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An Introduction to Australian and New Zealand Wines

Australia

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An International Success

Australia is now the fourth largest wine exporter in the world. It exports about half of the wine it produces – over 400 million liters. In the past 30 years, Australian wines have developed a reputation for quality – especially in certain wine grape varieties.

Australia is part of the “New World” of wine producers. Australian viticulturalists have a reputation for being able to blend traditional wine-making processes with innovation in bottling, grape breeding and growing technologies including vine canopies.

Australia only produces about 40% of the volume of the USA but yet has 8% of the global export market, while America has 6%. This international success has been explained by a “fruit forward” wine profile. “Fruit forward” is not about sweetness, but about the initial onset of the fruit taste. This has tended to make Australian wine more approachable for new wine drinkers.

Varieties

The Australian public has long preferred white wine over red. Part of this may be due to the fact that a cold glass of white goes well in a hot climate. However, Australians’ penchant for white is no longer so overwhelming. As Australians have warmed to the idea of producing world-class reds, white wine has lost some of its domestic market share.

In 1986, over 80% of domestic table wine sold in Australia was white. Now that figure has fallen below 60%.

Australia produces grape varieties in both colors. Of the red grape varieties, the most celebrated are Shiraz (also known as Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The major varieties of white grape include (in order of volume produced) Chardonnay, Sémillon, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

French wines are named for their “appellation” (the region they were grown in). On the other hand, Australian wines are labeled per their grape variety, rather than their appellation. Therefore you see Australian wines labeled as “Riesling,” “Merlot,” “Semillon Chardonnay” or “Cabernet Shiraz” and not “Hunter Valley,” “Barossa Valley” or “Margaret River.”

Regions & Wineries

There are over 50 wine-growing regions in Australia. Over 60% of Australian wine grapes are red. While grapes are now planted in the states of Queensland and Tasmania, most of Australia’s vines are concentrated in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

South Australia

South Australia produces more wine than any other Australian state. Set in picturesque rolling hillsides, South Australian vineyards are blessed with cool winters, warm summers and a long ripening season.

The most famous regions in South Australia include the Barossa Valley, known for its bold Shiraz, the Clare Valley, known for its fruity, dry Rieslings, the Adelaide Hills, for the best cold-climate grapes in Australia, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Limestone Coast, known as “the Bordeaux of Australia,” is where the vines grow in rich, red “Terra Rossa” soil and which is home to regions such as the Coonawarra and Padthaway.

New South Wales

Australia’s oldest and some of its best known wine regions can be found in New South Wales (NSW). You don't have to travel too far outside of Sydney to come across your first vineyard. New South Wales’ 14 wine-growing regions are spread out through this huge state and the result is real diversity in the wines produced.

The best-known regions in NSW include the Murray Darling, the Hunter Valley, the Riverina, Southern Highlands and Tumbarumba. Half of wine produced in NSW finds its way to shelves in the USA.

Victoria

With over 500 wineries in 22 different regions, Victoria offers locals and tourists a full food and wine experience.

Five wine-growing regions can be found on Melbourne’s doorstep. These include some of Victoria’s best such as the Yarra Valley, the Macedon Ranges and the Mornington Peninsula.

Victoria produces some of Australia’s best “méthode champenoise” and sparkling wines. Vineyards such as Chateau Yering and Domain Chandon both export large volumes of their popular sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay to North America.

Western Australia

Western Australia is home to some of Australia’s most exciting emerging wineries. Vines are now grown from the Coral Coast (North of Perth) to the cooler Southern climates of Margaret River, the Swan Valley and Albany.

Margaret River, especially, has become known for its great wine. Its 60 or so wineries produce only 1% of Australia’s wine, but 15% of Australia’s premium wine. Wineries in Margaret River include: Vasse Felix, Leeuwin Estate, Mad Fish and Evans & Tate.

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