The Wine Wonder Down Under

The wine wonder down under, Australia, has been producing wine since the 1800s and is the largest wine exporter of the new world countries. Australian wines are well known stateside as they are the second most imported wines into the US after Italy. And there is very good reason for the demand.

Although most land on this continent would be considered too hot for quality wine production, large rivers and mountain ranges dissecting the region bring sufficient rainfall, cooling winds and lofty elevation to mitigate some of the less than desirable heat. Even still, the hot climatic conditions create fruit forward, jammy, full bodied wines with high alcohol content. Reds are more prevalent than whites, due to the temps, but the big, bold, stylistic markers are found in both the red and white wines here.

Shiraz is the unofficial flagship grape of Australia and even casual wine drinkers have been clued in that this Aussie term is synonymous with the international grape variety, Syrah. Australia is well known for introducing the world to cutting edge ideas and this name-game branding strategy is nothing short of marketing genius that has played out in global awareness and cult following of the wine known as Australian Shiraz.

However, as with many a great innovation, this one has its roots in a simplistic mistake. When the Syrah grape, which originated in the Rhone Valley in France, was introduced to Australia, it was erroneously believed to have been from Shiraz, Persia. Hence, the new geographic moniker.   

Although there are no grapes indigenous to Australia, numerous international varieties from a multitude of areas flourish here. After Shiraz, the next most popular reds are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These can be found as varietal wines, but most are blended together or accompany Shirazes. Hearty GSMs (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) are commonplace as well, though they tend to skew bigger and bolder than their Rhonian counterparts.

The most prolific white grape is Chardonnay which can be found as a single varietal or blended with various amounts of Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon. The former is highly acidic, and the latter is low in acid, but both grapes temper and round out the full bodied, flavorful Chards. Additionally, dessert wines from late harvest Muscats are popular, as are sweet style fortified wines, locally known by the nickname “stickies.”   

Some of the more moderate areas along the southern coast and on the island state of Tasmania benefit from the cool ocean breezes and are capable of producing excellent examples of cool weather grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir and Riesling. Sparkling wines crafted from the same grapes are typical offerings in these areas as well.

Wines labels from Oz are easy to decipher as the Australian place of origin system follows a New World approach and is similar to the United States. Appellation designations are given only for the region where the grapes were grown and there are no restrictions on the types of grapes, styles of wine or production methods that tend to make Old World classifications more complex.

If a region, vintage date or single grape variety is listed on the bottle, it indicates that at least 85% of the grapes inside are from that region, year or variety. If the wine is a blend, either all the grape varieties must be listed in descending order of the amount used or, alternatively, the winemaker may choose not to list any of the varieties. This straightforward classification system helps to demystify wine labels making Australian wines as easily accessible for the uninitiated as they are for the aficionados.

While taste may be the overwhelming factor in Australian wine’s celebrity, there are many other reasons for its global recognition and continually increasing demand. Featuring a multitude of grapes and flavor profiles to please every palate, there is something for everyone to love from the wine wonder down under!