Introduction

Australia’s past as a penal colony may not seem the most promising for the production of fine wine, but the country has successfully used its chequered past in the marketing of wines that are gutsy, full-bodied and in recent years increasingly fine. The country has a land area that is as large as that of the United States and bigger than that of Europe, so there is a huge variety of terrain and climate. Australian wine makers are increasingly experimenting with grape varieties, moving beyond Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc and trying varietals from across Europe. Most of the vines are grown in the south and southeast, but Western Australia is emerging as a new powerhouse, albeit with its own rich history of wine-making. The continent has a warm/hot climate but the moderating influence of the Southern Ocean have allowed for a rich diversity of styles.

Macroeconomic Overview

Australia has one of the largest Asia-Pacific economies, with GDP $1.3 trillion produced by a population of only 25 million people. This huge economic presence comes primarily from its commodity wealth: the country produces everything from coal to LNG and uranium, and most of these are exported. The agricultural sector is also highly developed: exports are dominated by meat, wheat and wool, but wine has a growing share.

Australian coastline (km)

Viticulture and Climate

The climate of Australia ranges from desert heat in the north to cooler regions in the south, either where the land is higher or in the coastal regions which are cooled by the Southern Ocean and the Indian ocean. Because this is the Southern hemisphere, it is the southern part of the region that is furthest from the equator and therefore where it is coolest. This area is cooled by sea breezes from the Indian Ocean and the cool currents of the southern Ocean. Inland, the Murray River also provides cooling influences. Despite this, the whole region is subject to bush fires, whose smoke can leave an acrid taint on the grapes, and which regularly destroy large tracts of land. Moreover, the Murray River can run low, reducing the flow of water available in the Riverland and Murray-Darling regions. Altitude also provides cooling influences, especially inland. Among the areas cooled by altitude are the Eden and Clare Valleys, and Tasmania.

Black Grape Varieties

The most widely grown grape is Syrah, known in Australia as Shiraz.In the Hunter Valley and the hot Barossa Valley, Shiraz produces vines full of black fruit and pepper which over times forms complex flavous of spice, leather and earth. Lighter fruitier styles with lower extraction of tannins are found in regions that are cooler such as Geelong and Heathcote. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in such areas as Coonawarra and Margaret River, where it is often concentrated in flavour with black fruit and firm tannins, and a dark colour. These wines are often allowed to mature in new oak which gives them a toasty flavour. Merlot may be blended in to smooth and soften the flavours, as is done in Bordeaux. Most of the country’s Pinot Noir is grown in the cooler regions of Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania. These typically have the characteristic red fruit flavours of strawberry and raspberry, but often there are more complex nuances. In hotter regions, Australian winemakers experimented with other classic grapes such as Grenache, as well as non-noble grapes such as Sangiovese from Italy, Mataro from Spain and Petit Verdot from France.

White Grape Varieties

Chardonnay is Australia’s number 1 white grape, although this is closely followed by Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is grown across the country, in both cooler regions such as the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and the moderate climate Adelaide Hills as well as hotter regions such as Margaret River in Western Australia. The grape expresses itself in a range of styles ranging from fresh and acidic unoaked to more complex oaked styles which use MLF to soften and enrich the flavour. is most widespread. Next most widely cultivated is Sauvignon Blanc, reaching its apotheosis in the moderate climes of the Adelaide Hills which has become the benchmark location for this grape. Semillion can be used for both still and sparkling wines, but in the Hunter Valley it is grown and fermented in a unique way to make a long-ageing style that can be aged up to 20 years. This involves picking the grapes early and then minimizing contact with oxygen in the fermentation. The wines produced from this process start with neutral flavours but over time develop complex nut, honey and toast flavours. Semillon is also grown in Western Australia, where it has fresher more herbaceous flavours. Riesling is made in some higher altitude areas such as Eden Valley and Clare Valley, as well as in Tasmania. These wines are unoaked and dry or off-dry and overtime they develop flavours of honey, toast and petrol. In the Frankland River region of western Australia, the Riesling often has more citrus and floral flavous.

Regional Analysis

Western Australia

Perth is the capital of western Australia, and most of the wines gown in this region are on the south coast around 200 km south of the regional capital. The Margaret River region is best established but the regions of Mount Barker, Frankland River and the Southernn coastal region are showing promise.

Margaret River

Margaret River in the southwest corner of this region is the best known wine region in Western Australia. The region has a warm maritime climate, with rainfall mainly in the winter months. The most familiar red wines are Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while the whites are made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnays have good acidity and stone fruit flavours, often rounded by barrel ageing and MLF, while the Sauvignon Blanc often has tropical fruit and gooseberry flavours, and is often made as a blend with Semillion.

Other Western Australia

The sub-regions of Frankland River, Mount Barker and the Southern Coastal Region produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Rieslings.

