Spare a little love for Aussie wines, writes Don Kavanagh.

Isn't it great to be good at something? And isn't it even greater to be even better at something than your annoying neighbour? That would seem to be the attitude towards Australian wine in this country now that we've mastered the art of winemaking to such an extent that even the Aussies are desperate to drink our wines.

There is a certain level of parochialism among Kiwis now that sees Australian wines as somehow inferior to ours. Someone turning up to a dinner party carrying an Aussie wine may easily be greeted with condescension and pity.

This is rubbish, as anyone who genuinely enjoys wine will tell you. Australian white wines might lack a certain level of balance and elegance that our climate helps us to achieve, but the good old reliable Aussie red is still a force to be reckoned with.

It wasn't that long ago that the wine-drinking mantra was: "New Zealand whites and Australian reds", but that has changed in the past decade as New Zealand reds made huge leaps forward in quality, flavour and drinkability. Gimblett Gravels, Bannockburn and Martinborough became the new darlings and poor old Coonawarra and Barossa were relegated to the status of also-rans.


However, Australian wine is in rude health, judging by the samples I've had recently.

The famous Barossa Valley was once home to wines of such huge flavour and alcoholic strength that you needed a knife and fork to get through a bottle. Barossa shiraz was so rich and thick that it was like jam and the chardonnays looked like liquidised canaries, with a garish day-glo hue that was genuinely off-putting.

But the Aussies have tamed the beast a bit - at least those wineries that want to sell wine overseas certainly have. These days there is much more restraint to the Barossa region's wines and even - dare I say it? - a touch of real class.

There is elegance there now, to go along with the traditional exuberance and joie de vivre in Australian wine, and the other thing to remember is that Aussie wines still represent fantastic value for money.

Dollar for dollar, the red wines of Australia offer a great bang-for-buck factor, with some exceptional wines coming in at frankly ludicrous prices. And although Australia may be famous for huge brands like Yellowtail and Jacob's Creek, all available for tuppence-ha'penny a gallon, there are also very classy wines around at sub-$20.

While it's nice to be able to say that Australia's top-selling white wine is a New Zealand one (Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc, since you asked), it would be silly and a touch uncouth to dismiss Australian wine as merely something we used to drink before getting all sophisticated and growing out of it.

There are so many Aussie wines out there that are just crying out to be noticed and which offer such immediate appeal to palate and pocket that we'd be stupid to let the blinkers of parochialism blind us to them.