Let us start with two points:
- Australia is huge; Western Europe would fit comfortably inside it.
- Australia is (generally) hot.
Consider Western Europe, with so many countries within it producing so many different styles of wine. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal and so on.
Now think of Australia, the island continent. In an area of this size, it is not surprising to find as large a range of wine styles as there is in Western Europe – red, white, rosé, sparkling, dessert and fortified wines can all be found here.
And while Australia is generally hot, it is in the marginally cooler climate areas (mainly in the southern parts of the country) where the more interesting wines can be found, and where wine production is focused.
States and Regions
South Australia is the most important wine producing state by far in terms of volume, value, or general global market awareness.
The top four regions (and their varieties), and the ones you will most likely see on labels at your local shop, are:
- Barossa Valley: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot
- McLaren Vale: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache
- Coonawarra: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
- Clare Valley: Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon
Hot climates can yield very ripe fruit, and the best example of this is Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, which can be very full bodied and jammy. The best examples can age up to a decade or more.
The Clare Valley is a marked contrast, generally cooler, and famous for their clean, crisp Rieslings with searing acidity, the hallmark of a cooler climate. These wines usually need many years aging to show their full potential.
New South Wales
The most well-known region here is:
- Hunter Valley: Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon
The Hunter Valley, just two hours drive from Sydney, is very hot, and viticulture would not be possible without the humidity, cloud cover and rainfall that helps to moderate the conditions (water, in the Rule of L.A.W.)
Hunter Semillon is one of Australia’s iconic wine styles, a long-lived dry white wine that can age decades. They can be neutral when young, but as they evolve they can show nutty, honeyed, and toasted characters. Despite being from a hot region, these wines are low alcohol (~10%) as the grapes are often picked early, which also gives it higher acidity.
Victoria is further south and much cooler than many of the other states. Much of the cool-climate grapes here (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) also go into sparkling wine production.
Regions you will likely see:
- Geelong: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz
- Mornington Peninsula: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
- Yarra Valley: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir,
- Rutherglen: Fortified wines (Liqueur Muscats)
Rutherglen Liqueur Muscats are Australia’s unique gift to the world, a fortified wine unlike any other. Examples over a century old can still be found, still tasting fresh with a hauntingly long finish.
An area where excellent quality can be found. It has been said that while Western Australia makes less than 5% of the country’s wines, they wine 30% of the medals.
Regions you may see:
- Margaret River: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz
- Great Southern: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon
The Great Southern region is broken up into five sub-regions, which may appear on the label by itself. They are:
- Frankland River
- Mount Barker
The coolest state of all, this little island lies just south of the Australian mainland.
There are no officially recognised regions within the state, but you may come across references to the following:
- Coal River Valley
- Tamar Valley
Being a cool-climate area, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown extensively, and take up ~66% of the state’s plantings. Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris also do well here.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot typically need warmer areas to ripen adequately, but there are a small number of producers in very specific sites that can ripen these successfully.
I count myself fortunate to be living and working in a country with such a huge diversity of wine offerings. While I managed to get this article to less than 1,000 words, it was at the expense of leaving out many interesting, but small, regions. My advice is simply to keep an open mind and try everything that you can.
The Australian wine industry works very hard to promote itself domestically and around the world. With so much quality and choice, you can always find a wine that will be perfect for you.
Read more: 5 Reasons To Have Wine On A Date