoke taint issues, handpicking and sorting tables; very good reds; down 15%.
Yarra Valley Worst affected by heat, bushfires and smoke taint; yields down 30% to 100%.

NEW SOUTH WALES
Hunter Valley Semillon, as ever, very good; shiraz picked before mid-February rain quite good; yields down.
Cowra Looking great until the heat; just okay; down 30%.
Canberra District Outstanding vintage both white and reds; down 10%.
Mudgee Outstanding reds; down 20%.
Orange A memorable vintage for some, especially reds; whites good; down 10% to 50%.
Riverina Fourteen days 40°C-plus; late-picked reds the best; new plantings offset yield loss.
Southern Highlands Great vintage for all varieties; low yields.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Margaret River Excellent quality both white and reds; down 20% to 30%.
Great Southern High quality despite rain late March/early April; below average yields.
Peel As for much of Western Australia, powdery mildew a problem, but manageable.
Pemberton Erratic weather patterns, but great sauvignon blanc.
Perth Hills Very good quality; white yields down.
Swan Valley High quality; down 15% to 25%.

TASMANIA
A cool and late vintage; slight hen and chicken fruit set, very high quality; down 20% to 50%.

QUEENSLAND
No fires, no heatwaves; an early start but delayed by mid-vintage rains; very good whites, variable reds.

OVERALL
At the time of going to print, unofficial but informed sources pointed to a harvest of 1.6 million tonnes; if this is correct, the Murray Darling has performed an (unwanted) miracle, and the Riverina has been well served by its effectively unrestricted water allocations for vineyards.

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