Italian grape varieties are helping Australia to drive sales at the premium end in the UK off-trade.

Varieties such as Fiano, Vermentino and Nebbiolo – traditionally associated with Italy and Sicily – are seeing the strongest growth rates in Australian wine in the UK, albeit from a small base.

Wine Australia chief executive, Andreas Clark, said exports of Australian Fiano to the UK are up 30% by value, while Vermentino is up 29% and Nebbiolo 17%.

Wine Australia’s regional general manager for the UK, Laura Jewell MW, told DRN: “McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills are producing some really interesting wines from lesser-known grapes. The conditions in Maclaren Vale are perfect for Fiano and Vermentino.”

Distributors have also noticed an interest in these wines in the UK.

Philip Poulter, sales manager, Seckford Agencies, highlights producer Coriole from its portfolio.

He said: “Coriole was set up by an Italian family and it is celebrating its 50th year this year. We have a Fiano, Nero d’avola and Sangiovese from Coriole, produced from old vines. These wines have developed a really good reputation and we sell a lot of the Nero d’Avola in particular. The Fiano is a harder sell at £15.75 because people know they can get an Italian Fiano for £7-8. It works for indies who are able to explain to customers that this Australian version has smaller yields and the wine is more complex.”

Maggie Macpherson, Enotria’s Australia wine buyer, said: “We have Italian varieties from Australia from producers such as d’Arenberg and Chaffey Brothers Wine Co. They are making some very serious wines using Nero d’avola and Sangiovese grapes.”

Macpherson said she is also noticing a growing interest in Rhone-style wines, using grape varieties such as Grenache.

This increased diversity – and a greater awareness of Australia’s quality credentials – is helping to drive sales of wine at higher price points.

While 90% of Australian wine sales are sold below £7 per bottle, Australian premium wines are gaining momentum, with £8-9 per bottle up 23% and £9-10 per bottle up 16%.

Clark said that in the year ended December 2018, Australian wine exports to the UK (on and off-trade) increased by 12%, which is the highest value recorded since 2013.

Jewell explained that Australia has been “unashamedly focused on the premium end of the market” for the last couple of years.

She added: “This year will be my fourth annual Australia Trade Tasting event in the UK and four years ago we would have seen wines priced at £3.99 but this isn’t the case anymore. This year is very much focused on the premium end. We are also planning another trade event later in the year, specifically focused on Australia’s premium wines.

“Alternative varieties and lesser-known ones in particular, I think these are the wines that appeal to the independent wine merchants and sommeliers. They are all looking for what is new and things that are different.

“Producers who are experimenting with these varieties are also looking at longer-term projects and making sure they wait until the wines are ready to be at their best.

“So if you look at Jim Barrie’s Assyrtiko for example, he waited ten years until the vines reached maturity before the wines were ready. So it’s not just about growing quirky grapes it is about growing grapes that are suited to the climates of each region.”