Messages in a bottle

Illustration: Robin Cowcher.
Illustration: Robin Cowcher. 

Australians are certainly drinking more. But are we drinking better? Jeni Port gets the insiders' view.

For the first time in Australian wine-drinking history we have reached the big 30. In the drinking year 2009-10, we notched up a record-breaking 30 litres of wine per head of population.

Consumption for its own sake is obviously not to be congratulated - the better question is whether we, as a wine-drinking nation, are drinking better.

We drink less cask wine than we did 20 or 30 years ago, so that's probably a move up in quality. Latest Bureau of Statistics figures show we drink a little more white wine (14.9 litres a head) than red (10.4 litres a head) with ''other'' wine at 4.7 litres a head. We've also developed a taste for imported wines, now 12.6 per cent of domestic wine sales. So, the picture emerges of an Australian wine drinker who drinks about 37.5 bottles of wine over 52 weeks of the year, principally white wine with a growing taste for imports, mainly from New Zealand, followed by France and Italy.



How accurate is the portrait?

Restaurant manager-sommelier, Attica

STUDYING for his upcoming master sommelier exams means Harris Plane has been tasting the wines of the world and it looks like it might have influenced his personal drinking habits. ''I love champagne,'' he says. His consumption of both champagne and sparkling wine represents about 10 per cent of his annual drinking.

He also enjoys white wines (60 per cent) much more than red (40 per cent), with riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay among his favourites.

Restaurant manager/sommelier Banjo Harris.
Restaurant manager/sommelier Banjo Harris. 

Imported or Australian wines?

''It is probably four to one,'' he says in favour of the former. ''Most sommeliers or wino types may not admit it, but I suspect we all drink far more imports than locals.'' And yes, he is most assuredly drinking better these days. ''Ha, 10 years ago I only just turned 18, so I most definitely am drinking better and less,'' he says. ''I suspect industry people will continue to drink better for most of their lives, improving with every passing year.''

Two wines that best represent his drinking habits:

Tim Kirk of Clonakilla Wines.
Tim Kirk of Clonakilla Wines. 

NV Jerome Prevost La Closerie Les Beguines; 2007 Ageno La Stoppa Malvasia

Winemaker, Clonakilla Wines, Canberra

OFF duty, winemaker Tim Kirk's drinking habits tend to reflect the Australian average. Well, almost. He drinks champagne and sparkling wines only at special dinners and celebrations. Kirk admits to buying and drinking more imported wine than he did 10 years ago, mainly because of his interest in the wines of France, the Rhone Valley and Burgundy, in particular.

Katherine Brown of Brown Brothers.
Katherine Brown of Brown Brothers. 

However, when it comes to Australian wines his tastes run more to red wine - about 60 per cent - than white. ''If we go out to dinner I'm more likely to take a red and it will often be a pinot noir, a cool climate shiraz or occasionally a cabernet.''

Is he drinking better these days?

''I think so. I am in a very, very blessed position having a large amount of wine at my disposal,'' he says. He is also drinking less. ''This whole business has turned me into a dreadful snob,'' he says. ''I don't want to drink a lot of alcohol so if I am going to drink wine, I'm going to drink something nice.''

Norman Boyd, solicitor in Albury and wine enthusiast.
Norman Boyd, solicitor in Albury and wine enthusiast. 

Two wines that best represent his drinking habits:

Yabby Lake 2010 Single Vineyard Chardonnay; Castagna 2004 Genesis Shiraz

Public relations manager, Brown Brothers

KATHERINE Brown, a member of the Brown Brothers winemaking family, fits the national wine-drinking stereotype almost to the letter. The 30-year-old drinks more whites (including sparkling) than reds and more Australian wine than imported. ''I am drinking more sparklings than I used to,'' she says, ''and that had a lot to do with prosecco, probably from being in the King Valley and being surrounded by great prosecco.''

Her favourite whites are riesling and pinot grigio. In reds she is developing a taste for pinot noir. Imported wines, she says, are something she is mainly drawn towards - especially gruner veltliner, chianti and barolo - when she goes out for dinner. ''They're usually wines I don't get to try anywhere else,'' she says.

''I do get angry with myself sometimes when I find myself drinking a lot of imports.

''Being a producer I do feel we need to support the industry through our own drinking.''

Two wines that best represent her drinking habits:

2011 Dal Zotto Prosecco; 2010 Sinapius Pinot Noir (Pipers Brook)

Wine enthusiast, solicitor, Albury

Solicitor Norman Boyd says many of his wine buys are dictated by what's available at local wine chains. His tastes are mainly red and Australian. ''Red wine would make up 75 per cent of consumption for me,'' he says, ''mainly Australian reds, then New Zealand, French and Italian.''

He favours shiraz, cabernet and pinot noir from Victorian regions. Imported white wine is ''more often than not'' a chablis, sauternes or champagne followed by sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer from New Zealand. He favours reds from France and Italian sangiovese.

''I do drink better than I did 10 years ago in that I am more careful about the selection. As to whether the wines are better, I think that still depends on the fruit and the skill of the winemaker.''

Two wines that best represent his drinking habits:

2005 Ferngrove Cabernet Sauvignon; 2009 Domain Road Pinot Noir.