Few corners of the wine world defy its stereotype more than Australia. Sure, there are kangaroos and crocodiles, dusty red flatlands and sparkling white sand beaches. But there’s also craggy mountains, lush pastures, misty mornings and crisp, cool evenings. That’s not to mention varied soils and more than 100 different grape varieties planted across the country in 65 designated wine regions. Australia is a vastly more diverse winemaking country than it’s given credit.
Jump Straight to a Wine Style
Big, bold, full-bodied
Spicy, savory, medium-bodied
Bright, bouncy, approachable light-bodied
Off-beat red wine alternatives
Thirst-quenching, light- to medium-bodied
Mouth-filling, food-friendly, medium- to full-bodied
White wine alternatives
What follows is a guide to Australian wine, according to wine styles. (Fancy a light, crisp Aussie white? Skip to section 5.) It would be impossible to include every variety, style and producer Down Under, so consider this a jumping-off point into this fascinating and diverse winemaking country.
Spicy, savory, somewhere in the middle medium-bodied reds
Try: Cool-climate Shiraz, Coastal Cabs and South Aussie Grenache
If you prefer your reds less gargantuan, Australia’s cooler climates offer more medium body, bright fruit and often spicy, savory or floral expressions. Here, Shiraz is sometimes blended with Viognier for added perfume and textural softness. Clonakilla, located outside Australia’s capital of Canberra, have benchmarked this Northern Rhône-style blend.
Victoria boasts more wine regions than anywhere else in Australia. Places like Macedon Ranges, Pyrenees, and Strathbogie Ranges host a handful of small but important wineries perched below rugged mountain ranges. Leaders here include Giaconda and Castagna in Beechworth and Best’s Great Western, Seppelt and Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians. The significantly larger and better known Yarra Valley region, one hour northeast of Melbourne, excels at many varieties and styles. For savory Shiraz, look toward Giant Steps, Luke Lambert, Jamsheed and Yarra Yering.
In Western Australia, a stone’s throw from the Indian Ocean, regions like Margaret River and Great Southern produce a wide range of light- to medium-bodied Shiraz laced with pepper, herbs, leathery tannins and bouncy red fruit. Look for Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River and Frankland Estate and Plantagenet in Great Southern.
It’s not just Shiraz that bucks the full and firm stereotype. Cabernet Sauvignon, when grown near the coastline, is a powerful yet medium-bodied beauty, etched with briny sea spray, pencil lead, eucalyptus and currants. Margaret River leads the charge for Cabernet in this vein, the best of which will age for decades. Vasse Felix, Cullen, Cape Mentelle, Woodlands, Moss Wood, Cloudburst and Voyager Estate are some of the stars.
Head back across the continent to the warmer sites of Victoria’s Yarra Valley for yet another silky and aromatic expression of Cab, particularly from historic wineries like Mount Mary, Yarra Yering and Yeringberg.
Once hidden away in red blends, Grenache is one of Australia’s rapidly rising stars as a varietal wine. The appeal of its medium weight, silky texture, and upfront red berry and floral aromas are recognized by producers and consumers alike.
Grenache thrives in a Mediterranean climate. South Australia’s McLaren Vale region offers the country’s strongest examples, although neighboring Barossa Valley is a close second. Grenache from the ancient sandy soils of McLaren Vale’s elevated Blewitt Springs subregion is perhaps the most highly regarded example. It’s also the most delicate and floral, laced with tannins as sandy-textured as the soil from where it was grown. Grenache champions include S.C. Pannell, Yangarra, Bekkers, Ochota Barrels, Chapel Hill, Wirra Wirra and Kay Brothers. In Barossa, seek out Turkey Flat, Cirillo and Greenock Creek.
Off-beat red wine alternatives
A dizzying range of red grape varieties thrive in Australia’s diverse soils. On the heavier end of the spectrum, Malbec, Durif (a k a Petite Sirah), Petit Verdot, Touriga Nacional, Souzão and Sagrantino pack a punch and are found in Australia’s warmest climes. East of Barossa, one of Australia’s hottest wine growing regions, the Riverland, has been known for cheap bulk wine grapes. But quietly, the region has reinvented itself, thanks to forward-thinking growers focused on drought-tolerant Italian varieties like Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese. Merlot, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo are also medium-bodied varieties that grow happily Down Under.
