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I hate to have to break the news, but you are about to witness the end of an Australian wine glut. Thanks to the never ending drought and other vagaries of the weather, years of bargain basement wine prices are drawing to a close. Australia’s most famous wine, Penfolds Grange, has just been released at the staggering price of $500 a bottle. Mind you, it is five years old.

Last Sunday, my wife and I joined about twenty others on a tour organized by the wine club at University House. Our destination was the Mornington Peninsula, home to about fifty wineries. The weather was dismal, but every so often the clouds would clear and the lovely rolling hills revealed themselves. When the sun finally broke through at the second winery on our tour, the view of the bay was breathtaking.

Our first visit was to one of the more successful wineries on the peninsula– T Gallant. Their speciality is white wine, pinot grigio and pinot gris, but I fell for their Shiraz. After running the gamut of their selections, we sat down to lunch on their patio– Italian pizza, salad, and more wine, of course. Then it was back on the bus to hit yet another vineyard.   It was a rough avocation, but somebody had to do it. By the end of the afternoon, we were acting like discriminating tasters, sipping and spitting our way from white to red and on to dessert wines.

Cleanskin wines were introduced in the early 2000’s as a way of dealing with oversupply and poor sales. Initially, cleanskins (bottles without labels) were sold by the case through supermarkets. Then a cachet for cleanskins developed, and wines began to be marketed  by the bottle with generic labels, indicating the type of grape and the region only. We have had some fine cleanskin wines, but the wealth of choice here has had an odd result. We have been rediscovering our taste buds; we are buying more expensive wines.

The grand old man of wine reviewing in Australia is a man named James Halliday. The very first winery we visited here was one that he had a hand in starting– Coldstream Hills. While I was out soaking up the sun and admiring the view, my wife was busy stocking our wine “closet.” The 10th anniversary of Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, the bible of the business, weighs in at a little under a kilo. It’s a bargain. There are profiles of 2176 wineries and some 6405 wines.

I read somewhere that about 40% of the wineries here are losing money, but that may be about to change.   Unfortunately, some small wineries will go under.  But the big boys will stay solvent, and as the glut disappears, prices will rise.  An economist once told my non-drinking father that he was missing a great opportunity by not taking advantage of duty-free liquor.  By that logic, you should drink up now. There is currently enough Aussie wine or everyone on the planet to have a glass. There may not be enough water, but there is plenty of wine.  Have at it.

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