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Enlarge Australia mapIntroduction to Australia

Australia is a breath of fresh air when it comes to labeling. In fact, a lot of Australia’s success is down to its method of labeling. Whilst France hides it grape varieties behind confusing place names, Australia shouts about them. By making the grape type the main focus on a label, customers can feel comfortable knowing what they are going to get when they buy an Australian wine. Marketing is also a major factor in Australia’s success: including eye-catching front labels and highly informative back labels.

Many of these are mass-produced, unsubtle wines; but they hit the target price for many customers – so much so, that Australia is the biggest selling country in the UK (ahead of Italy and France). However, in addition, there are some superb wines from winemakers who have torn up the rule book and continue to experiment with new techniques.

Although Australia has labeling laws, these only cover the bare minimum: at least 85% of wine in the bottle must be from the grape type, year (vintage) and area that is stated on the bottle.

Areas are defined in various ways. Called “Geographical Indications" (or GIs), they vary from the huge ‘South- Eastern Australia’ (which covers a huge area and 95% of all wines produced in Australia), down to smaller areas. In descending size, the GIs are:

  • Super-Zone (there is only one: South-Eastern Australia)
  • State Zone
  • Zone
  • Region


Much of Australia is hot and dry. This means that vineyards are mostly clustered around the coast (or major rivers that can supply essential water). It is very difficult to give generic overviews of climate, etc, because the country covers such vast areas and has such variations.


South-Eastern Australia - the "Super-Zone"

South-Eastern Australia was created to encompass a number of State Zones – primarily because the EU does not permit wines to be a blend of multiple places. This super-zone allows wines to be blended from multiple state zones and sold in the EU. They are often, but not always, low budget wines (some winemakers like the freedom to blend whatever they want, but still produce excellent quality wines). The super-zone comprises the state zones of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.


Below are details of the main state zones, with key regions.

South Australia (State Zone)

This state zone produces around 45% of Australia’s total production.

Lower Murray (zone)

This area produces fruit which has ripened quickly, thus lacks flavour and subtlety that comes with slow development. Most of the grapes grown here are used for mass-produced wines.

Barossa (zone)

  • Barossa Valley (region) produces excellent Shiraz which is full-bodied and earthy. Some of these have great potential for ageing. Barossa Valley also grows 2 other grape types: Grenache and Mataro. These are sometimes blended with Shiraz, to produce wines which are often referred to as GSM: Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro.
  • Eden Valley (region) by contrast is much cooler. It produces good Rieslings, which are medium-bodied, dry, with high acidity. Flavours include citrus fruits (e.g. lemon, grapefruit) when young, and honey, petrol and toast when aged.

 

Mount Lofty Ranges (zone)

  • Clare Valley (region): Riesling is the best grape here. It is lighter bodied and more austere, with great ageing potential.
  • Adelaide Hills (region): Chardonnay is the specialty in this cool region. It has high acidity and is very perfumed – e.g. citrus fruit (lime) and stone fruit (nectarines). Sauvignon Blanc is also successful.

 

Fleurieu Peninsular (zone)

  • McLaren Vale (region): although this is a hot region, the nearby ocean provides a useful breeze. The main grape types are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz.
  • Longhorne Creek (region): Shiraz is the main grape here, which produces full-bodied, earthy wines.

 

Limestone Coast (zone):

  • Coonawarra (region): this is one of Australia’s most famous regions. Although it is incredibly small (under 25 sq km), it produces world class Cabernet Sauvignons. Again, this benefits from the cooling effect of the ocean.
  • Padthaway (region): similar to Coonawarra above.



Victoria (state zone)

This state zone produces around 25% of Australia’s total production.

North-West Victoria (zone)

Similar to South Australia’s Lower Murray zone, North-West Victoria produces lots of healthy fruit; most of which goes into blends.

North-East Victoria (zone)

  • Rutherglen (region): famous for dessert wines made from Muscat and Tokay.

 

Port Phillip (zone)

  • Yarra Valley (region): surrounding Melbourne, this relatively cool region is becoming famous for rich and full-bodied Pinot Noirs. Also produces Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Mornington Peninsula (region): specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

 

Central Victoria (zone)

  • Goldburn Valley (region) is famous for a variety of grapes: Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne blends, and Rieslings.

 

Western Victoria (zone)

Due to the altitude, some of the Shiraz grown here produce wines more akin to Syrahs from the Rhone Valley than stereotypical Aussie powerhouses. Expect flavours such as pepper and high acidity.

New South Wales (state zone)

 

Hunter Valley (zone)

  • Lower Hunter Valley (region): this has many famous vineyards which critics attribute to the region’s proximity to Sydney rather than the quality of its wines. However, Lower Hunter Valley produces some soft Shiraz and almost neutral Semillons (low sweetness and flavours of honey and toast with age).
  • Upper Hunter Valley (region): a source of good Chardonnay.

 

Central Ranges (zone)

Contains three regions of note: Mudgee, Orange, Cowra; Chardonnays & Cab Sauv

Big Rivers (zone)

Primarily a producer of bulk wines, but some interesting sweet Semillons also produced (from botrytised grapes).

Western Australia (state zone)

This state zone produces about 3% of Australia’s total production, but wins a disproportionate amount of awards – often with a price tag to reflect this. Wines from this state zone cannot be included within main content of South-Eastern Australia blends.

South-West Australia (zone)

  • Margaret River (region): this is the queen of the state. The nearby ocean offers cool breezes which helps produce some wonderful Chardonnays and Semillons. However, there are vineyards that are warm enough to successfully grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  • Great Southern (region): grows Shiraz (which produces Rhone-style wines), Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling. Encompasses famous sub-regions of Mount Barker and Frankland River.
  • Pemberton (region): making a name for itself for wine from Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.

 

Tasmania

This island off the south of Australia makes a very small amount of wine (around 0.3% of all Australian wines). It has the coolest climate: producing wines from Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer.