There’s much more to Australian wine than oaky Chardonnay and full bodied Shiraz. Australian wine is made from numerous grape varieties in a multitude of styles by over a thousand wineries, not just the well-known brands which have become household names over the last decade. From its niche market 20 years ago, Australia now vies with France for the number one slot in UK wine sales, its most important export market.
Two key factors have underwritten the success of Australian wine: the majority of it is made in a fruit-driven style, focusing on the primary flavours; and its labelling is extremely simple to understand. Instead of a wine being named after a region and producer, the grape variety is usually first and foremost.
With a comparatively reliable climate and state-of-the-art wineries, it’s easier to produce a similar style of wine vintage after vintage – this is great news for the consumer, knowing that the next bottle of the same wine should be every bit as good as the previous one.
Compared with most European countries, Australian winemakers are free of restrictions which dictate vineyard locations and permitted grape varieties; they have the freedom to plant whatever grape variety they choose, though for commercial reasons they will plant the vines which are most suited to their soils and location, with experimental plots of other grape varieties often planted on a small scale. Most regions are famous for two or three key varieties.
With continual investment in modern technology, the Australian wine industry is keen to evolve. In the last few years, the winemakers have paid greater attention to style of the wine, with less reliance on oak and more emphasis on a wine’s ‘sense of place’. Many winemakers have worked a vintage in an Old World wine region such as France’s Languedoc, leaving behind a legacy of modernised practices, but at the same time taking back to Australia a desire to create more elegant and subtle wines.
Created by 12 of the most historic wine producing families in Australia, the First Families of Wine have a combined winemaking heritage spanning more than 1200 years and tend vines in 16 Australian winegrowing regions.
From Coast to Coast
With its size comparable to Europe, Australia is a vast country, over 3,000km wide, and is home to over 35 wine regions. Here’s a little more detail about the key regions and some of our favourite wines …
When it comes to choosing the location for a vineyard, climate is a key factor, and nearly all the regions are located in the southern third of the country, from Margaret River in Western Australia to Hunter Valley in New South Wales, taking in South Australia and Victoria. Small wine regions are also found in Queensland and on the island of Tasmania.
Margaret River is a coastal region with a maritime climate that’s more akin to Bordeaux than Bondi Beach. It focuses on quality rather than quantity and it will come as little surprise that the Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot and Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc are popular. Cape Mentelle Cabernet / Merlot is a fine and complex Aussie-style Bordeaux blend. Cape Mentelle is associated with New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay brand and this wine is made by David Hohnen, one of Australia’s finest winemakers. The vineyard is one of the oldest in the region, planted in 1970.
Higher quality often means higher prices and Palandri Pinnacle Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc is exceptional value from Western Australia. The Aussies often refer to this blend simply as ‘SSB’ and this particular example comes from Palandri’s Margaret River and Great Southern vineyards. Although the Palandri name was launched internationally as recently as 1998, the Palandri family have had a long association with this region’s wine industry, with the late Giovanni Palandri migrating from Italy in 1949. Palandri wine labels rather appropriately depict reptiles found in the region.
South Australia is the heart of the Australian wine industry and is the location of the Barossa Valley – home to the headquarters of many of the large wine companies. A series of valleys and hills encompasses a dozen wine regions, all less than an hour’s drive from Adelaide; between them they produce nearly half of the country’s grapes.
The Barossa valley is famed for its Shiraz, made in a full and intense style. A typical example is Peter Lehmann Shiraz – it’s smooth and jam-packed full of spicy fruit. Peter Lehmann himself has been responsible for much of Barossa’s history. He made a bold move in the late 1970s, buying excess grapes from independent growers, making them into wine and then paying the growers when the wine was sold. This kept many of them afloat and they later formed a consortium to build a new winery which is now owned by Peter Lehmann, his staff and his growers.
Adjacent to Barossa is the Eden Valley. Higher in altitude, it’s South Australia’s coolest wine region and has a longer growing season. Rainfall is greater than the Barossa Valley but, like many Australian vineyards, irrigation is essential to provide the vines with enough water. White grape varieties are grown too. Henschke Louis Semillon is a stunning fine white wine that’s delicious with a variety of dishes, particularly trout, salmon or pork. Another food-friendly grape variety is Viognier and Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier is a great example. Similar in style to Viogniers from the northern Rhône, it also has a lifted spice and lychee character which makes it a perfect partner for Oriental dishes, particularly stir-fries.
