Wine - Roger Scruton recommends a brand that will soothe your conscience

Judge an Aussie wine-grower by whether he supports Derrida or Hayek

The Australians have so perfected the techniques of vinification, and enjoy so favourable a climate, that their wines are uniformly potable, barely distinguishable except by varietal. That judgement does not apply to wines at the bottom or the top of the scale. But for the ordinary middling Shiraz, Merlot or Chardonnay, you are hard-pressed to know which grower to patronise. In consequence, the awful process of branding gets a grip, with Oxford Landing and Jacob's Creek flooding the market until the names become synonymous with the kind of acceptable mediocrity by which most of us choose to live, at least when trapped into inviting people to dinner.

Still, there are ways of distinguishing small growers and conferring the benefit of your custom on those who deserve it. Since they do not, on the whole, distinguish themselves by their wines, you must look for other virtues. Are they in favour of hunting? Do they have kitsch labels? Where do they stand on the Brahms v Wagner question? Have they swallowed Derrida, Said, Althusser and Foucault or, on the contrary, are they firmly on the side of Hayek, Leavis, Bloom and Besancon?

This is where Banrock Station comes in. Tony Sharley, who manages the estate, was until 1999 a research scientist working on conservation projects involving the wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin. Appointed manager of Banrock Station, Sharley set about restoring the surrounding wetlands, applying his big brain and still bigger heart to bringing back the flora and fauna to an area desertified by sheep. The Banrock wetland is now listed as one of international importance and attracts visitors by the thousand. More importantly, Sharley has ensured that some of the profits from the Banrock Station wines are diverted into wetland projects elsewhere, with 54 beneficiaries to date in 11 countries. While doubting his stance on the Brahms and Wagner question (the background music to his promotional video is awful), I recognise Sharley as the voice of conscience, worth every penny that you spend on him.

And the wines? Well-crafted, very reasonable and widely available in supermarkets. (It seems that Sharley, who is sound on all other ecological questions, has yet to take a stand against the supermarkets, but then he is in the business of selling his wine.) There is also one remarkable product - a sparkling red, from the Shiraz grape, which has been awarded a gold medal in Australia and which is as hilarious a drink as is ever likely to fight its way past the laughter in your gullet. The bubbles froth up through the deep red meniscus like tadpoles in a muddy wetland, and the residual sweetness of the grape has a gob-stopping character suggestive of some raw Australian sheila on a hot afternoon in the billabong. Give it a try.

By Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in The other tsunami

2005-01-10