Australia is known for its extraordinary wildlife, hot climate, and vast landscapes. But it’s more than kangaroos and red desserts, as the Great Outback is home to many prolific wine regions.
Needless to say, Australia has a rich culture, and while you can learn a lot about it from books and documentaries, you can also learn a lot about its history and development just by studying its amazing wine scene. And it’s not all about Shiraz ‒ as fantastic as it is, there’s much more to Australia than that. Being one of the driest countries on the planet, Australia relies heavily on irrigation from its rivers, in particular the Murray River. Using this as their water supply, winemakers have transformed what could be near desert conditions into thriving and fertile vineyards.
Australia’s wines are as diverse as the continent itself. The vineyards of Australia cover 170 000 hectares in different wine regions in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and a smaller area in Queensland.
Australia produces only around 4% of the world’s wine, but it is among the top five wine exporting countries in the world, which is quite impressive considering its size and population.
The most renowned Australian wine regions from west to south-east:
- Margaret River (Western Australia) (Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz)
- Barossa (South Australia) (Shiraz)
- Coonawara (South Australia) (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot)
- Adelaide Hills (South Australia)
- McLaren Vale (South Australia) (Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay)
- Clare Valley (South Austrlia) (Chardonnay, Sémillon, Riesling)
- Hunter Valley (New South Wales) (Sémillon, Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon)
- Yarra Valley (Victoria) (Chardonnay, Pinot noir)
- Rutherglen (Victoria) (Shiraz, Durif)
- Heathcode (Victoria) (Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon)
- Mornington Peninsula (Victoria) (Pinot gris, Pinot noir, Chardonnay)
- Tasmania (Riesling, Pinot noir)
Australia's Wine Regions
Shiraz is the most famous variety in Australia, and it is famous all around the world, especially in Canada. However, Australia doesn’t make just Shiraz – there are 155 grape varieties. Some of them are well known, like Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Cabernet, and some of them are just starting to be popular, like Montepulciano, Moscato, and Vermentino.
New South Wales
It may be one of Australia’s smallest regions in terms of volume, but New South Wales is hugely significant in the wine world. Not only can it claim to be the birthplace of Australian wine (dating back to 1828), it is home to one of the country’s most famous regions, the Hunter Valley.
Hunter Valley’s international recognition becomes all the more impressive when you consider it makes up less than 3% of Australia’s total wine production. While known for world-class Semillon (considered to be up there with some of the best produced in Bordeaux), this region also makes some cracking Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as some bullish, long-lived Shiraz. Semillon is most certainly the jewel in its crown, although Verdelho is starting to make a real comeback in this region – definitely one to watch!
South Australia is the heart of the Australian wine industry, and has an absolute wealth of wine gems covering every single price level. It makes more than half of the country’s total production and contains some of its most famous names in regional terms. Barossa Valley is one of South Australia’s most prestigious regions, renowned for producing intense and complex Shiraz that will knock your socks off! It’s nestled between areas that produce outstanding white wines. Directly either side of Barossa are Eden Valley and Clare Valley, both famous the world over for Riesling. Further along the coast, the Adelaide Hills is where world-class Chardonnay is grown, as well as Rieslings that have risen in popularity in a way that has taken German Rieslings centuries to achieve.
A little further south you’ll find one of Australia’s most historic wine regions, McLaren Vale, which has old vines that have been growing for over 100 years. This is a great region for big, bold reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, the Coonawarra area is fantastic for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon that rivals even the most prestigious to come out of Bordeaux.
Once a much larger and more significant part of the wine scene in Australia, Victoria has gone a little under the radar in the last few decades while other wine regions have stolen the limelight. It may have taken a back seat, but this dynamic and varied area is certainly not one to be overlooked. For a start, Victoria is home to Yarra Valley, which produces some of the best Pinot Noirs in the whole of Australia, along with some exquisite sparkling wines using Chardonnay and local varieties. Here the climate is pretty cool, giving winegrowers enviable vineyards similar to those of the Champagne region in north eastern France!
Rutherglen is another name you may hear, known for producing top-class Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Semillon and beautiful sticky dessert wines to die for. While along Victoria’s newer coastal regions, you’ll find the cooler climate Geelong, where delicate Pinot Noirs are the cream of the crop.
Although Western Australia is actually quite a vast swathe of the country’s land mass, wine is produced only at the southernmost tip. In percentage terms, this area accounts for a tiny amount of the country’s total wine production, but is home to some of the biggest heavyweights in terms of quality of wine, including the Margaret River region.
Western Australia was originally renowned for its dessert wines, however it was an experimental dry white wine made in 1937 that changed everything and put it firmly on the world’s wine radar. Today there are over 160 grape growers and producers in the Margaret River area alone, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most talked about variety to come out of this region. Western Australia also produces some outstanding Chardonnay, along with Shiraz, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.