Australian wines have been labelled "the best in the world" after dominating a prestigious international wine awards.
Wines from Australia accounted for a fifth of those awarded "Best in Show" — more than any other country — at the 2023 Decanter World Wine Awards, held this week in London.
Margaret River was particularly celebrated, with three of the top 50 wines from the lush South West WA wine-growing region.
"If there is a 'winning region' in this year's Top 50 Best in Show selection, it has to be Western Australia's Margaret River," the Decanter World Wine Awards declared.
Bruce Dukes received a coveted 'Best in Show' for his 2020 Domaine Naturaliste Rebus cabernet sauvignon, grown in Wilyabrup, just shy of three hours south of Perth.
"It was just an incredible surprise," Mr Dukes said.
"It is exciting because Decanter is simply the pinnacle of it all."
15 days, 18,250 wines
Now in its 20th year and self-described as "assuredly the world's largest wine competition," this year's Decanter World Wine Awards saw more than 72,000 bottles of wine flown into London.
Over 15 days, several hundred wine experts and sommeliers conducted blind tastings of 18,250 wines, with entrants required to submit four bottles of each wine.
Australian wines were represented across the Best Show, Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, prompting US news outlet CNN to declare Australia as the "home of the best wines in the world for 2023."
While there is often industry cynicism toward wine awards, educator, judge and award-winning sommelier, Leanne Altmann said Decanter's awards carried international credibility, and the results were significant for Australia's growing wine identity.
"In an international context, where you've got the world's best tasters awarding some of these wines so highly, I hope it causes people to say, 'Why did they get such a great score?'" Ms Altmann said.
"Maybe people will take the opportunity to taste those wines that won the awards, or maybe they'll explore a little bit further — it might just open that door to people trying Australian wines and better understanding them."
'Golden period' for local winemaking
Riesling and grenache from South Australia's McLaren Vale, semillon from NSW's Hunter Valley and a fortified grand muscat from Rutherglen in Victoria were all among the top-rated wines.
The recognition comes at a time when the local industry continues to grapple with the collapse of the once-lucrative Chinese export market.
Ms Altmann, who, as beverage director for the Trader House group, selects wines for some of Melbourne's best restaurants, said the awards help to emphasise the regionality of Australian wines.
Where once the industry might have suffered from a flattened international reputation for big-bodied shiraz, she said there was now an increasing appreciation for the specific terroir of growing regions like Margaret River or McLaren Vale.
"For a long time we were making the wines that we thought that market wanted to drink.
"When I first started out in wine, people would sell things to me saying, 'this is a Burgundian-style chardonnay, or I'm looking to make the best example of Chianti, but from Australia,'" she said.
"Now, the best producers are saying things like, 'This is from our place in McLaren Vale, and you can feel where the wind comes across the hills, and this is why the fruit from this place tastes like this.'
"That's widely seen in Europe, but it's getting more common in Australia, which I find particularly exciting."
It's an ethos echoed by Bruce Dukes at Domaine Naturaliste.
"For so many years, Australia had a message of entry-level wines and effectively 'bottled sunshine,' and that message didn't really suit the vast majority of small producers — it just suited a couple of larger producers," Mr Dukes said.
"The only way I can see my business working is to focus on the quality.
"Australia is now going through this golden period with so many smaller producers making the most amazing wines.
"It's just something that takes a while to communicate to the world."
The 'Best in Show' cabernet sauvignon from Domaine Naturaliste retails for $39 a bottle.
Instead, he believes the success of Australian wines at this year's Decanter awards should serve as encouragement that a more regionally-specific focus is being valued on the world stage.
"I think it's the reinforcement around having the right soils, the right varieties in the right climate.
"There is a pride [about winning], but it's also motivation to keep refining the details and just working on the very basics of the grape growing and the winemaking to continue to fine-tune and improve style and quality.
"It is exciting and motivating at the same time."
Despite a likely uptick in popularity, Mr Dukes said he had no plans to change the price or place an 'award-winning' sticker on the label.
Story by Jeremy Story Carter
Stay tuned for the latest news on our radio stations