A Love Letter to Australian Wine

This image should illustrate the main point clearly; the great Old World wine countries of Europe, including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, etc… could all comfortably fit within the area that Australia encompasses.

Europe does have some advantages over Australia:

  • History: the culture of wine has existed in Europe for far longer than in Australia. There are also many different countries in the EU, contributing many different cultures.
  • Population: 448 million people in the EU, compared with 27 million in Australia. Labour and manpower are more readily available in the EU.
  • Altitude: Australia is relatively flat compared to the mountainous ranges that can be found in Europe. The difference in altitude across various wine regions plays a big part in how grapes are grown, how the wine is expressed, and the regional identity.

But Australia has these advantages over the EU:

  • Area: Australia – 7,688,287 km2 (2,968,464 sq mi), compared with the EU – 4,233,262 km2 (1,634,472 sq mi). Even without the extreme altitudes of Europe, Australia is a massive landmass that boasts a large number of wine regions with varying climates, soils and grape varieties.
  • Innovation and research: New World countries (i.e. generally outside of Europe) have tended to be more ready to embrace new technologies, techniques, methods and varieties.
  • Flying winemakers: Given the seasonal difference between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, there have been many Australian winemakers who have traveled to Europe to work vintages, bringing back first-hand knowledge and experience of techniques and wine styles. European winemakers have also come to Australia to make their mark.

(There are certainly more points to consider, including vine age, incidence of Phylloxera, economic factors, etc… but to keep the length of this article manageable I will leave those topics for later.)

Imagine the diversity of wine styles of all Europe: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Champagne, Loire, Alsace, Provence, Trentino-Alto Adige, Piemonte, Toscana, Sicily, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rías Baixas, Priorat, Mosel… all in one country.

Through my studies as a wine professional I am fortunate to be acquainted with most of these classic wine expressions.

Outside of the wine industry however, it has been my experience that most wine drinkers have had a much narrower focus.

Visiting the Barossa Valley with colleagues, March 2023.

Exploring The Real Australia

From first- and second- hand accounts, I was surprised to learn that many people’s perception of Australian wine outside of the country was quite polarised, either being known for the cheaper “critter label” brands like [yellow tail] or the big-name producers like Penfolds.

Being at the source, I can say there is much more to Australian wine than that.

You can find outstanding value for money from the five main wine growing states:

  • South Australia (SA), with 18 Geographical Indications (GIs) within,
  • Victoria (VIC), 21 GIs,
  • New South Wales (NSW), 14 GIs,
  • Western Australia (WA), 9 GIs,
  • Tasmania, it’s own singular GI, but with many recognized subzones.

Given the amount of options one sees in most wine shops, I can understand why most people tend to stick with what is comfortable and familiar.

Sadly, they’re also missing out on some outstanding value, if they were willing to explore a bit.

Instead of simply going through all of Australia’s top regions and varieties (there is a lot of information freely available already), in this article I will simply make a few friendly suggestions, based on broadly popular wine styles from around the world.

Recommended Starting Price

When it comes to price, my suggested starting point is around AU$30 – AU$50.

For some people this might seem a little high. In Australian currency we have a $20 note and a $50 note, so it seems easier to go with the lower of the two.

This may have bought you something very good five years ago, but inflation has taken it’s toll, and this starting point needs to be adjusted upwards.

These days, AU$20 will most likely get you an indifferently made (though technically sound) product, though in some cases there are still incredible wines to be found

It’s not all bad news; prices have risen, but so have salaries. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) as of November 2023 the average full-time weekly salary is AU$1888.80.

That equates to an hourly rate of AU$47.22 (pre-tax, assuming a 40-hour work week).

Adjust this up or down according you your circumstances, but I believe it’s reasonable to spend an hour’s wages on a very good bottle of wine.

It’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for”.

You could still get a $20 bottle that simply sates your appetite.

Or, for a little more, you could get a wine that will express greater complexity, start a conversation, and engage the intellect, elevating it into an experience.

