No longer 'Chateau Chunder': Britain toasts Australian wine
Once the preserve of the upper classes, wine may never have taken off in the UK if it was not for the Australians.
"People used to say that wine isn't for the likes of us," says Oz Clarke, wine writer and former presenter of the BBC's Food and Drink programme.
But Australia helped democratise wine drinking in Britain, by giving people what they wanted at an affordable price.
"It was about the very Australian approach to being accessible, in an era when we weren't wine drinkers in the way that we are today," says Yvonne May of Wine Australia.
The BBC Four documentary Chateau Chunder: When Australian wine changed the world charts the rise and fall of Australian wine production, from being the sommeliers' joke in the 60s and 70s, to becoming the toast of wine critics across the world.
Just a drop
Despite losing some market share in recent years, the UK is still Australia's largest export market, accounting for 20% of UK wine imports, ahead of Italy at 16% and France at 15%.
So how did Australia teach the British to love wine? And does their "sunshine in a glass" still taste as sweet?
In the 1950s, Australia accounted for just 0.5% of the world's wine production, compared to 4% in 2012.
Few people were producing wine let alone drinking it.
"Back in the 50s and 60s, if you drank table wine you were called a 'queer', or an 'eccentric', or both," says Bruce Tyrell, a fourth generation wine maker from Australia's Hunter Valley.
He was thrown out of his girlfriend's parents' house after taking a bottle of sparkling burgundy wine to their house for dinner.Continue reading the main story
But attitudes started to change as waves of European immigrants settled in Australia during the 1950s.
"They were eating pizza and spaghetti, so all this other foreign influence was associated with this other stuff - wine," says wine writer, Robert Joseph.
Find out more
Watch Chateau Chunder: When Australian wine changed the world on BBC Four at 21:00 GMT
As wine gained acceptance at the centre of the table, Australia's viticulture industry was kicked into production.
Initially producers down under were sneered at by Europeans, for lacking what the French call "terroir", literally meaning "the earth"- but in winemaking circles is understood as what makes one piece of land distinct from another, based on the climate, soil structure and weather conditions.
"People used to say: Chateau Chunder from Down Under," says Hazel Murphy, former CEO of the Australian Wine Bureau.
But rather than looking to the past for the answers, the Australians focused on innovation and researched the science of wine production techniques.
"They brought pressure tanks, cool fermenting systems, cultured yeasts and knowledge about how to use sulphur dioxide to predict the wine and the juice," says Australian wine writer Huon Hooke.
Refrigeration was also another important industry-wide innovation.
"It meant that in our hot summers we could control the temperature of our ferments. So the quality of Australian wines in the 60s just sky-rocketed," says wine producer Mr Tyrell.
The Australians also produced wines that were easy for consumers to drink, such as Rosemount's world famous chardonnay.
"It was a style of wine that the UK market hadn't seen. It was rich, it was round, it tasted of fruit... it was soft," says Rosemount winemaker, Chris Hancock.
"It had flavour - I think that was probably the key to it."
UK consumers were also buying into the image of life in Australia, summed up by the phrase for Australian chardonnay - "sunshine in a bottle".
The label on the bottle was considered to be just as important as what was inside.
Matching wines to food
Wine expert Mimi Avery offers her tips on pairing Australian wines with food:
Quick canapé crostini: Tomato can be difficult to pair with wine but any Italian varietals would work well such as a dolcetto or a Sangiovese grape, or a pinot grigio from cooler climates.
Slow cooker split pea dhal: Pairing Indian food with wine depends on the heat of the dish, but "sweeter reds" would go well, such as a soft full ripe fruit such as a merlot or a a mature semillon.
Smoked haddock, bacon and mussel chowder Chaudière stew: Smoking the haddock helps reduce the metallic notes when matched with wine. The cream and lemon would work well with a sauvignon blanc or an un-oaked chardonnay.
Toffee and apple sponge pies: Australians are famous for their muscat dessert wines. Black muscat would go better with Christmas pudding and fruit cakes but the orange Muscat would match well with toffee and apple.
In 1973 Bristol based wine merchant John Avery was the first person to bring an Australian wine into the UK that had the grape variety written on the label.
"That was a turning point," explains Mimi Avery, who continues to run her father's wine business today.
"Instead of bringing in wines that were named as Claret or Burgundy or whatever, the fact that they put the grape variety on it made people realise... that it should taste a bit like Burgundy.
"There are still people in England that are so used to Jacob's Creek Chardonnay that they don't know that chardonnay is the white grape variety in Burgundy and produces some of the classiest white wine in the world."
Grape variety is now the main choice factor in the wine buying process for 57% of UK wine buyers, according to Mintel data.
"Many wine drinkers are shopping for wine according to the grape types which they know they like," says Mintel's senior drinks analyst, Chris Wisson.
"Australian wines continue to be the most popular among UK adults at 29%, ahead of France at 22%," he says.
Shiraz, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are the most popular Australian grape varieties in the UK.
But European grape varieties that are grown in Australia such as grenache, verdelho and riesling are also showing promise, according to Wine Australia.
Despite a perceived decline in the quality of Australian wines several years ago, demand for more premium wines is increasing.
"Many consumers are drinking less often but are becoming more discerning and prepared to spend a little more for products which they perceive to offer better value for money," says Mr Wisson.
In the last year, retail sales of Australian wine priced over £10 increased by 61%, however sales of wine priced below £5 declined by 7.3%, according to Nielson data.
"Stylistically the Australian wines over the last five years have evolved so much from what came before," says Ms May.
"Now they are lighter, fresher, very much more complex and offer phenomenal value for money."
But as wines from New Zealand and England increase in popularity with UK consumers, could Australian wine risk losing its touch?
"Personally I think that Australian brands could use the natural and sunny connotations of the country more, particularly as 38% of wine drinkers list country of origin as one of their leading considerations when buying wine," says Mr Wisson.
So sunshine in a glass it is.