Australian wine has had a bumpy last decade in America. But with new entries like Wildling, there appears a rosier future.
After U.S. sales of Australian wine ballooned in the mid-2000s, they dipped considerably with the Great Recession. Drinkers soured on the fruit bomb fad of premium Australian bottles. And the emergence of Yellow Tail — with its legion of inexpensive imitators — defined the country’s wines in the minds of many as being cheap.
Both those stigmas seem outdated today. Or so was my impression during a winemaker’s lunch last week at Flinder’s Lane in Manhattan. Representatives from the McWilliam’s Wine Group presented their new Australian red blend, Wildling. It was poured alongside the restaurant’s authentic Australian cuisine.
The brand is a mix of shiraz, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. It includes the Wildling Winemaker’s Red Blend 2013 (suggested retail price: $14.99) and the Wildling Reserve 2009 (SRP: $49.99, with limited U.S. release in 2016). In line with the brand’s name, the grapes are sourced largely from 40-year-old, untrellised bush vines from South Eastern Australia.
Lunch began with a glass of McWilliam’s Cool Climate Chardonnay 2014 (refreshing, and lightly oaky). For appetizer, I ordered the grilled beef salad, with shallots, grapefruit, mint, and hot & sour dressing.
The operative word there was “hot.” But the Red Blend 2013 featured just the right subtle-sweet-jam and dark-fruit flavors to cut through the spiciness of the salad. At the same time, Wildling was not the oaky fruit bomb that had once dominated Australian wines.
Next I ordered lamb, with wattle seed, harissa, minted yogurt, and cucumber salad. This was served with the Reserve 2009. Released in just 798 bottles, the wine was more refined and nuanced than its juicy, fruity 2013 counterpart. Thus, the Reserve was an ideal match for the mild, tasty gaminess of the lamb.
Both blends were well balanced, unlike traditional fruit-forward Australian reds. “We looked at what was successful in the American market,” explained McWilliam’s winemaker Tim Perrin. “We wanted to make a similar style red, but in our own image.
“So many successful American blends are zinfandel-based,” he added. “But we’re just so passionate about petit verdot.”
Wildling’s name and premium-style packaging are meant to be “something that you want to show to your friends,” said Ian Jones, McWilliam’s General Manager for the Americas. “Your number one investment should be in the wine, and your number two on the packaging.”
The Reserve 2009 was already aging in McWilliam’s cellars when the company started looking for a premium blend for the Wildling brand. Long in the making, the brand was not named in reference to the Game of Thrones “wildling” characters. Though both Perrin and Jones said it was a happy coincidence.
What was deliberate was designing this red blend for American tastes.
“The category is very popular in the U.S., but there’s next to nothing in it from Australia,” Jones said. “There’s huge potential here for Australian wine. We want to show that we’re so much more than what some people think. We’re trying to break the mold.”