Interested? Read on.

Me, tasting through the range of House of Arras.

Champagne → Australian Sparkling

Let’s start with one of my favourite categories: Champagne.

I enjoy it because it is often one of least fully appreciated wines.

Plenty of people enjoy Champagne as a celebratory wine, popping something open for a toast or with appetisers, before moving quickly onto the entrées.

Not many people are aware of the full breadth of what Champagne can offer.

Made mainly with the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier varieties, Champagne can be divided into the following styles:

  • Non-Vintage (NV): typically a “house style”, consistently made product by blending across wine from grapes harvested from multiple years
  • Vintage: made in years when weather conditions were exceptional, offering a snapshot of higher quality a producer can offer
  • Rosé: Pink-coloured, usually more aromatic and fruit forward (but not sweet)
  • Blanc de Blancs (BdB): literally “White of Whites”, a wine made with only white grapes (usually Chardonnay)
  • Blanc de Noirs (BdN): literally “White of Blacks”, a white Champagne made from black grapes (a wine’s colour comes from the skin of the grapes; with gentle pressing this colour can be prevented from going into the wine)
  • Prestige Cuvée: the top wine of a particular Champagne house, made in the best years, from the best grapes, from the best parcels of vineyards, and priced accordingly

The above styles can be combined; for example it is possible to have a Vintage Blanc de Blancs, or a Rosé Prestige Cuvée.

Unlike most other wines, Champagne labels include a broad indicator for sugar levels (most you will see on the market will be dry, in the first three levels on the following list):

  • Brut Nature: 0-3 grams/Litre (naturally occurring, no addition allowed)
  • Extra Brut: 0-6 g/L
  • Brut: 0-12 g/L
  • Extra Dry: 12-17 g/L
  • Sec: 17-35 g/L
  • Demi-Sec: 35-50 g/L
  • Doux: 50+ g/L

Once you factor in the myriad houses, Grand/Premier Cru villages, grower-producers and cooperatives, you see the complexity of Champagne compound, while also increasing your options.

Price vs Value

Despite my love for Champagne, there is one factor that makes it less accessible than other wines: price.

Champagne still has an image of being a wine for special occasions, so it’s price is always a step above non-Champagne wines.

If it happens to be from a famous, well-marketed house (Moët or Veuve, anyone?), prepare to pay even more of a premium.

Here is where I like to introduce Australian sparkling wines.

Dollar for dollar, Australian sparkling easily holds it own against top Champagnes for quality and enjoyment.

Tasmania is probably the most well-regarded region for Australian sparkling, but great quality can come from anywhere, with very good, commercially available examples coming from Adelaide Hills, South Australia and Margaret River, Western Australia.

The same styles, complexities and breadth of expression detailed above for Champagne can be found in Australian sparkling wine too.

Whether you’re looking for an easy-drinking Non-Vintage sparkling, or a more serious Vintage Blanc de Blancs, you’ll be able to find an Australian equivalent for a fraction of the cost of a similar Champagne.

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$20 – AU$40.

Starting at AU$40 and under, here are just a few Australian sparkling wines I would happily recommend to anyone.

I’ve found Croser (NV, ~AU$20) to offer excellent quality for the price. Notice in the image above I have included even their vintage sparkling (~AU$36). For the price of an entry-level NV Champagne, you can get much closer to the complex, savoury character of a vintage sparkling wine.

Grant Burge produces a Chardonnay + Pinot Noir (~AU$20) that very much aims to match the classic NV Champagne formula, and is always reasonably priced.

House of Arras (Premium Cuvée NV, ~AU$27) is probably the most well regarded sparkling wine producer in Australia. It’s usually my default option to pair with raw oysters and sashimi.

Howard Park (NV Blanc de Blancs, ~AU$29), on the other side of the country in WA, shows that quality sparkling wine can come from anywhere in the country.

