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Wine regions of Australia
By BBC Maestro
If you’re looking for a reliable good wine, you can’t go wrong with a bottle from Australia. But it’s a huge country, with several different wine regions – so which ones should you look out for?
Whether you like white or red, sweet or dry, Australia has something for everyone. Here’s everything you need to know about the wine regions of Australia.
One of the world’s biggest wine producers
Australia has been making wine since the 18th century, and today it’s one of the biggest wine producing regions in the world.
The country produces around 1.2 to 1.3 billion litres of wine every year, with around 800 million litres being exported to other countries and the remaining wine being consumed by the domestic market.
Australia has long been one of the leading innovators in wine, with local wine scientists pioneering new winemaking techniques. Australia is a New World winemaking country, along with other southern hemisphere countries like New Zealand, Argentina and the United States.
While Old World countries like France, Italy and Spain are subject to rigorous rules and regulations, New World winemakers have more freedom to innovate. That means they’re leading the way when it comes to new techniques and new types of wine, like orange wine and biodynamic wine.
The industry in Australia is open-minded and ever-changing, and always has one eye on the changing tastes of consumers.
When it comes to the wine produced in Australia, there really is something for everyone. The country is best known for Shiraz – the Australian name for Syrah – but there are more than 100 grape varieties grown across the country, so there’s something to suit every taste. As Jancis Robinson says in her BBC Maestro course, An Understanding of Wine: “Take your pick, Australia’s got a lot to offer.”
Australian wine regions
Wine is grown across most of Australia, but the biggest wine regions are in the slightly cooler southern states.
The wine industry divides the winemaking areas within the country across geographical lines: South Australia (responsible for more than 40% of all vines), Victoria (where a quarter of vines are grown), New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.
Within each of these regions, there are key areas with particular specialities, including classic Australian wines and up-and-coming varieties. The key sub-regions of Australia to look out for include:
Coonawarra, as Jancis Robinson explains, “is the place for Cabernet Sauvignon.” You can find the Coonawarra region in the Limestone Coast area of Southern Australia, and it produces top-quality wines thanks to the region’s terra rosa soil.
This distinctive soil drains exceptionally well while retaining heat, providing the perfect conditions for grapevine cultivation. That means, as Jancis explains, “the small strip of terra rossa earth gives the wines a noticeably high level of acidity as well as some notes of eucalyptus.”
A Coonawarra Cab Sauv is hard to beat, but you’ll also find superior quality Shiraz and Chardonnay from this region.
Another classic wine region in South Australia, the Adelaide Hills is, as Jancis explains, “a cooler region than most”. Australia’s warm climate doesn’t lend itself particularly well to Sauvignon Blanc – as Jancis explains “much of Australia is too warm for the preservation of Sauvignon Blanc’s characteristically ‘green’ aroma”.
But South Australia’s cooler climate is one area of the country where Sauvignon Blanc does well. Jancis explains that Adelaide Hills, in particular, “is producing a few really nice Sauvignon Blancs to rival New Zealand’s.”
However, there’s more to Adelaide Hills than Sauvignon Blanc. The region also produces excellent Chardonnay, as well as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
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If you’ve tried any Australian red wine, there’s a good chance that it’s Shiraz – and that it’s from the Barossa region. As Jancis says, “Barossa is the great heartland of old Australian wine production. Shiraz rules there, pretty big beefy Shirazes with a lot of history.”
In fact, Barossa is one of the country’s oldest wine-producing regions. Wine has been made here since the 1840s, when a group of Lutherans fleeing religious persecution in Silesia, Prussia, settled in the area. They brought a distinctly German flavour to the region’s wine, and the families working here have had a long time to perfect their rich reds.
The wine produced here comes from the same grapes used to produce France’s Syrah, but it’s called Shiraz in Australia – and, as Jancis confirms, “the vines are identical to the Syrah of the Rhône, but the wines certainly aren't. If black pepper is the French trademark, dark chocolate with a medicinal note is that of Shiraz produced from Australia's hotter vineyards.”
The sweetness of Australian Shiraz comes from the extra warmth in Australia as compared to France. The Barossa Valley has done a lot to boost Australia’s wine reputation. Indeed, Jancis says, “the quality of Barossa Shiraz was responsible for the much-needed re-evaluation of this grape variety in Australia. Nowadays Shiraz is recognised as one of Australia's great wine assets.”
This island off the south coast of Australia is responsible for a small percentage of Australian wine production, but it has enormous potential.
The climate here is cooler than in much of the country, but it still has a lot of sunlight hours, making it perfect for growing wines with a naturally-high acidity and subtle flavours. The region is best known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. As a cooler area of Australia, Tasmania can, as Jancis explains, “produce some more subtle Chardonnay, more reminiscent of Côte d'Or wine in structure if not flavour.”
The region also – as Jancis notes – makes “a lot of nice fizz.” Tasmania is a rising star in the Australian – and international – wine scenes, particularly for its bubbles, so it’s one to look out for the next time you want a bottle of fizz to impress.
Western Australia, as Jancis Robinson explains, is “famous for Margaret River, which is one of the world’s great spots for top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Located close to the Indian Ocean, the Margaret River region has a maritime climate that’s perfect for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s not just Sauvignon Blanc here though – there are plenty of other wines worth trying, including Chardonnay and Semillon.
New South Wales
New South Wales has “a history of making its own special sort of Shiraz and Semillon,” says Jancis Robinson. The region has historically produced a high percentage of the commercial Chardonnay and Shiraz coming out of Australia.
However, the region has suffered from severe drought in recent years, meaning winemakers are turning to new types of wine that are more drought-friendly. That means you’ll now find some excellent Tempranillo and Verdelho from New South Wales, alongside the classic varieties.
We’ve just scratched the surface of Australian wine regions here – there really are endless possibilities when it comes to Australian wine. It’s a case of trying out different varieties from different regions to find your favourite.
Want to find out more about wine, including more information about different wine regions, the history of wine, and how to choose the perfect bottle? Discover Jancis Robinson’s BBC Maestro course, An Understanding of Wine, for tips and tricks from one of the world’s leading wine experts.