With its imposing size and variety of climates, it is no surprise that Australia has become not only a major presence in winemaking and wine exportation but also the producer of an immensely versatile portfolio of wines. Recently recognized as the world’s fifth largest producer, the continent exports close to 800 million liters of wine per year, with red and white nearly equally represented. These accomplishments are exceptional by any standards, but particularly by a continent originally lacking any native grapes. From weekday offerings to those gaining world-class status, Australia is undeniably a winemaking leader to be reckoned with.
Although Australia’s wine history is still relatively young when compared to many of Europe’s Old World icons, it is nonetheless impressive as a result of its swift ascendance to becoming an industry leader – a trajectory that continues to this day. Vines were
In a nod to its history, many of the founding vintner families are still in the business, maintaining the traditions of their countries of origin and adding to Australia’s incredible wine diversity.
At last count, over 120 different grape varietals thrive across this major landscape that is blessed with consistent sunshine, relatively low humidity and just enough rainfall to create truly ideal grape-growing conditions. Of the more than 160,000 hectares planted in Australia, Shiraz (called Syrah just about everywhere else) reigns supreme as the most widely planted, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. However, as a result of Australia’s tremendous success, winemakers have recently become more curious and creative. Additional European varietals have reached the continent’s shores, including Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, and are being actively cultivated for production.
Shiraz might qualify as the continent’s signature varietal considering how much of it is grown, particularly in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. It is often produced as a singular wine, or is sometimes blended with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. In the region’s nearby Clare Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz share the spotlight, with the addition of Riesling and Chardonnay, the latter being the top white varietal, in the even cooler valley areas. Sparkling wines are also produced down under, as are some reputable sweet dessert wines and fortified, Port-inspired offerings.
Australia has followed the example of older winemaking countries in its wine classification system. By law, any wine carrying a designated appellation, or in Australia, a Geographical Indication (GI), must be comprised of a minimum of 85% of grapes from that specific region to indicate a wine’s origin and protect a region’s name. Due to the massive expanse of the South Eastern Australia GI, which includes over 90% of the continent’s vineyards, most of the exports are classified as such.
In past decades, many if not most of Australia’s exports were highly affordable, but this has rapidly evolved. The most notable influence in this evolution is Penfolds Grange. The continent’s most famous wine, it has been gaining attention and winning competitions consistently for several decades, and has single-handedly changed the cachet of Australia’s wine reputation. Consumers and critics alike have sung its praises, with critics calling it everything from the only First Growth of the Southern Hemisphere to the replacement of Bordeaux’s elite Petrus. Its recognition has given other winemakers the impetus to achieve the same, impacting the status of Australian wine on the international market.
True to its cultural character and personality, Australia has made its own independent mark on the wine community. The continent has been a dominant player in the New World wine movement, and has dedicated itself to continuous research on viniculture, most visibly by the development of the Australian Wine Research Institute. As winemakers, Australians have refined the art of canopy management among other techniques, and are famous for acting as global ambassadors for the wine industry in general. Eager to travel the world to educate as well as be educated, these passionate innovators have helped to generate the expansion of the industry both home and abroad. Considered by many to already be the most powerful contemporary influence in the wine world, Australia’s future holds great interest for any and every aficionado of the vine.