Jansz (NV, ~AU$29) and Pirie (NV, ~AU$30) are also very well regarded in Tasmania, furthering this region’s reputation for quality sparkling wine.

(NSW and VIC also produce sparkling wines of very good quality, though availability in shops might be limited due to smaller volumes, so keep an eye out for those regions at this price range as well.)

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$60 – AU$400.

On the higher end of the price spectrum, Australian sparkling still delivers outstanding quality, especially when compared with similarly priced Champagne.

House of Arras features heavily in this range. Their vintage sparkling can be found for ~AU$90, offering great value against vintage Champagne, most of which start at AU$100+ these days.

Arras also offers Late Disgorged and Museum Release sparkling wines, which currently range from AU$300 to AU$400. These would be the equivalent of a Champagne house’s Prestige Cuvée which, while more closely priced, clearly illustrates how high the quality of Australian sparkling can go.

Jansz’s sparkling Chardonnay (~AU$60) is the equivalent to a Blanc de Blancs style Champagne, which would typically start at the ~AU$80 mark. They also produce rosé, vintage and late disgorged wines.

Pirie’s 2011 Late Disgorged sparkling (~AU$150) is a special item, recently named Best Sparkling and Wine of Show at the 2023 Global Fine Wine Challenge.

March 2023: receiving an allocation of 2019 Château Lafite Rothschild.

Red Bordeaux → Australian Cabernet and Blends

Next on my list of favourites are the firm, complex reds of Bordeaux.

With increasing awareness of different grape varieties, there has been a trend of people drinking mainly single-variety wines.

Bordeaux is a constant reminder of the versatility of blended wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are the two main varieties. Along with Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are the five main red grapes of Bordeaux.

Wines made from the natural combination of these varieties offer a range of aromas and flavours that single-grape examples can rarely match.

Bordeaux reds also reward ageing in the cellar. With time, the fruit mellows out, tannins soften, and the more complex, savoury characters come forth, adding another dimension to the wine.

Bordeaux can be a confusing place to navigate, however, with their classifications, en primeur auctions, sky-high prices and popularity with wine forgers.

Here is where Australia shines once again.

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$35 – AU$50

While I began by mentioning blends, it would be remiss of me to not include Australia’s broad selection of single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

(Australia follows the 85% rule – if a wine is made up of 85% or more of a single variety, a producer is permitted to put the name of only that variety on the label.)

The region of Coonawarra, SA, is probably the most well-known in Australia for their Cabernet Sauvignon, with the best examples balancing ripe fruit, lively acid, savoury herbaceous tones, and the promise of improvement with ageing.

There are many labels, but a few of my favourites are:

Margaret River, WA, brings us back to the blends. I have so many favourites that it’s difficult to narrow down to just a few, but I believe this is a good start.

Cullen Wines (~AU$45) happens to be certified organic and biodynamic, for those who pay attention to these matters. Among other things, this means no herbicides and pesticides are used in the vineyards, which is much more of a challenge in Bordeaux given their more humid, Atlantic climate.

Howard Park (Leston, ~AU$40) features here again, showing that the Margaret River region can produce top-quality wines of any style, red, white or sparkling.

Moss Wood (Amy’s, ~AU$40), Pierro (LTCf, ~AU$50) and Woodlands (~AU$37) are all wines I recall fondly, offering that unmistakable aroma of cigar box, pencil shavings and bay leaf, perfectly balanced with dark ripe fruits, that the most pleasing Cabernet wines are known for.

(I should mention, that with a bit of research, one could find older releases of these wines for not that much greater cost. For example, I have spotted a 2014 Woodlands Cabernet Merlot [with a full decade of maturity!] for just AU$48.)

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$80 – AU$250.

The range broadens as we move up the price scale.

Henschke (Cyril, ~AU$175) is a well-respected producer in the Eden Valley, SA. Old vines, judicious use of oak and extended maturation before release gives you a wine of deep complexity.

