Australia is one of the world powers of wine. The wine industry of Australia is perhaps the most technologically advanced, forward-thinking on earth, and the success of Australian wines around the world is the envy of wine producers in many other countries.
Australia has no native vines. Vinifera (winemaking) grapevines first came to the country in 1788, from South Africa. Today, Australia is famous for its fresh, fruity red and white table wines that are extremely consistent in quality. Australia now ranks sixth in the world in wine production — making slightly more than half as much wine as the United States — and fourth in exports.
Australia has about 2,000 wineries. Many of these wineries are small, family-owned companies, but four mega-companies — Foster’s Wine Group, Constellation Wines, Pernod Ricard, and McGuigan Simeon Wines — together with one family-owned winery, Casella Wines, are responsible for about two-thirds of Australia’s wine production.
Australian winemaking and grapes
Australia’s wine regions are mainly in the southern, cooler part of the country, with many of them clustered in the state of Victoria, the southern part of South Australia, the southern part of Western Australia, and the cooler parts of New South Wales.
Australia’s number-one grape for fine wine is Syrah, locally called Shiraz, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. The wines are generally labeled with the name of their grape variety, which must constitute at least 85 percent of the wine.
Shiraz wines are particularly interesting because they come in numerous styles, from inexpensive, juicy wines brimming with ripe plum and blackberry fruit to serious wines that express specific regional characteristics, such as spice and pepper from cool-climate areas (such as Yarra Valley and the Adelaide Hills) or sweet-fruit ripeness from warmer areas (such as McLaren Vale, Barossa, and Clare).
The wines of Australia have two distinct faces:
Most Australian wines in export markets are inexpensive varietal wines that sell for $10 a bottle or less. These wines are generally labeled simply as coming from South Eastern Australia, meaning that the grapes could have come from any of three states, a huge territory. Often sporting whimsical labels, they are user-friendly wines that preserve the intense flavors of their grapes and are soft and pleasant to drink young.
Higher-priced wines carry more focused regional designations, such as single states (South Australia or Victoria, for example) or even tighter region-specific designations (such as Coonawarra or Yarra Valley). Although these wines are also enjoyable when released, they are more serious wines that can also age. Australia now has 60 wine regions and more than 100 Geographic Indications (GIs).
Unique wine blends from Australia
Although winemakers all over the world make blended wines — wines from more than one grape variety — generally the grape combinations follow the classic French models: Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, for example, or Sémillon with Sauvignon Blanc. Australia has invented two completely original formulas:
- Shiraz with Cabernet Sauvignon
- Semillon with Chardonnay
The grape in the majority is listed first on the wine label for wines sold in the United States, and the percentages of each grape are indicated.