Australians were amongst the first to embrace the new technology being developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s which enabled quality wines to be produced in hot climates where previously it had been all but impossible. Demand for good wine worldwide was growing, Australia saw the potential, and enthusiastically stepped in to fill it. But that was not the whole story, shrewd no nonsense marketing, informative, clear and cheerful labelling launched ‘brand Australia’ which has been astonishingly successful.
Australian grape varieties
Other than in the north of the country, there is not much of Australia where wine is not produced: South Australia is a great source for value wines with Coonawarra making some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, Margaret River in the south west of the country is renowned for its quality. Tasmania produces some of the best Pinot Noir anywhere in the world and this is just a start. As for grape varieties, the usual suspects are all here – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz (Syrah) and Pinot Noir amongst the reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Semillon and Riesling amongst the whites. Where do they go from here? Probably less reliance on high volume and low price, more emphasis on quality and regional style. The Australian band wagon is still rolling.
Australian wine regions
South Eastern Australia
An overarching entitlement covering any wine made in this vast region. This ‘Australian Geographical Indication’, one of nine registered in the mid 1990’s, enables brands with some regional identity to be marketed at a low price. This has proved of benefit to the producer and the consumer alike.
Part of the lofty ranges east of Adelaide, Australia, this is a cool climate vine growing region with a pronounced thermal gap (difference between the temperature night and day). Highly rated for the quality of its wines, especially Sauvignon, and also for its sparkling wines. There is a strong Germanic culture here, as Europeans were early settlers.
One of Australia’s oldest and most prolific wine areas, lying about 35 miles north east of Adelaide. Originally established by European settlers, many from Germany. Although higher altitudes are cooler, the climate is generally very warm and the vineyards are needful of irrigation; skilful wine making is required to manage such hot conditions. Many international grape varieties are to be found here, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Rhône Valley types such as Shiraz (Syrah), Grenache and Mourvedre. A considerable number of Australia’s top wineries are situated in Barossa.
One of Australia’s oldest wine areas which lies to the north of larger Barossa region, around 120 kms from Adelaide. Vineyards are planted at altitudes of up to 500 metres where the days are hot but the nights cool. Rain falls mostly in winter so irrigation is essential. Known especially for excellent Riesling, but also for good Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, although many other varieties can be found there as well. One of the best quality wine regions of South Australia.
One of the group of valleys north of Adelaide that make up the Barossa Region, the Eden Valley produces some of the best wines in the area. Famed for its Rieslings, although some excellent Shiraz is also made there. It is more a cluster of hills than a valley, with a variety of micro climates that have much to do with altitude. An excellent source of good Australian wine.
Well placed, only a stone’s throw from Adelaide, South Australia, between the South Mount Lofty Ranges and the sea. Due to the proximity to the mountains, vines are grown at different elevations and there is variation in soil types, so a grower has plenty of choice when making their final blend. The climate is Mediterranean with long hot days and cool nights. This long established wine region is best known for its rich, fulsome, high alcohol Rhône style reds, made from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated as well, and there is some experimentation with Tempranillo, Sangiovese and other non-traditional varieties. Good white wines are made from Chardonnay and Viognier, and even with Sauvignon Blanc.
This is not the oldest vineyard area in Australia but it is the one which first caught the eye of the overseas consumer and, by exporting its wines, it sent out a strong signal to the world that Australia was serious about making quality wine. Situated in New South Wales, only about two hours north of Sydney, it is a popular tourist destination and the wines made in both the Upper and the Lower Hunter are ever popular. Chardonnay and Semillon are the predominant white varieties; Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon lead the way amongst the reds. Although rainfall is relatively high by Australian standards some irrigation is necessary.
Lies only a few hours’ drive east of Melbourne, running down to the Tasman Sea. Eastern Gippsland, which has a cool, maritime climate with good rainfall, is best known for ‘Burgundy’ varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). The southern region has a warmer, Mediterranean climate with Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz all cultivated there. Due to its proximity to the big city, this is a popular destination for cellar door purchasing.
An Australian wine region lying south of Melbourne with a cool maritime climate. There are several different soils and the main vine varieties grown are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Proximity to Melbourne makes this a popular tourist destination and much of the wine made here is sold locally
New South Wales
An important Australian wine growing state, with a wide combination of different conditions for vine cultivation. The Great Dividing Range exerts considerable influence on the climate in many areas, and the main soil types are clay, loam and sandstone. Whilst the Hunter Valley (see separate section) is the most prominent quality wine producing district, Cowra (where it is warm), Mudgee (which is a cool region), and Orange (high altitude) all produce good Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with Orange being known especially for Chardonnay. Further south, Canberra is a new source for Rhône style wines made from Viognier and Shiraz. The largest production, much of it bulk wines destined for Bag in Box, comes from the Riverina district and along the Darling and Murray rivers. The quest for new wine producing regions in Australia continues and NSW is likely to be a part of this.
An overarching entitlement covering any wine made in this large region. This ‘Australian Geographical Indication’, one of nine registered in the mid 1990’s, enables brands with some regional identity to be marketed at a low price. This has proved of benefit to the producer and the consumer alike. Within Victoria, there are many different vine growing districts with Heathcote, Rutherglen and Yarra Valley considered as ‘Premium’ areas. There are other, newer, up and coming wine localities such as Gippsland and Mornington Peninsula (see separate entries).
Not only the best wine region in Western Australia, but one of the top wine growing areas in all Australia. Lies at the south western tip of Western Australia where the climate, much influenced by the Indian Ocean, is Mediterranean. Little irrigation needed as rainfall in most years is sufficient. There has been heavy investment in the area over the years and many top wineries have a position here. Most of the heavyweight international grape varieties are grown in the region, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz amongst the reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon amongst the whites. Those who resist the temptation to overproduce can make wines of world class; ‘Margaret River’ on the label is a badge of quality and reassurance.
Lies north west of Melbourne at the western end of the Great Dividing Range. The vineyards were originally established by two Frenchmen but others followed and this is now a major region for sparkling wines. Much of the fruit is sourced locally but so successful has this venture been that grapes have now to be brought in from elsewhere. Spicy, warm Shiraz is also produced, some of it from pre-phylloxera vines.
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