Petaluma (Evans Vineyard, ~AU$80) is another well-known label. Here there is typically a small percentage of Merlot blended in to balance out the wine (the exact proportion varies every year).

Wynns (John Riddoch, ~AU$150), features again, reminding us that the same producer can present wines at many quality levels.

Lake’s Folly (Cabernets, ~AU$90) has become a bit of a cult wine, and oftentimes you will see bottles on the secondary market at almost double the price. I have included it here as an example from the Hunter Valley, NSW, (where Cabernet is actually not prolifically grown) for the sake of completeness.

The Yarra Valley, VIC, also begins to assert itself at this price point, with my selections below:

The Margaret River is ready to serve you at the higher end of the price scale as well.

You may notice most of the above labels only mention Cabernet Sauvignon, however if you look deeper there will be small percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, either on the back label or on their website (85% rule).

Cullen Wines (Diana Madeline, ~AU$160), Moss Wood (~AU$160) and Woodlands (Family Series, ~AU$180) feature once again, and with the increase in price you can reasonably expect a jump in complexity, depth and quality.

Leeuwin Estate releases their top wines under the “Art Series” title (with a label design slightly reminiscent of a certain Bordeaux Château). Their Cabernet wine offers excellent value and longevity for ~AU$100.

Vasse Felix has the distinction of being the first vineyard and winery to be establish in the Margaret River region. The Tom Cullity, named after the founder, is their top wine, currently at around ~AU$250.

Some of these prices are certainly high. However, considering that some of the top Bordeaux wines can often only be found for more than AU$500, I can say with confidence that their Margaret River counterparts offer excellent value for money.

Me, sampling a selection of Laurent Ponsot wines from various villages in Burgundy.

Red Burgundy → Australian Pinot Noir

Someone used to wine being full-bodied and deeply coloured may underestimate Pinot Noir’s transparency and aromatic breadth.

Unlike many other grapes, Pinot Noir is a variety that is very selective in where it can grow to produce the highest quality wines.

For someone new to wine, Pinot Noir is not always the easiest wine to enjoy, as some of the most complex examples will show such strange aromas and flavours as forest floor, mushroom, game, tart red fruits and dried flowers.

But for someone who has spent a long time drinking wine, Pinot Noir often ranks at the top of their list of favourite varieties.

Indeed, the most expensive wines in the world are often from Burgundy, made from Pinot Noir.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that Red Burgundy is a highly desirable category, with prices to match.

So here are my picks of Australian Pinot Noir that I feel deliver excellent value for money.

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$30 – AU$50.

In this price bracket, we are fortunate to have options available from all five main wine growing states.

Frogmore Creek and Stefano Lubiano are my first suggestions. Pinot Noir does particularly well in cooler climates, and Tasmania is Australia’s coolest wine growing region.

Scotchmans Hill and Stonier are in Victoria, just across the Tasman Sea, where the climate is only a bit warmer, often leading to wines of slightly greater ripeness.

Philip Shaw is located in Orange, New South Wales, and benefits from a relatively higher altitude, helping to keep the growing environment cooler.

Marchand & Burch are in Western Australia. This label is an unique collaboration between an Australian and a Burgundian winemaker.

Riposte Wines is in South Australia, a state usually better known for it’s full-bodied, deeply coloured red wines.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of producers, but serve to reiterate that good quality Pinot Noir can be found anywhere in Australia.

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$60 – AU$1,000 (yes, one thousand Australian dollars).

There is no shortage of options if you are on the market for Pinot Noir above AU$50. The ones pictured are just a small selection of what can be found on the market.

At these price ranges you can expect more careful selection of fruit, greater usage of new oak barrels, and a smaller vineyard area from where grapes are sourced, all of which contribute to a higher price tag.

Tasmania and Victoria are heavily represented; given the variety’s preference for cooler climates, the finest examples have naturally come from these areas.

Handpicked Wines does produce wines in other states, but their Tasmanian Pinot Noir (~AU$60) is great value for money at this price point. The examples by Tolpuddle (~AU$100) and Hardys (Eileen Hardy, ~AU$125) are another step up in price, but you can definitely taste the difference.

