While the grapes grown in Australia were predominantly French in origin, an influx of Italian and Spanish varietals have made their mark across the country.
Here in Australia, over 100 grape varieties are planted across 65 distinct regions. It’s a young wine-growing country, especially (when compared with our Old World counterparts, but one teeming with innovation, as appellation controls do not restrict us. This freedom allows our winemakers and viticulturists to experiment with styles and adapt quickly to the effects of an ever-changing agricultural climate.
Like most emerging wine regions, the Australian wine landscape was shaped by French viticulture. The grapes grown and the wines drunk were dominantly French in origin — Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Over the last twenty years, an influx of Italian, Spanish, and Greek varietals have begun to make their mark across Australia and are now becoming commonplace among wine enthusiasts all over the country.
There are common perceptions of each of Australia's wine states; New South Wales has our oldest wine region, South Australia has the most land under vines and the majority share of the Australian grape harvest. FrFrom historic pre-phylloxera vines to emerging varietals to six-generational families making wine and the newest vignerons carving their own path, the land down under has it all.
New South Wales
With a wine history that stretches back some 180 years, making it one of Australia's oldest wine regions, the Hunter Valley is home to Australia's legacy Chardonnay, Shiraz and Semillon vines. For all the Chablis lovers, textural and mineral-driven Semillon from this region will be your cup of tea, especially from the Tyrrell's family 100-year-old vines. Hunter Semillon is know for its chalky, mineral-drive qualities alongside lemon curd and pink grapefruit pith notes. All of this gives a backbone to the wine to have incredible legibility, well into the 50 year mark where it turns into almond kernel and dried apricot flavors.
While a sense of tradition permeates the region, the wine community has breathed a renewed life into the Hunter over the past decade. Newer generations are reinvigorating the styles of wines being grown and crafted in this historic region by planting varieties such as Touriga Nacionaland adopting regenerative agricultural practices. Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz will always be the thing the Hunter hangs its hat on but future planning because of climate change means we've got to look to other varietals to supplement what we grow in tougher years.
Also in New South Wales, Orange has always been a food and drink lover's paradise. While Orange is a relatively young wine region regarding vine age (with the first commercial vines planted in 1980), there is a sense of community that is prevalent among the wineries that make it feel like they've all been around for a lot longer. The drawcard for planting grapes here has always been the elevation, sitting between 376 to 1390 meters above sea level (or 1230 to 4560 ft). People are already starting to notice new life flowing through Orange with well-crafted and aged sparkling wines and different varieties for the region, such as Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc, alongside the stalwarts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Other regions to keep an eye on: Hilltops, Tumbarumba, Mudgee, Canberra District
Victoria, in the mainland's south, is home to Australia's two most prolific regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; the Yarra Valley and Macedon Ranges. In particular, flaunting its credentials as Australia's coldest mainland wine region (Tasmania down south takes the cake for the coldest in the whole of Australia), the Macedon Ranges' rich volcanic soils and high altitude are the perfect ecosystems for crafting taut, otherworldly mineral-driven styles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Not to be overshadowed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the rest of the state, the Mornington Peninsula is Australia's “spiritual home” of Pinot Gris/Grigio. In the late 80s, winemakers Kevin McCarthy & Kathleen Quealy took cuttings to the Mornington Peninsula to create the first mass planting of Pinot Gris. Their first commercial release was in 1993.
Other regions to keep an eye on: Gippsland, Beechworth, King Valley
South Australia’s wine regions are responsible for almost 50% of Australia’s annual grape crush, the state showcases a great breadth of diversity in its regions from the classic sixth-generational family owned and operates sites in McLaren Vale and the Barossa to the innovative minds starting their first labels in places such as the Adelaide Hills. There is nothing more classic and quintessential than a glass of Australian Shiraz. It's the wine that put Australia on the international wine-drinking radar and is grown in every wine region across the country; we often joke it's our “national” grape.
Nowhere is more iconic for Shiraz than South Australia; with a vine history dating back to 1842 (from original French cuttings), the Barossa has the oldest continuing Shiraz vines in the world. The Barossa wine region incorporates both the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley sub-regions, making the area one of the only in Australia to have neighboring warm and cool climate growing conditions. This diversity of temperatures within the GI (Geographical Indicator) creates an incredible variety of Shiraz, Grenache and other classic red varietals across the 11,609 hectares of vineyards planted here.
But South Australia is not just made up of six-generation families and legacy producers; the region has long been an incubator for new winemaking talent who stay to make wine from these historic sites. McLaren Vale is a tale of innovation and tradition, co-existing side by side in one region; this intersection of sunshine, sea and sand (sand-based soils) is what makes the region so unique and perfect for growing Mediterranean varieties such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Nero d'Avola.
The Adelaide Hills has often been seen as the birthplace of the natural wine movement in Australia, producing some of the most avant-garde styles that push the boundaries. The innovation in this region has had ripple effects throughout the whole country with the adoption of skin-contact styles, fermenting in amphora, and other techniques that have been popping up in more traditional winemaking regions.
Other regions to keep an eye on: Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, Riverland, Clare Valley
Tasmania is Australia's most southern wine-growing state (running parallel to the South Island of New Zealand. In the 1970s, farmers joked that it was too cold to grow anything in Tasmania, fast forward 50 years later, and its southern wine regions like Coal River Valley and Huon Valley are home to sparkling wines that dominate on a global stage.Because of the lower rainfall and cooler temperatures, makes the Southen Tasmania wine regions suitable for organic management and perfect climate for the three dominant grape varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
The northern wine-growing regions of Tasmania boast a history of Pinot Noir vineyards dating back to the 1820s. Thirty minutes outside Launceston are the Tamar Valley and Pipers River sub-regions, where we start to see the distinct differences in the styles of Pinot Noir crafted here. Piper's is significantly cooler and wetter than a region like West Tamar, so we see wines with a racier and higher acidity alongside a red-fruited spectrum. Whereas in the Tamar, where the bulk of the northern vineyards are, produces more muscular wines with a darker fruit spectrum.
When we talk about Western Australian wine's legacy, Margaret River will most likely jump to the forefront of people's minds. But a spot often overlooked is its northern neighbor, the Swan Valley, a region which has been continually growing grapes since 1829, and is known for its outstanding Chenin Blancs. These wines are crafted in the drier iteration (think lemon pith, seaside minerality and lots of green apple characters) as opposed to the more opulent French styles.
One of the benchmark examples of an Australian region that is adopting sustainable viticultural and winemaking practices is the Margaret River, which is three hours drive south of the capital city Perth and home to some of the most iconic biodynamic and organic wineries. From the 'high priestess of biodynamics' in Australia, Vanya Cullen at Cullen Wines to the regenerative agriculture and now complete conversion to organic viticulture of their 30+-year-old vines at Voyager Estate.
Other regions to keep an eye on: Great Southern, Pemberton