Wispy, crispy and thirst-quenching light- to medium-bodied whites
Try: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon-Semillon blends
There’s something unmistakable about Australian Riesling, though its flavor profile can vary by region.
In South Australia, Eden Valley Riesling tends more toward floral and apple aromas, with lighter body than those of Clare Valley where it expresses lemon, lime and talc, particularly in the famed subregions of Watervale and Polish Hill. In general, Aussie Riesling is dry, elegant and citrusy with laser sharp acidity.
Most Rieslings show kerosene notes with age, sometimes even in their youth. In Eden, try Riesling from Pewsey Vale and Henschke. In Clare, Riesling’s most celebrated superstar is Grosset, whose two single-vineyard wines, Polish Hill and Springvale, are some of the most long-lived and complex in the country. Jim Barry, Wines by KT, Rieslingfreak and Pikes are more leading Clare Valley producers.
Riesling also excels in Great Southern, at the southwest corner of Western Australia, where Frankland Estate leads the charge. In Victoria, try Crawford River in Henty, Best’s Great Western in the Grampians, and Mac Forbes in Yarra and the Strathbogie Ranges. Pooley and Tamar Ridge are two top Riesling producers in Tasmania, while Helm and Clonakilla in Canberra also work wonders with the grape.
If Sauvignon Blanc is your variety of choice, steer toward South Australia’s Adelaide Hills. There, the grape shows its typical herbaceousness, but it’s offset by bright tropical and exotic fruit notes, along with a textural softness that balances the variety’s natural acidity.
Textural, mouth-filling and food-friendly medium to full-bodied whites
Try: Chardonnay from around Australia and Hunter Valley Semillon
The most popular white variety in Australia, Chardonnay is like a sponge that soaks up elements of its terroir, aging vessel, yeast, skins and more. The days of overripe, overworked Aussie Chardonnay are gone. Look for more focused, linear wines that range from creamy, oak-aged and stone fruit-flecked wines, to citrusy, unoaked and crisp examples. These wines can range from salty, reductive and flinty, to funky, yeasty and complex.
Chardonnay is comfortable all over Australia, but it’s particularly happy in relatively cool-climate regions like Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and the Adelaide Hills. Tasmania, Canberra, Orange, Beechworth, Tumbarumba and Henty make noteworthy bottlings as well.
The number of talented Chardonnay producers is staggering, but here’s some to keep in mind: Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix, Fraser Gallop, Walsh & Sons and Larry Cherubino in Western Australia; Giaconda in Beechworth, Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley; Lethbridge in Geelong; Moorooduc Estate in Mornington Peninsula; Bird in Hand in Adelaide Hills; Philip Shaw and Printhie in Orange; and Penfolds, which makes Chardonnay from all around the country.
There are few wine styles as uniquely Australian as bottle-aged Semillon from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. While the region produces a youthful, unwooded (and occasionally wooded) style, these wines age for six years or longer before release, which has earned them world renown. Tightly wound with searing acidity and subtle apple, citrus and grass aromas in their early years, Hunter Semillon can age for decades and morph into a richer, more honeyed and complex wine.
Top producers include Mount Pleasant, Tyrrell’s and Brokenwood. Outside the Hunter Valley, Margaret River, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, the Granite Belt and Mudgee all produce Australian Semillon in various styles.
Natural progression: Aussie renegades
The Australian natural wine scene is booming. These innovative upstarts are often credited for the country’s wine renaissance. Begin with the country’s original natty superstars, Shobbrook in Barossa and Jauma and Lucy Margaux in the Adelaide Hills. The Hills remain a hotbed for boundary-pushing, natural-leaning producers like Gentle Folk, Ngeringa, Ochota Barrels, The Other Right and Manon Farm.
Others around the country include Si Vintners, Blind Corner, Brave New Wine and La Violetta in Western Australia; Jamsheed and Bobar in the Yarra; Syrahmi in Heathcote; Between Five Bells in Geelong; The Wine Farm in Gippsland, Cobaw Ridge in the Macedon Ranges; Castagna in Beechworth; Harkham in the Hunter Valley; Brash Higgins in McLaren Vale; and Sami-Odi in Barossa.