Grosset (~AU$95) is the lone South Australian representative here (there are other producers, so keep an open mind), once again illustrating Pinot Noir’s preference for cooler regions. It’s not that good Pinot Noir can’t be grown there, but there are natural limitations on how much that can be produced profitably.

Taking up more than half of the display, Victoria offers the greatest selection of Pinot Noir,, with multiple regions represented:

Identified only by it’s tiny, square, golden label, the Bass Phillip Reserve is included here simply to show what Australian Pinot Noir is capable of.

For the wine lover obsessed with Pinot Noir, the depth and complexity that can be seen in these wines is worth any price, and luck is needed even to find allocations available to purchase.

White Burgundy → Australian Chardonnay

White Burgundy is a broad category. You could have anything from the steely, mineral-driven examples from Chablis, broadly complex wines from the Côte d’Or, to the richer and riper Chardonnays of the Mâconnais.

If none of the above made any sense to you, don’t worry; all this means is there exists a style of Chardonnay that suits every palate.

While Pinot Noir prefers cooler climates, Chardonnay can be comfortably grown in almost any environment, giving these wines the ability to express a broad range of aromas and flavours.

Winemakers also have various techniques at their disposal, from oak usage, lees stirring (a.k.a. bâtonnage) and malolactic fermentation.

No matter what your tastes are, there will definitely be something for you in my picks below.

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$30 – AU$50.

Given Chardonnay’s ability to grow anywhere, it’s no challenge to find very good examples from everywhere.

Coming from Tasmania, Devil’s Corner (Resolution, ~AU$37) Chardonnay can be expected to be a bit more zesty compared to the others, given it’s cooler growing environment. A touch of oak helps to round off the edges, making it more approachable without smothering the fruit.

Mountadam (High Eden, ~AU$35) is in South Australia, but in the relatively cooler region of Eden Valley, which prevents their Chardonnay from becoming overripe. It’s a popular, structured and well-balanced wine.

Scarborough (Yellow Label, ~AU$30) and Tyrrell’s (Estate Grown, ~AU$40) are based in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, just a two-hour drive from Sydney. The Hunter Valley is rightfully famous for their Chardonnay wines, with many producers and styles. Expect a broader spectrum of fruit expression, balanced use of oak, and a little toasty, buttery creaminess in flavour and texture.

Moving back to a cooler climate, Paringa (Estate, ~AU$50) is in the Mornington Peninsula, as well as Stonier (~AU$37) whose Pinot Noir I had also included out above.

Leeuwin Estate (Prelude, ~AU$40) and Vasse Felix (~AU$44) bring us back to the Margaret River, highlighting this region’s ability to produce high-quality wines from many different grape varieties.

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$55 – AU$180.

Coming into the premium end of Australian Chardonnay, you may begin to notice a few familiar labels, particularly from my Pinot Noir recommendations earlier. This is because, much like in Burgundy, regions that can successfully grow Pinot Noir are also capable of producing high-quality Chardonnay.

In other cases, the winemaker has the ability to select certain parcels of fruit they deem to be higher quality and may choose to process and mature them in a different manner to their “standard” wine. In this way, multiple quality tiers cam come from the same producer.

Tolpuddle (~AU$100) in Tasmania features again, showcasing what breadth and complexity this region’s cool climate is capable of.

Tyrrell’s (Vat 47, ~AU$100), Hunter Valley, NSW, illustrates my point above, how one producer can present Chardonnay wines of multiple levels of complexity.

Petaluma (Piccadilly Valley, ~AU$55) and Shaw+Smith (M3, ~AU$55) in the Adelaide Hills, SA, offer seriously good value for money at this price point.

