Australia pickled

Discounted wine boxes at Liquorland in Australia

Has the downturn in Australian wine exports yielded bargains by the score? It has certainly resulted in massive discounts in Australia, as shown above. A shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times.

I was emailed by an FT reader recently who had read about Australia’s wine glut in the wake of the loss of its most important export market, China, thanks to a trade dispute. He wanted me to write about ‘the best way to get value out of this’. 

Having tasted several hand-picked selections of Australian wines in London recently – including wine writer Matthew Jukes’ 2023 100 Best Australian Wines and the wines of which The Wine Society’s buyer of Australian wines is most proud – I’d be delighted to oblige. I should point out, however, that while Australian wine may be effectively barred from China by sky-high tariffs, it is not currently that popular in its other important export markets, the UK and US, either. The Dirty Dozen, for instance, is a collection of trend-conscious UK wine importers. I audited their choices at a trade showing of a total of 300 of their offerings last month. Only eight of them were Australian, far fewer than from South Africa and California. A far cry from the glory days when the UK’s imports of wine from Australia overtook those from France in 2004.

In the US, Australian wine still hasn’t recovered from the effect of the ubiquitous mass-market brand Yellow Tail, which means that few Americans associate Australia with fine wine. Jane Lopes and Jonathan Ross are trying hard to combat this, via their Nashville-based import company Legend and their new book How to Drink Australian reviewed here by Max Allen. I met them as they passed through London on a book tour recently and sensed that, although Australians had warmly embraced an encomium to their favourite drink by two Americans who had worked in Melbourne, Lopes and Ross were still finding it a struggle to make much headway in the US. ‘If you don’t tell them the wine is Australian and just give them a taste, they love it’, was the gist of Lopes’ description of how they introduce their portfolio to American palates. Australian sections in most American wine stores are minimal and the US is still importing twice as much wine from relatively tiny New Zealand as from Australia.

The implication in the FT reader’s request for guidance is that the glut of Australian wine – the equivalent of far more than one entire harvest is in storage and in need of a buyer – must have resulted in huge price reductions and bargains aplenty. It’s certainly true that in Bordeaux the glut of wine at the bottom end of the price spectrum has meant that wines from the region’s petits châteaux, the least famous ones, are arguably the world’s best-value wines at the moment. And the most astute importers of bordeaux have been taking advantage of this.

But I’m not sure we’re seeing that many distressed parcels of Australian wine in the UK (where my correspondent is based). Even at the Australian tasting put on by The Wine Society, the UK’s least rapacious wine retailer, I marked only nine of the 33 wines I tasted as good value, a considerably lower proportion of bargains than I found at their recent general tasting for wine writers.

I reckoned one of The Society’s Australian bargains was not just good but very good value, however. D’Arenberg of McLaren Vale have long over-delivered on interest and value and their Money Spider Roussanne 2021 stood out as exceptionally subtle for £13.95. (Yangarra’s certified organic version of exactly the same white Rhône grape and vintage selected by Jukes was also very good but costs £28.50.) Also at £13.95 from The Wine Society was d’Arenberg’s d’Arrys Original Grenache/Shiraz 2020, which was another good buy.

The wine glut is especially marked in the interior of Australia’s wine country, in the mechanised, heavily irrigated vineyards of the Riverland, which depend on the River Murray for their existence. You would expect some real bargains to be found there, but even The Wine Society’s one wine from the Riverland, Vanguardist’s La Petite Vanguard Corsair 2021, a juicy blend of Portuguese grape varieties, is £15.50, not a bargain-basement price – though the grapes seem very much at home there.

Perhaps better value from the Riverland is one of the cheapest wines in Jukes’ selection, the zesty white Berton Vineyards, Winemaker’s Reserve Vermentino 2022 at £11.97. In an effort to underline its Italian origins, the Italians have succeeded in forbidding anyone else in the EU from using the popular grape name Vermentino, so the French now have to call it by their slightly less alluring name Rolle. Presumably the Australians have escaped the ban?

I marked another six of the 49 wines I was able to taste in Jukes’ selection as good value (though none very good value). They were all red and are listed below, with prices ranging from £8.45 for a really convincing Listening Station Malbec 2022, a Boutinot find from Victoria, to £19.49 for Langmeil’s Three Gardens 2021 Rhône blend from the Barossa Valley. (Note, incidentally, that the price of a Western Australian Shiraz, Plan B! Wines, Frespañol 2021, so-called because it contains 5% of the Spanish grape Tempranillo, varies particularly widely.)

