Back to basics | A simple guide to Australian wine

The first traces of Australian winemaking date back to 1788, when the first vine cuttings were planted there. Since then, the country has seen huge peaks in popularity, alongside more than its fair share of export woes. Today, there’s even an Aussie estate building a branch on Chinese soil, demonstrating an international reach that knows few bounds.

A bit of history to get us going. In 1788, the first vitis vinifera cuttings were brought to Australia from Europe, and they quickly took to the land. From around 1820, commercial viticulture was on the rise in the south of the country, and it took about 50 years for the industry to start booming. And boom, it did.

The start of the 20th century only brought better things for Australia’s wine industry, as exports became the major component in its success; the country was able to trade with the UK due to its status as part of the British Commonwealth. At this time, the profile of these wines was quite sweet or high in alcohol, and there wasn’t much ‘premium’ produce to speak of.

The shift came around the 1960s, when higher quality, dry wines became more of a central concern for winemakers. This led to yet another export boom, as Australia’s vintners started to put their estates on the map when it came to fine wine production.

The major grape varieties came into their own at this time, too, with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay coming out as the vines that thrived the best. Not much has changed since then; Shiraz is still on top with Cabernet Sauvignon, and alongside these we count Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. You might still be able to find some Sémillon, although this has fallen out of favour somewhat with vintners in recent years.

Where does the magic happen?

It’s in the south-eastern corner of Australia that we find the vast majority of its wine makers, and they are spread across four key regions: South Australia (the area north of Adelaide), New South Wales, Western Australia, and Victoria.

South Australia (to the north of Adelaide)

Here, some of the most well-known spots for top wine are the Barossa, Clare, and Eden Valleys. The climate varies between each of these, with the heat of Barossa contrasting somewhat with the cooler altitudes of the Eden valley. This has become the biggest and most important region for winemaking; you’ll find fine wines from Penfolds (Barossa), Jim Barry (Clare), and Henschke (Eden) represent a range of styles that showcase Southern Australia’s importance on the world wine stage.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, the climate is more tropical in nature, which means more rainfall than we find in other Australian regions, and even higher temperatures, creating a lot of humidity. Where this region differs greatly from some of the drier vineyards is in the cloud cover; the burning Aussie sun doesn’t hit the grapes quite so directly. Here we find the Hunter Valley, home to Tyrell’s and its classic Sémillon production.

Western Australia: Margaret River

Victoria: Yarra Valley

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