Victoria is well-represented here, and given the high prices of their Pinot Noir wines, the Chardonnays are no less exceptional:

Margaret River, WA, features heavily as well, with four examples shown:

Rhône Valley Reds → Australian Shiraz/Syrah and GSM blends

No discussion of Australian wine would be complete without mentioning Shiraz (a.k.a Syrah).

While Australia is famously know for full-bodied, deeply-coloured, high-alcohol and ripe red wines, more restrained and refined examples can be found if you know where to look.

It should be mentioned that the Rhône Valley is typically divided into Northern and Southern Rhône, with a greater focus on Syrah in the North, and blending in the South, mainly with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (a.k.a Mataro, in Australia). With this in mind, I have also made some noteworthy inclusions in the GSM category.

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$30 – AU$50.

Great value Shiraz can be found almost anywhere in Australia.

(Tasmania produces little, if any, due to the cooler growing environment not allowing Shiraz to ripen consistently.)

Oliver’s Taranga (~AU$30) is a long-established producer in the McLaren Vale, SA. They have a broad portfolio of wines, but this Shiraz is outstanding value for money.

Spinifex (Bête Noir, ~AU$48) is based in the famous Barossa Valley, SA. While this region is known for it’s ripe, alcoholic and punchy wines, this example from Spinifex offers restraint, balanced with concentrated savoury and dark floral tones.

Brokenwood (Hunter Valley, ~AU$50) is probably the quintessential archetype of Shiraz from this region at this price range. Simply a bargain.

Clonakilla (O’Riada, ~AU$45), from the more inland, cooler climate Canberra District, offers a spicy savouriness, coming across as more medium-bodied than full, without losing complexity.

Mount Langi Ghiran (Cliff Edge, ~AU$35) is in the Grampians, Vic, and is another champion of the cooler-climate style of Shiraz.

Vasse Felix (~AU$38), representing the Margaret River, features yet again. Is there anything they can’t do?

John Duval (Plexus, ~AU$40) offers this blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mataro. John Duval is a highly respected winemaker, having served as Chief Winemaker at Penfolds between 1986-2002.

Torbreck (Steading, ~AU$40), offers this GSM blend at a very reasonable price point (while probably being better known for their Shiraz wines).

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$50 – AU$950.

Above AU$50, there is no shortage of options from the reasonable to the ridiculous (and ridiculously good).

Leeuwin Estate also produces a Shiraz under their “Art Series” label (~AU$53). You will be interested to see that it’s at a much more approachable price compared to their Chardonnay and Cabernet wines in the same label.

Mount Pleasant (Rosehill, ~AU$55) offers this example from the Hunter Valley, NSW. Careful fruit handling and selection, paired with just the right amount of oak, results in a perfectly balanced wine at a very attractive price.

Best’s (Bin 0, ~$AU85) lies in the Great Western, actually a sub-region of the Grampians (where Mount Langi Ghiran, mentioned above, is based). Expect a similar cool-climate savoury spice, with greater concentration and complexity.

South Australia is heavily represent in the next few mentions. This comes as no surprise, considering the state produces around half of all of Australia’s wines.

  • Kalleske (Eduard, ~AU$90), Barossa Valley
  • Glaetzer (Amon-Ra, ~AU$100), Barossa Valley
  • d’Arenberg (Dead Arm, ~AU$75), McLaren Vale
  • Jim Barry (McRae Wood, ~AU$80), Clare Valley
  • Henschke, Eden Valley
    • Mount Edelstone, ~AU$245
    • Hill of Grace, ~AU$950

Henschke’s Hill of Grace, in my opinion (and that of many others), deserves it’s reputation and high price. The fruit comes mainly from a limited resource of ancient vines over 160 years old, sees extended maturation before release, and delivers consistency of quality year after year. A truly rare gem.

European → Australian White Wines

After Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône, there is still a plethora of wines in all the Old World that have worthy Australian counterparts.

Perhaps unfairly, I will list a few below to make quick work of them.

