In the past, wines from Australia have been classed by wine critics as “critter wines'' - a reference to the cute animals often placed on Australian wine labels. The implication was that they weren’t anything to get excited about. However, the region has proved itself to deliver some fantastic wines, even if they have stelvin caps.
Below we’ll go into why wines from Australia deserve our attention, going into the key wine regions and the wines that have put them on the map.
When it comes to wine, Australia is well-known for Shiraz - it’s version of the French Syrah. However, the region is much more diverse than it’s given credit. After all, the country has an approximate land mass of 7.5million sq km. This means that it would be no surprise to find different climates and topographies across the country. As a result, you have a country that has favorable conditions for growing a variety of wine grapes - from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay to Riesling and everything in between.
The variety of wine is made more exciting by the imagination of Australian winemakers who have ventured into more unusual varieties. This is why, other than the classic wines, you’ll also find Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier, and even Saperavi wines produced in Australia.
As we mentioned, Australia’s wine offerings are much more diverse than most people think, and this diversity is thanks to the diversity of the country’s climate. Although you’ll find wine producing areas across the country, arguably the best ones can be found in the south of Australia.
Western Australia is known for its golden sand beaches as well as for its wineries. Thanks to a Mediterranean climate which has warm and breezy summer days and cool nights, the wines here combine fruit ripeness and freshness - something unusual for the rest of the country. In Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon has long been the showstopper, however this region also produces great Chardonnay and Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends.
Another wine region in Western Australia worth noting is Great Southern. Located 400km from Perth, this is an isolated and relatively wild area that has the ideal conditions for cool-climate wines. The heroes here are Shiraz which leans towards more spicy and herbaceous flavors as well as dry Rieslings with notes of lime and green apple.
South Australia is where the majority of the country’s wine is produced. It’s also home to some of the oldest vines in the world. Overall, the region has a dry and hot climate that ripens grapes fully producing wines that are bold, dense, and concentrated.
Home to vines that are more than 100 years old, Barossa Valley is primarily known as a red wine region. You’ll find fantastic Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Naturally you’ll also find GSM - the famous red wine blend of the Rhone Valley in France.
Known for producing probably the richest Riesling in Australia, Clare Valley also produces elegant, complex, and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends.
Found amongst a chain of hills called the Mount Lofty ranges, Eden Valley has a cooler climate that produces wines with a tart and intense acidity. If you like minerally and dry Rieslings, this is where you should look. The higher acidity also makes many of the Eden Valley wines very ageworthy.
One of the most visually striking regions in South Australia, Adelaide Hills is much cooler than Barossa Valley. This means that both white wines and red wines here focus on elegance and savory flavors. Many of the white wines are in fact aged in oak barrels producing rich Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
If you’re looking for more rugged, intense, and savory red wines you should look to Fleurieu with its higher temperatures. Look for Shiraz from McLaren Vale or Cabernet Sauvignon from Langhorne Creek and discover notes of licorice, mocha, and roast meat.
Despite its name, this area is known for its Terra Rossa soils - iron-rich clay soils that cover the area. Cabernet Sauvignon wines express black and red fruit flavors with tobacco and mint notes. Although most wines here are affordable (thanks to mechanization), some of the most respected Cabernet Sauvignon wines come from Coonawarra where the grapes are hand-picked.
Although the majority of wine production in Victoria is dominated by commercial winemaking, there are noteworthy areas gaining interest from wine drinkers. Overall, this cooler climate area has received praise worldwide for its Pinot Noir offering.
There are two major soil types that dominate this region: red volcanic soils and sandy loam. This lays the groundwork for a variety of wines. From elegant Cabernet Sauvignons that rival those of Bordeaux, classy Pinot Noirs, expressive Chardonnays, single vineyard Nebbiolo, and Rieslings that range from dry to sweet.
Mornington may be where those from Melbourne come to spend their weekends, but it’s also fantastic for producing wine. Chardonnays here are bright with a crunch acidity - expect to taste peaches, grapefruit, and flowers. However, the true superstar of Mornington is their Pinot Noir famed for its subtle tannins and bright red cherry flavors
A coastal town, Geelong is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The Pinot Noir is characterized by its structure and dark black fruit flavors. The Chardonnay on the other hand moves away from the traditional buttery flavor to express a more linear and mineral Chardonnay that pairs well with foods.
Vying for being home to one of the oldest family-owned wineries in the world, Rutherglen is well-known for its fortified wines, largely from Muscat. However, newer wineries in the region are looking to create dry white wines from grapes such as Ugni Blanc to produce light and zesty flavors or lemon verbena, apple, and wet strone minerality.
The majority of wine production in New South Wales comes from the inland Big Rivers Zone. Historically, the region has produced most of the commercial Chardonnay and Shiraz wines from Australia. However, recent droughts have led to the exploration of other grape varieties. Most notably, more drought-friendly varieties such as Tempranillo and Verdelho. However, there is also great Semillon wine coming from Hunter Valley - who produce some of the most delicate and age-worthy expressions of this white wine. It is dry with a tight structure and has a lemony fruit flavor that with time becomes more toasty and soft.
If you want a glass of bubbly from Australia, Tasmania is where to go. Physically separated by 240km stretch of Bass Strait from the mainland, Tasmania has a temperate climate that is one of Australia’s coolest wine producing regions. This is what has made it the leader for Australian sparkling wines, which is produced using the traditional method, méthode champenoise (the same method used for producing Champagne). Chardonnay and Riesling are another fantastic white wine from this region. However, Pinot Noir is also exceptional. The cooler climate helps produce a delicate Pinot Noir with lift that isn’t common amongst the Pinot Noirs found in the mainland.
Now that you have the rundown on nearly everything there is to know about Australian wine regions (there’s a lot that we didn’t cover), where do you start? We recommend going with a Shiraz, especially one from Barossa Valley - after all, Shiraz is what really put Australia on the map when it comes to wine. Another great red wine to try is a Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra.
If you want to take your tasting skills to another level, you can try the same wine variety from different regions to see how climate and soil can change the flavor. We suggest trying a Riesling from Eden Valley and compare it to a Riesling from Great Southern.
However, what you choose is up to you. Check out our collection of wines from Australia to find your favorite styles, and hopefully you won’t see these wines as simply critter wines.