This week Langton’s released the fifth update to its internationally recognised Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine. First published in 1991 to create interest and build demand in the fledgling Australian secondary wine market, the classification is considered a ‘form guide’ of Australia’s best performing and most prized wines.

Langton’s Classification of Australian Wines V comprises 123 wines under four categories: Exceptional, Outstanding, Excellent and Distinguished. As Andrew Caillard MW of Langton’s explains, the rankings  “reflect the sentiment of a well-informed market rather than individual opinion.” To be considered, a wine must have 10 vintages behind it so that its track record and reputation, both of which are measured through market presence, consistency, volume of demand and price realisations, can be properly assessed.

Caillard has compared Langton’s Classification to the the Bordeaux Medoc’s classification system of 1855, referring to wines in the Exceptional category as Australia’s “first growths.” In some respects the comparison is apt, as the French wine brokers who devised the Bordeaux classification system also looked at the price history of the wines to rank each of the properties from first to fifth growths. But, unlike the static 1855 classification, Langton’s classifications are thankfully updated every five years, allowing wines to be demoted or elevated as necessary.

This year five additions were made to the Exceptional category:

Innovation, individuality and uniqueness are shared hallmarks of the five wines elevated to the ‘Exceptional’ category, according to Caillard: “Each of these wines is evocative of personality as much as wine making method, vineyard site and regional identity. Iain Riggs, Chris Ringland, Roman Bratasuik, Tim Kirk, Jeffrey Grosset and Dave Powell have all challenged and broken through the mold. These Exceptional wines are recognised by the secondary market for their individuality and difference.”

In my previous post, Pinot Week in October on the Mornington Peninsula, 20 September 2010, I mentioned that in the 2011 edition of the Australian Wine Companion, James Halliday argued that more Australian wine producers need to focus on single-vineyard and single-region wines if  “we are to fundamentally change the negative perceptions of domestic and (most significantly) export markets about the diversity, the quality and the style of our wines, and our aspirations for the future.”

New additions to Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine V certainly suggest that Australian winemakers are moving in that direction. Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir, Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir, Paringa Estate ‘The Paringa’ Single Vineyard Pinot Noir and Freycinet Pinot Noir are included for the first time, and Coldstream Hills Reserve Pinot Noir re-enters the Classification after a five year hiatus. According to Caillard, these additions reflect a strong swing towards single-vineyard Australian Pinot Noir, particularly from cool-climate sites in Victoria and Tasmania.

Caillard’s article, Classification of Australian Wine V, Langton’s Magazine, September 2010, provides an excellent overview of current trends in the Australian Wine Market.