Classic “Old World” European white wine varieties:

  • France
    • Loire Valley: Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc
    • Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
    • Bordeaux: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc
  • Italy
    • Trentino / Alto Adige: Pinot Grigio
  • Spain
    • Rías Baixas: Albariño
  • Germany
    • Mosel: Riesling (off-dry)
  • Austria
    • Wachau: Grüner Veltliner

Speaking very broadly, and with absolutely no disrespect intended, I find that Albariño, Grüner Veltliner, Muscadet, and Pinot Grigio share a lot in common.

In most cases they are dry (i.e. not sweet), moderately aromatic, refreshingly delicious when served chilled and even more so when enjoyed with seafood.

Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc are a step up in richness and aromatic intensity. Sauvignon Blanc is usually a bit more aromatic, grassy, with a crisp finish. In Bordeaux, Semillon is typically blended in for balance.

(Though Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are technically the same, differences in the growing environment between Alsace and Trentino / Alto Adige contribute to quite different expressions.)

Mark’s Picks – Refreshing Dry Whites

March 2024: Price range AU$20 – AU$38

Semillon, particularly from the Hunter Valley, NSW, has been referred to as one of Australia’s gifts to the world; nowhere else will you find a wine made in such a style.

It makes a refreshingly dry white wine with relatively lower alcohol and long-term potential for cellar ageing. It’s still such an underappreciated variety that these wines can still be found at very reasonable prices.

A simple search of “Hunter Valley Semillon” will yield a multitude of producers and labels. The ones I have featured above are:

Riesling, for some reason, still has a reputation for being a sweet wine, despite the best Australian examples being predominantly dry. I believe this is due to a combination of older-generation consumers who were brought up on inexpensive imports from Germany (e.g. Blue Nun), as well as the prevalence of very-low price point blended wines that incorporate Riesling.

My selections here are:

The producers I have mentioned here barely scratch the surface. There is truly no shortage of high quality Australian Semillon and Riesling below the AU$50 price point.

Mark’s Premium Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$55 – AU$100

Premium Semillon and Riesling wines exist, but even here the value you can get from the price paid is exceptionally good.

(The best examples will have some maturity, perhaps 5-10 years, and are usually not much dearer than current release.)

Mark’s Picks – Sauvignon Blanc and Blends

March 2024: Price range AU$20 – AU$120

Given the high profile of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc around the world, it’s not surprising that examples from Australia don’t get quite as much attention.

Australia also has many Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blends (also referred to as SSB or SBS, depending on which variety dominates), similar to what can be found in Bordeaux.

No matter what you choose, all of these are great value and would pair well with a wide range of cuisine.

  • Philip Shaw (No. 19, ~AU$30), Orange, NSW
  • Bird In Hand (~AU$25), Adelaide Hills, SA
  • Leeuwin Estate (Art Series, ~AU$33), Margaret River, WA
  • Shaw + Smith (~AU$32), Adelaide Hills, SA
  • Vasse Felix (Classic Dry White SBS, ~AU$20), Margaret River, WA
  • Cullen (Mangan Vineyard SBS, ~AU$40), Margaret River, WA
  • Mount Mary (Triolet SBS, ~AU$120), Yarra Valley, VIC

European → Australian Red Wines

Finally, the rest of the classic, Old World, non-French red varieties, listed below for brevity.

  • Italy
    • Tuscany: Sangiovese
    • Piedmont: Nebbiolo
  • Spain
    • Rioja: Tempranillo
    • Priorat: Grenache

Mark’s Picks

March 2024: Price range AU$25 – AU$100

In particular with Italian and Spanish varieties, I believe there is increasing agreement that these grapes are better suited to Australia’s climate.

However, this doesn’t mean that wine drinkers should expect them to taste like their Old World counterparts.

For example, wines like Barolo (Nebbiolo), Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese) and Rioja (Tempranillo) have stringent legal requirements regarding yield, barrel usage and maturation before sale, depending on the quality level.

Most Australian winemakers would not be able to commit to the time and money costs to produce a wine in the same manner, so it makes sense that most Australian examples are more youthful, fruit-driven and approachable, both in taste and price.

