Australia is proving that its wines have quality and diversity in abundance.
With a land mass of more than 7.5 million sq km, you could fit England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Australia 30 times, and still have a bit left over. It's not surprising therefore that climates and topography are varied. The best wine-producing regions are located on the southern side of the country.
The climate of individual regions has the greatest influence on wine style, and so the key to unlocking the potential of Australia's wines is understanding the geographical distinction of its vineyards. The five most important wine states in Australia are: Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania.
Great Australian Grape Varieties
Australia successfully grows a range of grapes: cabernet sauvignon, grenache, mourvèdre, and pinot noir in reds; chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc and semillon in whites. But it is perhaps shiraz which deserves the headlines. As Barossa wine producer Peter Lehmann so colourfully said: 'When God invented shiraz, he did it with Australia in mind.' Winemakers are not short of imagination Down Under, so there are plenty of exciting and unusual varieties too, from Mediterranean grapes like tempranillo, sangiovese, verdelho and viognier to esoteric Russian grapes like saperavi.
The isolated state of Western Australia is known for its spectacular scenery, golden-sand beaches and giant Karri tree forests. A relatively cool (in Australian terms) Mediterranean climate of warm, breezy summer days and cool nights dominates the wine-producing areas. The resulting wines tend to combine fruit ripeness with freshness – an unusual combination in Australia – which makes the wines particularly appealing.
This is the heavyweight wine state, producing most of the country's wine and boasting some of the it's oldest vines. The dry, hot climate ripens grapes fully, making bold, dense and concentrated wines. The Barossa Valley has a rich viticultural history with patches of bush-trained vines, many more than 100 years old. It is first and foremost a red wine region. Shiraz is king but cabernet sauvignon, grenache and mourvèdre play an important part, too.
Victoria, with the most diverse conditions for vine-growing, is the most varied of Australia's wine states. Despite having only 30% of the country's total plantings, Victoria boasts the greatest number of wineries of any state. The result is a colourful collection of wine styles, grape varieties and sub-regions. Below we list a selection of the most important.
New South Wales
Australia's first vineyards were planted here in 1788. Today, the state is most famous for the Hunter Valley, where Australia's most delicate, age-worthy white wines are made. Picked early and light in alcohol, Hunter semillon is delicious for its dry, tight structure and lemony fruit which becomes toasty and soft in texture with age. In successful vintages, Hunter shiraz can be outstanding: medium-bodied, earthy and age-worthy.
A place of beautiful landscapes, this quaint island is separated from mainland Australia by the 240km stretch of the Bass Strait, and is a wine lover's and fisherman's dream. Boasting some of the world's finest seafood, its temperate climate makes it Australia's coolest wine producing region. As would be expected, sparkling wine, riesling and chardonnay thrive in Tasmania, but pinot noir can be exceptional, with a delicacy and lift often lacking in wines from the mainland.