Australian wine is often viewed in a negative light in the United States, largely because of the big box exporters that flooded the market with less than spectacular critter wines in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was lucky enough to spend several weeks down under recently and am happy to report that there is some truly amazing wine coming out of the driest continent.
Australia is a large country, split into 6 states and 2 territories. There is a lot of great wine coming from many regions, but the states producing the most wine are Victoria and South Australia. Other regions of note producing great wine are Tasmania, Margaret River in Western Australia, and the Hunter Valley and Canberra in New South Wales.
New South Wales, on the southeast coast of the country, is home to several wine regions, including Hunter Valley, Orange, Mudgee, and Canberra. The Hunter Valley is located between 120 and 310 kilometers north of Sydney, and slightly inland from the coast. The first vines were planted in about 1829, and have remained phylloxera-free to this day. They typically produce wines that are low in sugar and alcohol. Often they’re aged exclusively in stainless steel, and rarely is any oak used.
Many of the vineyards are planted in old creek beds, the sandy soil of which is perfect for the grape they’re best known for, Semillon. Clay soils are typical for red wine grapes, which engender low nutrient, low vigor, and low yield harvests.
Another exciting region is the Canberra District, which encompasses vineyards in New South Wales as well as the Australian Capital Territory. However, due to land ownership laws in the ACT, very few winemakers are willing to sign on for a 99 year lease, and prefer to own vineyards in NSW outright.
Because of the cool climate, the most successful grapes being grown in the Canberra district are Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Often times Shiraz is blended with a small amount of Viognier, which results in an incredibly elegant and well-balanced wine. Not a lot of wines are exported from Canberra, so grab some when you see it!
Stay tuned for more posts about other winemaking regions of Australia.