Immediately south of Adelaide is McLaren Vale. Viognier vines are planted here too, and d'Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne / Viognier combines two northern Rhône varieties to great effect to make another superb food wine. Try it with pork, either grilled or Oriental style. D’Arenberg has almost a century of history, having been founded by former Hardys director Joseph Osborn in 1912. His grandson d’Arry and great-grandson Chester Osborn maintain the family’s traditions and grow an extremely wide variety of grapes, all to an exceptional standard.
Elsewhere in McLaren Vale, Shiraz is produced in a full bodied and rich style. One of the pioneers of McLaren Vale was John Reynell, who planted the first vines in 1839. The town of Reynella was named after him, as is the ever-popular Chateau Reynella Basket Pressed Shiraz. This is one of the few wines to be made using a basket press which gently presses the fermenting grapes extracting only the favoured soft tannins and rich flavours.
Equidistant from Adelaide and Melbourne is the tiny region of Coonawarra, famous for its terra rossa (red earth). This strip of land is 18km long and between 200m and 1.5km wide. Underneath this magical soil is a constant table of pure water, perfect for viticulture. Coonawarra produces Cabernet Sauvignon of the highest order, with immense varietal character.
Victoria is the most diverse state, with regions producing red, white and sweet wines. They produce sublime Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and these varieties are often combined to produce sparkling wines. Green Point is made by Moët & Chandon’s state-of-the-art winery in the Yarra Valley. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes are used to produce a classy sparkling wine that combines the best champenois and Australian experience and technology.
New South Wales comprises a lesser known collection of wine regions, but like the rest of Australia each one focuses on the varieties which grow best. Hunter Valley, for example, specialises in Semillon and aged examples are world class. Further inland, Orange is a relatively new wine region, established in 1983 around the town of the same name. Over 60 varieties have been planted and the vineyards are located between 600-1000m , some of the highest in Australia and also some of the coolest. This cool-climate region is ideal for Sauvignon Blanc. Philip Shaw No.19 Sauvignon Blanc exhibits amazing power and varietal character. Philip Shaw himself has twice been awarded the title of IWSC International Winemaker of the Year.
The island of Tasmania produces just 1% of Australia’s wine. However, its cool climate produces some of the best wines in the country, with a heritage approaching 200 years. Domaine A Lady A Fumé Blanc is a cult, oak-fermented, Sauvignon Blanc made in the Fumé style from Tasmania. Inspired by Bordeaux’s crisp whites, it is fresh yet the oak ageing adds depth and smoky hints of cedar.
Much of Australia’s wine is labelled as SE Australia, which encompasses all wine regions within South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. This classification allows the winemaker to source grapes from more than one region to blend to a particular style. Banrock Station Sparkling Shiraz benefits from this wider geographical classification. Ed Carr, the winemaker, selects ripe Shiraz base wines from Riverland, Padthaway, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley for their richness of flavours and softness of tannins to make a delicious yet unusual sparkling red which can match a diverse range of food, from roast turkey to chocolate mousse.
Barramundi Semillon / Chardonnay, SE Australia
Named after a popular local ocean fish this zesty white with juicy peach and tangy citrus flavours has a fresh soft finish.
Hardys Crest Chardonnay / Sauvignon Blanc, SE Australia
This seasoned white offers a delightful and intense array of peaches, citrus and pineapple fruit with a soft and creamy texture.
Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, New South Wales
Deliciously peachy with layers of biscuit, this wine has a soft creamy texture that lingers on the finish. It will continue to improve over the next five years.
Wolf Blass Presidents Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, S Australia
A rich, full-bodied wine with notes of ripe blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Hints of spice and chocolate linger on the finish due to ageing in oak barrels.
Barramundi Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon, SE Australia
This Aussie version of the traditional claret blend combines soft, rounded, satisfying ripe blackberry and plum flavours with a subtle hint of vanilla oak.
Hardys Crest Cabernet / Merlot, SE Australia
Elegant ripe blackcurrant and cherry fruit and a smooth finish enhanced by hints of mint and vanilla from ageing in French and American oak barrels.
Hardys Stamp Shiraz / Cabernet Sauvignon, SE Australia
The classic Australian pairing – Shiraz gives warmth and roundness of flavour and Cabernet Sauvignon lends elegance and ripe blackcurrant fruit.
Jacob's Creek Grenache / Shiraz, SE Australia
Still one of Australia's favourite 'top drops', the original Jacob's Creek red has a style which has developed into a more serious wine to enjoy with lamb, steak or game.