Up to this point I have made no remarks with regard to the knowledge of wine possessed by the majority of Australians, and yet in many respects it is the most important of all. They are not called upon to pronounce an opinion upon a wine, such as would be looked for from an expert. But I do think it is very desirable that they should know, at least, the kind of wine that is suitable for Australian use. Once this is accomplished, and it is by no means difficult to learn, a great deal will have been achieved. It is quite a mistake to imagine that the value of a wine increases with its strength, and that the stronger a wine is, the more valuable it becomes. Even in Europe itself strong wines are going out of fashion, and lighter ones are taking their place. People much prefer a light wine, of which they can take a fair amount and quench their thirst, in preference to a strong wine of the port or sherry type, of which they can only take a small wineglassful. But in Australia, the very place where one would expect a demand for all lighter wines, the taste for strong wines is the rule. This is another striking example of the same antagonism to climatic environment which is found all through our food habits. A light wine is the wine above all others which should be most sought after. What Australia requires as a national beverage is a wine of low alcoholic strength. It should be so cheap as to come within the easy every-day reach of all classes. And finally, it should take the place of all other liquids, since it is essentially wholesome, hygienic, restorative, and cheering.
The reputation of Australian wines in the English market has hitherto been damaged to a considerable extent by the practices which have been followed on the part of some of the large buyers. But before referring to these proceedings, to which Mr. Hans Irvine, of the Great Western Vineyard, in Victoria, has so properly and powerfully drawn attention, it must be distinctly understood that any subsequent remarks do not apply to all the London wine-merchants. On the contrary, there are many whose characters are irreproachable, and whose integrity is above suspicion.
By clearing the ground in this way one is enabled to protest against the treatment which Australian wine receives in London, without levelling charges against estimable men, who command respect, and who deserve the gratitude of all Australians for their fair dealings.
Well then, most of our wines purchased by English buyers have been those of full-bodied, crude, and coarse young wines, containing a great amount of alcohol. Two reasons have been assigned for this proceeding; the first being that Australian wines would not bear the voyage unless they were sufficiently strong; and the second, that in England the demand was more particularly for such a class of wine. But many of these firms are utterly ignorant of any special knowledge as to treating the finer and more delicate wines. It has suited these buyers to deal only with the stronger wines, as they are the more secured from any loss or trouble. For the fact is, these wines, while being of a greater alcoholic strength, are really of most excellent character and quality. And besides this, they please certain customers, whose idea of a good wine - even at the present time - is a wine of great body and strength, and not so much one with that delicacy of character and bouquet which the finer wines possess.
Some of the merchants, having but little bother with the heavier wines, have encouraged their sale to as great an extent as possible. From this it follows that those who prefer and habitually drink a better class of wine have never had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the magnificent wines which Australia can supply. As Mr. Irvine tells us, the higher types of fine, light, delicate, dry wines, with a richness of bouquet, such as most districts in Australia are capable of producing, are the kinds of wine we must look forward to for establishing a name and fame for our produce. It is not too much to assert that before very long Australia will be able to supply wines whose quality will rival the choicest vintages of the most famous vineyards of Europe. Even as it is, the delicacy of bouquet and excellent characters of many of the Australian red and white wines have fairly astonished connoisseurs on being submitted to them.
It seems a thousand pities, then, that such misconception should exist with regard to our wines. And quite undeservedly so, for as a matter of fact these lighter wines are most unfairly neglected. They simply require to be properly fined and carefully attended to. The casks in which they are shipped should be thoroughly cleansed and treated before being filled, in order to take out any taint of spirits they may contain; or any excess of tannin, which is always present in new wood. If these different matters be looked to they will improve to a wonderful extent on the voyage, and after being allowed a week or fortnight's rest on arrival, they will be found in a highly satisfactory condition. After this time these delicate wines of a low alcoholic strength require to be duly cared for. But they are worth a little extra attention, for it is absolutely certain that through them, and through them alone, will our Australian wines be accorded the merit and the appreciation which they so undoubtedly deserve.
It must not be imagined, however, that the foregoing is the only handicap which Australian wine has to cany. In other cases there are many reprehensible proceedings adopted, which irretrievably injure the reputation of our wines in the English market. Some of the inferior wines are shipped home and "restored," by blending them with full, heavy, rich wines from warmer districts. When "clothed" in this way, their imperfections are for a time hidden, but the bad soon contaminates the whole. It is true that a good, sound, and well-made wine improves with age. But with these "restored" and "clothed" wines the reverse happens, and they become worse and worse by keeping.