Australia has become synonymous with New World wine and is now arguably one of the best-known and most popular wine producing countries on the planet. One would think that this is due to the hot climate that most of the continent enjoys, but much of Australia’s best wines come from its coolest areas. Within the continent, there are many sub-climates, many of which are ideal for growing grapes. This combined with the expertise and knowledge built up in the wine-making industry has meant that, in 2002, Australia became the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world. Today, more and more Australian wine is ending up on the UK’s dinner tables.
Australia is a huge country, so at first glance it might seem odd that all of the wine growing areas are focused on the south coast. However, it’s in this geographical band that conditions are ideal for growing grapes.
Essentially, there are four main region groupings in Australia. These are South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. Each has their own sub-regions with distinctive terroir and characteristics that set them apart from their counterparts.
Climate and Terroir
Wine experts argue whether there is any distinctive terroir for wine in Australia. For any grape variety many different styles of wine can be found. Widespread use of modern technology is a key feature of Australian winemaking. However, this may be a significant factor in the success of Australia’s wine. Many wine drinkers are drawn to Australian wine not only because of its accessibility and the basics of balance and flavour, but also its reliable quality. By no means is this a criticism of Australian wines. There have been many wines over the years that have matched or even exceeded similar priced wines from France.
What is certain is that soil type can be very different in Australia and this can have a huge impact on the characteristics of many of the wines. One only has to look at the iron-rich terra rossa soil in the Coonawarra region; soil like this is found in few places in the world and doesn’t exist at all in France. The influence of the terra rossa is most notable with Cabernet Sauvignon wines as Coonawarra is the source of some of Australia’s best examples of these wines.
The wide range of sub-climates within such a huge country has an effect too. For example, the hot days and cool nights of the Barossa Valley contribute to great red wines. While the Yarra Valley is more conducive to growing grape varieties that do well in cooler climes, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.In the west, the Margaret River region benefits from a cooling maritime breeze and this too has an effect on the wines from this region.
Grapes and Wines
Today there are few grape varieties that Australian growers haven’t experimented with, in one form or another. Shiraz is considered by many as Australia’s premier red wine grape variety. Other popular varieties that are grown include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Riesling.
Did You Know?
2000 was the first year that Britain imported more wine from Australia than France.
Although Shiraz is the Australian name for the French grape Syrah, many other world producers are labelling their Syrah as ‘Shiraz’ in an effort to emulate the Australian’s success in producing superb Shiraz.
Australia is one of the best places to visit for a vineyard tour as many wineries have excellent restaurants allowing wine tasting with superb food (restaurant reservations recommended!).