Wow, what an insult to Australian wine. Fifteen minutes, really?! Devoted to an industry that is over 150 years old?!
Consider your alternative. You could devote fifteen years of tasting and reading to the subject, and still not know all there is given the diversity of terroir and varietal expression in Australia’s wine regions and sub-regions.
Well, then, how about fifteen days? Sure, that could work. A bit more time; a bit more concentration. But what if you become distracted on day two by, say, Argentine Malbec or the Winelands of South Africa?
So, with no offense intended to Australia, our first wine crush – sorry, couldn’t avoid it – here is our down and dirty, fifteen minute guide to Australian wine for your immediate edification and enlightened consumption.
Australia has five primary wine growing regions. They are located in the states of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The wine regions mostly hug the western or southern coasts or nestle in inland valleys.
Western Australia, oddly enough located on the west side of the country, contains the major growing regions of the Margaret River and the Great Southern in addition to several others. These regions are approximately three hours drive south of the main city of Perth. The Margaret River region is located six miles from the Indian Ocean and experiences a maritime wine-growing climate. Notable producers in the Margaret River are Cullen Wines, Vasse Felix and Cape Mentelle, Howard Park, Leeuwin Estates and Moss Wood. The region is primarily known for producing cellar-worthy Cabernet and Chardonnay. However, a little publicized fact is the region’s distinct style of Shiraz, which tends toward a more reserved style and exhibits eucalyptus aromas as compared with the full-blown Shiraz produced in South Australia.
South Australia’s major wine growing regions are Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra. Wines from these regions have markedly different profiles. For many, the Barossa Valley, (with which many people are most familiar) is synonymous with (good old) Aussie Shiraz, that is, wines filled with blackberry, cherry, chocolate and oak, robust, full-bodied, up front and delicious. Right next door, the Clare Valley is on the other end of the spectrum, and is well known for it’s mind-altering dry and off-dry rieslings, the most notable of which are produced by Grosset. It is also home to our favorite Australian shiraz producer Jim Barry whose completely unique McRae Wood Shiraz and, for a super special occasion, Armagh, are simply the best. Coonawarra is considered the spot for Australian Cabernet, while the hills of Adelaide produce some lovely peppery Shiraz and Chardonnays with great minerality. McLaren Vale, home to Two Hands, Kangarilla Road, De Lisio and a host of others, produces full-bodied, ripe wines with great purity of fruit.
Then there is Tasmania, lovely Tasmania. Mainlanders may (jealously?) joke about their fellow citizens across the strait, but they happily guzzle the many fine wines produced there. The vineyards are located east of Hobart in the Coal Valley, and to the north near Launceston in the Tamar Valley. Tasmania produces lovely cool climate wines, most notably Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. Ever tried a bubbly from Jansz? Now would be a good time. A little known secret is Domaine A near Hobart, which produces some of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the world. Yes, that is in the world. Just ask the individual from Petrus, who refused to believe the wines were Tasmanian and not Bordeaux during an international tasting several years ago.
And last but not least, stop screaming Hunter Valley citizens, the Hunter Valley. Located an hour drive north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is home to Australia’s world famous dry semillon. If you haven’t tried one , you really should. Brokenwood is the pre-eminent producer, so start with the Brokenwood Hunter Valley Semillon, and for a special treat move on to their ILR Reserve Semillon, one of our favorite wines of all time. While you are tasting at Brokenwood, don’t forget to check out their Shiraz as well. We think Shiraz is a bit of a tough grape in the Hunter Valley, but Brokenwood does a phenomenal job both with their Hunter Valley Shiraz as well as with the iconic Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz.
That’s it. Feel free to use any leftover time to poke holes in our broad and sweeping generalizations in the comment section below. Remember, it was just an overview. Each subregion alone merits thorough exploration!