In a place as large as Australia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the wines are as varied as the landscape.
The country is the world’s fifth largest producer of wine and while shiraz is one of the most well-known grapes, the wine industry is highly diverse, with more 100 varieties grown. Just a little over half of the wine produced is red wine, meaning delicious white, rosé and sparkling wine options also abound.
The majority of the wine growing regions are concentrated in the southern half of the country, but the differences among them is striking. While some regions, like the Barossa Valley, have families that have been making wines for several generations, others, like Mornington Peninsula, first developed in the 1970s.
Young upstarts working with just a few tanks inside a garage in the Adelaide Hills make wines just as compelling as large, elegantly rambling estates in more established areas. However, common threads do connect the industry.
Mindful winemaking – meaning a consideration for both the agricultural and societal impact of growing grapes – is taking root around the country, while winemakers in McLaren Vale are creating a charter for sustainability in the vineyards and production facilities.
If you haven’t looked at Australian wines in a while, here are ten options to consider.
Yangarra, Ovitelli Grenache | McLaren Vale
Yangarra, Ovitelli Grenache — Photo courtesy of Yangarra
Grenache is a wildly popular variety, and for good reason; winemakers find they can craft a range of styles with this international grape. It can be bold and concentrated, lighter in body or somewhere in between. The Yangarra Ovitelli Grenache has a nose of pomegranate, cranberry and black tea, with lovely juicy fruit on the structured palate.
Moorooduc Estate, McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay | Mornington Peninsula
Growing cover crop — Photo courtesy of Katherine Jamison
A newish wine region – vines were first planted in the 1970s – Mornington Peninsula is also a beach getaway destination for nearby Melbourne residents. The cooling effects from the water that surrounds the peninsula create an ideal condition for growing pinot noir and chardonnay, two grapes that often go hand-in-hand; think places like Burgundy and Sonoma. The Moorooduc Estate McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay has bright lemon citrus notes with an intriguing spark of flint.
Oliver’s Taranga, Fiano | McLaren Vale
Oliver’s Taranga — Photo courtesy of Fiano
The waves of Italian immigrants that settled in McLaren Vale in the early 1900s and again in the 1950s brought with them vines from their homeland, which thrived in the region. Today, winemakers count these Italian varieties as a key part of their winemaking repertoire. Sixth-generation winemaker Corrina Wright finds fiano, native to the Campania region in Italy, excels in the climate, producing a bright white with nutty and floral aromas.
Pikes, ‘Traditionale’ Riesling | Clare Valley
Sunshine over vineyards in south Australia — Photo courtesy of iStock / alicat
While McLaren Vale became home base for Italian settlers, German immigrants also played a key influential role in Australia’s wine industry. Riesling, for example, was widely planted throughout the country. Nowadays, it’s cultivated in regions like Clare Valley, where the climate can support its specific growing needs. Lime, lemon rind, peach and a hint of petrol round out this lip-smacking wine.
Jansz, Premium Cuvée | Tasmania
Off the coast of mainland Australia, the island state of Tasmania is a source of cool-climate varieties, but it’s making a name for itself with its sparkling wines, which comprise 35% of production. Following the same method of sparkling wine production as in champagne – called méthode champenoise – Jansz cheekily calls their winemaking “méthode Tasmanoise,” creating a lemon curd, golden delicious apple and toasty bottle of bubbles.
Hewitson, Old Garden Mourvedre | Barossa Valley
Hewitson Old Garden Mourvedre — Photo courtesy of Hewitson
Mourvedre’s got muscle, especially in this bottle from Hewitson in the Barossa region. The vineyard was planted in 1853 and is one of the oldest known plots of this variety. Grapes from old vines are prized for their concentration and complexity and this mourvedre, with its dense black fruit and spicy, peppery, slightly meaty qualities, doesn’t disappoint.
D’Arenberg, The Money Spider Roussanne | McLaren Vale
The Money Spider Roussanne — Photo courtesy of D’Arenberg
A walk through the Cube, D’Arenberg’s multimedia art gallery/tasting room/funhouse is a peek inside proprietor Chester Osborn’s creative mind. Roussanne is known as a key white variety in Bordeaux, and D’Arenberg’s version tastes like eating your way through an orchard, then throwing back a handful of nuts. Roussanne is a fuller-bodied, rounder grape that in the wrong hands can get a little flabby, but this luscious white keeps its structure.
Tyrrell’s, Vat 1 Hunter Semillon | Hunter Valley
Semillon, a white grape that produces delectable sweet and dry wines, has become a signature in the Hunter Valley. Round and unctuous, this dry version starts with citrus and floral notes when it’s young, but toasty, brioche-like notes and a bit of nuttiness come through as it ages.
Ochota Barrels, ‘A Forest’ Pinot Noir | Adelaide Hills
‘A Forest’ Pinot Noir — Photo courtesy of Ochota Barrels
Outside of Adelaide, a collective of winemakers in an area known as the Basket Range are working in a low-intervention style of winemaking (meaning they use zero or very few additives and may not fine and/or filter the wines, as just a few examples). They believe less-manipulated wines are more expressive. The delicate body and soft tannins belie the powerful cherry and rose flavors and aromas in this elegant pinot noir.
Giant Steps, Tarraford Vineyard Syrah | Yarra Valley
Wait, you may be asking, isn’t syrah the same as shiraz? Yes, but numerous winemakers are taking style inspiration from the Northern Rhone and producing a wine that’s more in line with the French region’s aesthetic. As a way to differentiate their wines, they’re labeling it “syrah” so drinkers know what to expect. Blackberry, raspberry and cherry meet peppery spice and silky tannins in Giant Steps’ elegant syrah.