I suppose seven out of 49, or 14%, is quite a creditable proportion of bargains, given Jukes’ annual choice has to be restricted to the 100 best Australian wines available in the UK, and he clearly tries to range over price points as well as colours and styles. (The edgier, more hipsterish wines that typically find their home in Melbourne wine bars were notable by their absence, but then relatively few of them are exported.) 

My good-value picks at The Wine Society tasting were in more or less the same price bracket as at the Jukes tasting but included three Chardonnays, the wine that arguably put Australia on the international wine map in the Bridget Jones era of the 1990s before oakiness was a sin. There was not a trace of obvious oakiness on these three. Wirra Wirra’s Scrubby Rise 2022 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay is made from largely unoaked offcuts from the blend for their more expensive 12th Man bottling and is great value at £9.95. But the 12th Man Chardonnay itself from the previous year, fermented in oak without added yeast, is clearly superior and more interesting that the Scrubby Rise and I thought it still good value at around £17 (but not currently stocked by The Wine Society).

The third good-value Chardonnay, just 12.5% alcohol like the other three, was £11.25 at The Wine Society but is already sold out there but is available elsewhere from £12.10. It comes from Tyrrell’s, the longstanding family-owned Hunter Valley wine producer that is, along with Penfolds and Yalumba, one of only three producers to have featured in Jukes’ Top 100 throughout its 20-year history. It’s a bit fruitier than the other two, is not exactly complex but is extremely easy to like.

So Australian bargains can be found but, to judge from Jukes’ selection at least, it’s much easier to find Australian wines retailing at over £60 a bottle than at under £20.

The Australian wine trade, incidentally, having seen the likes of Chile supplant them in China, are hoping to make up some of the loss in India, banking on the huge growth of the middle class there. A trade agreement between Australia and India was signed at the end of last year. According to India’s sole MW Sonal Holland, who reports that 30% of the wine sold in India now is imported, India’s punitive 150% ad valorem duties on imported alcoholic drinks are to be gradually reduced to 10% over 10 years for Australian wine. So no quick fix but definitely better than nothing.

Australian bargains


Wirra Wirra, Scrubby Rise Chardonnay 2022 Adelaide Hills 12.5%
£9.95 The Wine Society

Tyrrell’s Old Winery Chardonnay 2021 New South Wales 12.5%
£12.15 Wine Direct

Berton Vineyards, Winemaker's Reserve Vermentino 2022 Riverland 13%
£11.97 Ratcliffe & Co

d’Arenberg, The Money Spider Roussanne 2021 McLaren Vale 13.5%
£13.95 The Wine Society


The Listening Station Malbec 2022 Victoria 14%
The 2021 is £8.45 N D John, £8.99 Australian Wines Online, £9.55 N Y Wines, £9.95 Blacker Hall Farm Shop and the 2022 is due at importers Boutinot in two weeks

Mount Langi Ghiran, Billi Billi Shiraz 2019 Grampians 14%
£12.10 SMD Fine Wines

Wakefield, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 Limestone Coast/Clare Valley 14.5%
£89.99 for six bottles North & South Wines£13.05 (2020) Winedirect

d’Arenberg, d’Arrys Original Grenache/Shiraz 2020 McLaren Vale 14.5%
£13.95 The Wine Society

Wirra Wirra, Original Blend Grenache/Shiraz 2022 McLaren Vale 14.5%
£13.95 The Wine Society

Plan B!, Frespañol Shiraz 2021 Frankland River 14.5%
The 2020 is £22.90 at Hedonism Wines

Majella, The Musician Cabernet/Shiraz 2019 Coonawarra 14.5%
£14.15 Vinum,
 £15.99 Flagship Wines, £17.99 Hennings Wine

Vanguardist, La Petite Vanguard Corsair 2021 Riverland 13.6%
£15.50 The Wine Society

Larry Cherubino, Apostrophe Possessive reds blend Counoise/Grenache/Shiraz 2020 Great Southern 13.5%
£14.50 Noble Green, £15.95 N Y Wines
, £16 The Secret Cellar

Langmeil, Three Gardens Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro 2021 Barossa Valley 14.5% 
£19.49 Australian Wines Online

Mac Forbes Syrah 2022 Yarra Valley
£20 The Wine Society

For tasting notes, scores and the (usually quite short) suggested drinking dates on Australian wines tasted recently, see Don't overlook Australia! For international stockists see