As more winemakers experiment with these Mediterranean varieties, there has been an increase in options for the consumer.

A few of my selections are:

  • Oliver’s Taranga (Grenache, ~AU$32), McLaren Vale, SA
  • Teusner (“Righteous” Grenache, ~AU$100), Barossa Valey, SA
  • Mount Majura (Tempranillo, ~AU$55), Canberra District, NSW
  • SC Pannell (“Dead End” Tempranillo, ~AU$32), McLaren Vale, SA
  • Pizzini (“La Volpe” Nebbiolo, ~AU$30), King Valley, VIC
  • Tar & Roses (Nebbiolo, ~AU$50), Heathcote, VIC
  • Pizzini (“Nonna Gisella” Sangiovese, ~AU$25), King Valley, VIC
  • Tar & Roses (Sangiovese, ~AU$26), Heathcote, VIC

Closing Thoughts

Wine Industry Challenges

Globally, the wine industry is facing the following challenges:

  1. Massive oversupply – incentives to produce grapes for bulk wine have driven down prices, putting pressure on growers. There are already vine-pull schemes in various countries to grub up unprofitable vineyards.
  2. Economic friction – supply chains are still feeling the reverberations from the COVID response, and Australia was badly affected when China imposed extremely high tariffs on Australian wine imports.
  3. Demographic shift – the older generations, who traditionally drank more wine, are slowly shrinking in numbers, and the younger markets (namely Millennials and Gen Z) are not making up the difference. Reasons cited range from health concerns to greater interest in alternative categories (e.g. seltzers and craft beer).

Coming from a background of hospitality and retail, my opinions are better formed on the third point.

Many businesses have tried to encourage Millennials and Gen Z to drink more wine, with questionable success. The top few strategies I have seen are:

  • Repackaging: some brands have updated their labels with a fresh new look.
  • Alt-categories: there has been a flash of attention on pet-nat, orange/skin-contact, “natural” and piquette wines and products, sometimes marketed under the broad umbrella term “Lo-Fi”. Low- and zero-alcohol wines are also seeing increased shelf space.
  • Wine-based products: blended products with wine as a base, e.g. premixed Bellini, Aperol or Limoncello spritzes.

While there is a time and place for all of these, I’m far from certain that these tactics will convince younger generations to drink more wine.

Change of Perspective

Originally I had titled this article “Why There Is An Australian Wine For Every Palate”.

However, while I was trying to remain objective, I felt more and more like I was trying to convince the reader of the excellence of Australian wines, rather than merely presenting them as an alternative to classic, Old World styles.

So I changed the title, aiming to highlight the quality and range of Australian wines without criticizing those of other countries.

I feel there is a certain amount of dumbing-down in wine, as if in response to a perception of old-fashioned snobbery.

I feel part of this is because we underestimate younger consumers. Advertisers and marketers seem to expect them to jump onto the next glittery thing and throw their money at you.

Otherwise, they believe they are giving their customers exactly what they asked for, using sanitized query/response market research methods, taking answers at face value.

From my experience in restaurants and retail, there’s truth to the notion that Millennials and Gen Z gravitate towards well-marketed, commercially known bottles.

But every time I’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation with them, they were interested and engaged, and would often go with my recommendation despite it being slightly dearer. Many times they have come back, thanking me for putting them onto a winner.

If the wine industry is looking to increase wine consumption among younger consumers, going for easy wins might work in the short term, but eventually they may be left with a bitter aftertaste, finally associating that impression with all wine.

Engaging in dialogue, building mutual understanding, has a much higher likelihood of retaining them as long-term customers.

It’s a long-term strategy, and by the end of it yet another younger demographic group will emerge, just approaching legal drinking age. This time around, one hopes their parents can share with them a (responsible) appreciation of wine.

Read more: Losing 10 kg and Ending Snoring – My Experience With Prolonged Fasting


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *