Gourmet Traveller Wine editor Judy Sarris: "Natural wines are no longer just orange funk!"

by Erin Ogilvie

What were we quaffing this year? What'll we be drinking in 2017? We reached out to some of our expert friends to get their opinions on trends in 2016 and predictions for 2017.

Judy-Sarris, editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine

As a controversial and political 2016 comes to a close, some are looking back fondly while others are glad it's nearly over. And while Brexit and Trump dominated the news, we want to discuss what really matters: wine. 

Judy Sarris, Editor, Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine


Gourmet Traveller Wine has just celebrated 20 years.  What’s been the biggest change in those two decades?

In the year 2000, there was a big move from cork to screwcap, and Australia and New Zealand really did lead the way on that. It had a huge impact on the wine industry in general, and the quality and condition of wines. These days many of our writers say today, “We’re over cork.” Screwcaps mean the quality of wines is almost always as they should be. There’s less wine poured down the sink.

Some cork enthusiasts still question how screwcaps will affect the ageing of wines.  What’s your perspective on this?

Yes, you get a bit of air through the cork and some people do argue that it’s beneficial to the ageing of wine.  But you speak to anyone who taste many wines all the time – James Halliday, Bob Campbell MW, Huon Hooke – and they always speak of the inconsistencies they encounter in wines under cork. There are companies who still use cork like Penfolds, because of preference for it in the Asian markets, and for those who still like the glamour and theatre of removing the cork. But if you line up a series of wines under cork, you simply get so many inconsistencies. I think the move to screwcaps in Australia and New Zealand has been fantastic.

What has been one of the dominating wine trends of 2016?

We are seeing better wines from the natural wine movement. They’re becoming more mainstream and better integrated on wine lists. I went to Rootstock and saw some really interesting wines. Western Australia's LAS Vino rated best in our recent natural wine tasting, and when we did this tasting, Huon Hooke was surprised to find that around 70% were to his liking. You no longer just get orange funk! No one can say yet what’s going to happen to these wines in the cellar, but some of the wine that’s drinkable now is lovely.

Is there a region or a variety that had a stand out year in 2016?

We’ve seen Chardonnay – which we do that so well in so many areas of Australia – go from strength to strength, but people are also experimenting with more unusual white varieties. This is driven by climate and by the sommeliers, who are always looking for something different. There are a lot of wine lists making space for Chenin Blanc. We’re also seeing lighter “chillable” reds coming through, like Gamay; more Mediterranean varieties.

With regions, there’s been a lot of noise about the Adelaide Hills this year.  Tasmania is a big favourite to everyone, and there are still lovely wines coming out of the Margaret River, just to name a few. Our winemakers need to work harder to promote the diversity of these regions to the overseas markets.

What’s been your wine (or wines) of the year?

Oh wow, there are so many, it’s impossible to pick one!

Our Winemaker of the Year was Steve Flamsteed from Giant Steps, and his wines certainly impressed us a lot. He’s consistently made lovely wines, not only under Giant Steps but also his side project Salo Wines. He’s just an impressive winemaker. Then you’ve got Steve Pannell from McLaren Vale, who seems to be picking up every award possible in 2016. He’s making amazing wines.

What do you think we’ll be talking about in 2017?

We’ll see different styles of wine, like natural wines and lighter reds, embraced and celebrated. Experimentation is great. Mediterranean grape varieties suit our climate, so I predict ongoing experimentation with whites and reds by winemakers and at nurseries like Chalmers (Heathcote). We’ll likely see a bit more experimentation in New Zealand too.

The other thing is that we’ve got the younger generation of winemakers coming through, particularly in the family wine businesses. They’ve got their own ideas about winemaking, and are taking traditional labels to different levels and being allowed to put their stamp on the wines.

We’re generally seeing wines evolving and new ideas coming through. I think that’s something Australia is really good at: never sitting on our laurels and always experimenting.  We might even see more conventional winemakers become a bit less conventional!