 

South East Australia

This huge “super-zone” covers the states of New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Within this wide regions, many premium regions exist but good wines also use the generic South-East Australia and South Australia designation as this allows grapes to be drawn in from various parts of the zone for optimal belnding . The main cities here include Adelaide in the southwest, Sydney in the east, Melbourne and Brisbane on the southern coast.

Southern Australia

Southern Australia is another large region that allows grapes to be grown around the state and then labelled using this wide GI.

The Barossa Valley

The Barossa valley zone is just north of Adelaide. From its low bush wines, brilliant Shiraz, often matured in American oak, is produced, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and a few other reds. Best known for its reds, the region is also reputed for its Semillon which is produced in a light unoaked style. The Barossa is a large wine zone, but several premium areas exist within it, usually at higher altitudes.

Adelaide Hills

This is a warm to moderate climate region located 25 km to the east of Adelaide. It is high up, with most of the cultivated slopes above 400 meters in altitude, and although it receives plentiful winter rainfall, the soil is of a type that does not readily hold water so irrigation is needed for much of the growing season. The mild climate encourages the growth of Pinot Noir as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. These produce pleasantly acidic still wines but can also be used to make sparkling wines.

Eden Valley

Eden Valley is a sub-region within the Barossa Zone. Located in the east Barossa hills, it has a cool to moderate climate, and is best known for its Rieslings, which have lime and grapefruit flavours that mature to complex marmalade and toast flavours. The region also grows Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Clare Valley

Clare Valley is also a sub-region within the Barossa Zone, and the climate and altitude are similar to that of the Eden Valley. Located in the northwest of the Barossa egion, it has a cool to moderate climate, and altitudes range from 300-570 meters. This region is also known for Rieslings, which have lime and citrus flavours that mature to complex honey and toast flavours. The region also grows Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with ageing potential.

McLaren Vale

The McLaren Vale region lies to the south of Adelaide. Because of its coastal location, it is subject to cooling sea breezes. The region is known for its black grape varieties which include: Shiraz, Grenache, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Coonawarra

The Coonawarra region is famed for its full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon which has concentrated flavours of cherry, with hints of menthol and eucalyptus. Shiraz and Merlot are also grown and white grapes include chardonnay.

Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley is a hot, humid growing region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing range in New South Wales. The valley produces significant volumes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, as well as Chardonnay and Semillon. The latter is produced in a distinctive style; a light, low alcohol .and neutral tasting wine is produced, which has complex flavours of honey, nut and toast when matured. Chardonnay is made in both oaked and unoaked styles. Shiraz from this region typically has soft tannins and earthy flavours.

Because of the humidity, and the frequency of rain falling during the harvest period, good canopy management is required to minimize the risk of fungal diseases. Within this region, there are several sub-regions, including Mudgee, Orange and Cowra, which benefit from cooling breezes from the coast.

Victoria

The southern state of Victoria is among the coolest regions in Australia. The vineyards are located all around the state capital of Melbourne, and are cooled by the ocean breezes especially around the Port Philip Bay. The Macedon Ranges and Upper Goulburn also benefit from cooling from altitude. The region poduces high quality reds, mainly from Pinot Noir, although lighter styles of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are also made. Among white varieties, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc all flourish in the cooler climes.

Yarra Valley

The Yarra Valley lies to the north east of Melbourne. The cool to moderate maritime climate allows for cultivation of high quality Pinot Noir, which often forms the base for sparkling wines. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown in a variety of styles, typically lighter and fruitier. Chardonnay is the main white variety. As with the Mornington Peninsula, the variable climate means that yields are often inconsistent.

Mornington Peninsula

The Mornington Peninsula lies to the south of Melbourne and has a cool to moderate maritime climate. The region is cooled by mist and fog from the southern seas, and grape yields can be highly variable because of cool, wet and windy weather at flowering and at harvest time. The cool weather means this is another good region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the latter typically tasting of citrus, pear and apple, with acidity often soften by the use of MLF.

Geelong

The Geelong sub-region lies to the west of Melbourne. Similarly to the Yarra and Monington regions, the maritime climate is fickle and leads to variable yields. The cooler, fresher ocean climate allows for the production of complex, full bodied Chardonnay, as well as earthy, peppery Shiraz and Pinot Noir that is also used for making sparkling wines.

Heathcote

Heathcote lies inland, but the high altitude provides a cooling influence. This region has been experimenting with grape varieties indigenous to southern Europe, including Sangiovese from Italy and Tempranillo form Spain. Heathcote also produces some fresher styles of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Goulburn

Also inland, Goulburn has a warm to hot climate, although creeks and rivers provide moderating influences. This region has also experimented with grapes that are new to Australia, notably using Marsanne to make rich, honeyed white wines.

 

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