Australian wine regions

Australian wine regions

Australia is a large country--Margaret River is further from the Hunter Valley than Jerez in Spain is from Tokaji in Hungary--so, despite the distinctive national approach to wine, Australian wines are not all the same. The wines of Margaret River and of the Hunter Valley differ as much as sherry and tokay do. The three most important wine-producing states are South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. As well as bulk production, they each have specific premium wine regions.

In South Australia, the Clare Valley is renowned for its riesling, and the warmer Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale make big wines, especially from shiraz. Increasing attention is being focused on the cool Adelaide Hills, with chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling showing high quality. The cooler Coonawarra and surrounding Limestone Coast have developed an affinity for cabernet and cabernet blends. Riverland is the workhorse of South Australian regions. As befits the most intensively planted state, a wide range of styles is made.

In Victoria, the Western Victoria zone includes the regions of the Grampians--once know as Great Western, well known for its sparkling wines--and the Pyrenees. Fortified wines are the specialty in the hot region of Rutherglen. The state is now best known for its fairly disparate cool-climate wine regions, like the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. The cool-climate regions of Gippsland, Macedon and Geelong concentrate on pinot noir and chardonnay, while the warm Central Victoria region produces powerful and fruity reds.

Historically, the Hunter Valley, first planted with vines in the 1820s, was the only renowned area in New South Wales--for its classic aged semillons and distinctive shiraz. More recently, geographically diverse zones have been developed ranging from the subtropical Northern Rivers to the South Coast. In between, the Central Ranges are producing some notable wines, particularly chardonnay, the Big Rivers region has gained a following for its botrytized wines, and the diverse Southern New South Wales region is making typically cool-climate varieties.

In Western Australia, the cooler southern regions, such as Margaret River and Great Southern, are making high-quality table wines. The longer established Margaret River region has gained international recognition for its chardonnay and cabernet-based wines. The more newly developed and isolated Great Southern is becoming known for its shiraz and riesling. The Swan Valley, close to Perth, is one of the country's oldest and hottest regions, and Geographe's landscape and climate are similar to those of its southern neighbor, Margaret River.

Queensland's most prominent wine-producing region, the Granite Belt, takes advantage of its high altitude to make a range of cool-climate wines. Other regions, some of which are near the coast, rely on grape varieties that can thrive in hot and humid conditions.

Tiny Tasmania is the home of the small-scale enthusiast, with only a couple of even moderate-sized companies on the island. Although there is no containing their determination with chardonnay and pinot noir, in the long term, aromatic whites like riesling and sparkling wine may turn out to be their most important wines.

Steve Charters MW

From "Encyclopedia of Wine"
Global Book Publishing Pty Limited 2000