Is chardonnay on the nose?

A national survey of wine drinking habits by one of Australia’s largest hotel groups – Mercure – has highlighted that chardonnay’s grip on the palate of Australian wine drinkers is rapidly loosening, with sauvignon blanc dominating the preferences of white wine drinkers.

Although New Zealand sauvignon blancs maintained a high popularity, with some persuasion local sauvignon blancs were beginning a fight-back and there was a distinct preference for wines from the local State.

There was some experimentation with newer varietals such as pinot gris/grigio for whites and temparanillo and sangiovese for reds, but generally red wine drinkers voted for the most traditional of reds – shiraz, even if it increasingly involved an added dollop of viognier in the blend.

Not so fortunate was another old Australian favourite – riesling – which continued to garner only minority interest, despite its popularity with wine judges and other professionals.

Always been one to buck the trend, I’m going to confess right here that I am still very fond of a nice buttery chardi and I have an increasing interesting in riesling.  I’ve had some exquisite rieslings recently courtesy of Darren Davis of Purple Palete/ Bar Barossa.

This survey was conducted across the Mercure hotel network, which comprises 23 hotels in every State of Australia. Each Mercure hotel surveyed wine drinking habits in their bars and restaurants to determine changing trends over the past two years. The results were compiled and released as part of the launch of the Mercure Grands Vins spring/summer wine selection.

Summary of major findings:
• Chardonnay is the fastest declining white wine variety

• Sauvignon blanc is the dominant white wine choice, with growth of 47% over the past two years, with Mercure Townsville reporting a 70% increase and Mercure Parramatta a 75% growth in demand for SB and SB blends.

• New Zealand sauvignon blanc is still the preferred SB, but local SB and semillon sauvignon blanc wines are fighting back (“We push a local SB over NZ SB and find positive feedback from guests. 95% purchase the Victorian SB” – Mercure Melbourne)

• Wine drinkers are resisting the “riesling renaissance” – “Riesling is still assumed to be sweet and it is very hard to sell a non sweet Riesling” – Mercure Geelong

• Pinot gris/grigio’s surge appears to have slowed over the past year. Other white wine varieties such as verdelho (NSW/Queensland) and chenin blanc (SA) retain popularity in States where the variety is prominent

• While shiraz (overwhelmingly) and cabernet blends are the largest selling reds, pinot noir is the fastest growing red wine choice (particularly in Victoria & Tasmania)

• Local is king – “Guests are turning away from brand names and are looking for something regional and different. They are willing to spend extra to get quality as long as they see the value for money in the product they purchase – Mercure Hobart. “There’s a very strong push to buy local, with only New Zealand sauvignon blanc being the exception,”- Mercure Ballarat.

• Not much change in men’s preference for red over white wine, but women are ordering more sauvignon blanc, quality sparkling and lighter bodied reds

• Growing demand for food-friendly wines – “People are becoming more experimental, wanting to try different kinds of wines as well as showing greater interest in matching it with food. More guests are moving away from heavy bodied wine and want to try light, fruity and easy to drink wines,” – Mercure Cairns

• There has been a 31% increase in by-the-glass sales over the past year – “Our feedback from the Grands Vins selection is that people want to experiment, so they will often choose two or three different wines from the selection during their meal. The key factor is the pricing of wine-by-the-glass,” – Mercure Perth

“The aim of the survey was to choose the Spring Grands Vins wine selections according to the changing tastes of our guests,” said Greg Brady, co-ordinator of Mercure’s Grands Vins programme in Australia.

“While the survey reflected what many people already suspected – that poorly made, over-oaked chardonnay was on the nose with the wine-drinking public – what also came out of the survey was that there has been some renaissance for newer-style chardonnay and, as a chardonnay lover myself, that was very encouraging,” said Mr Brady.

“What also came out strongly was that both guests and local diners alike want to have a taste of their local region, especially when they dine out at a restaurant. Mercure hotels have always positioned themselves as the ‘keys to the region’, providing an authentic taste of the city or the region in which they operate, so the Grands Vins selections are an important component of that local experience.

“Equally important is the pricing. We want to dispel the myth that good wine is only associated with high-end restaurants and high-end prices. Mercure’s Grands Vins shows it is possible to enjoy great wines – many from smaller vineyards - at very attractive prices.”

 Mercure Hotels