Winemag Map by Dylan Garret / Location data courtesy Wine Australia

The Wine Enthusiast Guide to

Australian Wine by Region and Style

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

Red Wine

Big, bold, full-bodied
Spicy, savory, medium-bodied
Bright, bouncy, approachable light-bodied
Off-beat red wine alternatives

White Wine

Thirst-quenching, light- to medium-bodied
Mouth-filling, food-friendly, medium- to full-bodied
White wine alternatives

Others

Sparkling wine
Natural wine

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.

Kangaroo among the vines at Clonakilla
Kangaroo among the vines at Clonakilla

 

Big, bold, full-bodied reds

Try:  Sunshine-soaked Shiraz and Coonawarra Cabernet

This sunbaked continent has no shortage of ripe, robust reds. Its international reputation is based off this style, and largely a single variety, Shiraz, the country’s most planted grape.

A huge array of blended “South Australian” Shiraz are on the market, but go regional for better quality and expression of terroir. Look for examples from South Australia’s famed Barossa Valley, home to some of the planet’s oldest vines, and the smaller Geographical Indication (GI), Eden Valley. Barossa Shiraz is plummy and chocolatey while the cooler climes of Eden produce more savory, tightly wound and generally lower-alcohol pours that are often blended with Barossa fruit.

Producers that lead the charge for this hearty style include Henschke, Penfolds, John Duval, Torbreck, Standish, Glaetzer, Kalleske, Rockford and Chris Ringland.

Nearby Clare Valley also produces robust, long-lived Shiraz with higher acidity, thanks to the region’s cooler nights. Look for leading producers like Wendouree and Jim Barry. Neighboring McLaren Vale offers a similar style to Barossa, but shows a brighter fruit profile. Clarendon Hills and d’Arenberg are two of many names to seek out.

If you fancy more minty Shiraz, venture further east in South Australia to Langhorne Creek and explore labels like Bleasdale and Brothers in Arms, or to Padthaway with Henry’s Drive, who recently relocated and will also soon be releasing wines from the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale as well.

Smaller regions like the historic Swan Valley in Western Australia, and Queensland’s Granite Belt also produce robust Shiraz. Venture inland to the Victoria regions of Bendigo, Heathcote and Nagambie Lakes, where it’s more about a producer’s style than regional typicity. The unique and ancient soils at Jasper Hill in Heathcote yield tightly wound, powerful single-vineyard Shiraz that can take years to unravel. In Nagambie Lakes, Tahbilk’s 1860 Vines Shiraz comes from some of the oldest, phylloxera-free vines on the planet.

About 100 miles northwest of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is another top spot for Shiraz. The style here straddles medium and full-bodied, with richness balanced by savory spice, florals and red fruit. Tyrrell’s, Brokenwood and Thomas Wines are a few to seek.

If Cabernet Sauvignon is more your style, the richest, most mouthcoating examples come from Coonawarra, a cigar-shaped strip of terra rossa soil on the edge of South Australia, halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Cabs here ooze with blackberry fruit, flecked with green herbs and enough tannins to take them well into the future. Top producers include Wynn’s, Penley Estate and Balnaves.

One of Australia’s most famous blended wines, “GSM,” which combines the lifted aromatics of Grenache, the plush fruit and velvety texture of Shiraz and the spice and power of Mourvèdre, is a must for all big red lovers. It’s made in many of Australia’s warm-to-moderate climates.

Shiraz being harvested at Clonakilla
Shiraz being harvested at Clonakilla

 

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.

Tasting at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley / Photo by Ewen Bell, courtesy Wine Australia
Tasting at Giant Steps in the Yarra Valley / Photo by Ewen Bell, courtesy Wine Australia

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.

The rustic charm of Yeringberg / Photo by Adrian Lander
The rustic charm of Yeringberg / Photo by Adrian Lander

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.

Sorting grapes at Shaw + Smith / Photo courtesy Andre Castelluci, Wine Australia
Sorting grapes at Shaw + Smith / Photo courtesy Andre Castelluci, Wine Australia

 

Bright, bouncy, approachable light-bodied reds

Try: Cool-climate Pinot Noir

The trend for “glou glou,” or easy-drinking red wines, is booming. Refreshing and light, these bottlings can be found across the country, but thrive in Australia’s cool-climate regions.

The most revered variety of this style is Pinot Noir. Australian Pinot runs the gamut, whether made in a youthful, pale-hued style bursting with fresh red berries, or as a somewhat weightier, cellarworthy expression laced with complex spice and game flavors.

It’s tough to pinpoint differences by region, so focus instead on the country’s top producers.

In Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, try Eldridge Estate, Stonier, Moorooduc, Kooyong, Yabby Lake and Crittenden. Yarra Valley Pinot disciples include Mac Forbes, Timo Mayer and Yering Station.

In South Australia’s Adelaide Hills, Shaw + Smith and Murdoch Hill are two to watch. Tasmania is home to talented producers like Tolpuddle, Dalrymple, Josef Chromy and Glaetzer-Dixon, while over in the Great Southern region, Castle Rock Estate, Forest Hill, Howard Park, West Cape Howe and Castelli all excel.

More off the beaten track, wineries that have carved their reputation on Pinot Noir include Picardy in Pemberton, Western Australia; Bass Phillip in South Gippsland, Victoria; and Wines by Farr near Geelong, Victoria.

Kangaroo among the vines at Clonakilla
Dalrymple Vineyards

 

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.

Vineyards of Oyster Bay, Tasmania
Vineyards of Oyster Bay, Tasmania

 

Australian sparkling wine

Try: Tasmanian Méthode Champenoise (Méthode Tasmanoise), Victorian Prosecco-style sparkling, South Aussie Sparkling Shiraz and Pét-Nats from around the country

Sparkling wine is Australia’s fastest growing export category. Yeasty, brioche-flavored méthode Champenoise bubbly is produced across Oz’s coolest corners, from South Australia’s Adelaide Hills to Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

But Tasmania flies the fizz flag highest. The diversity of its winegrowing zones is only just being understood, but those worth particular attention include Bellebonne, Jansz, Pirie, Stefano Lubiana, Apogee, House of Arras, Freycinet, Clover Hill, Deviation Road and Ninth Island.

The fruitier, tank-fermented Prosecco-style sparkling wines are also popular down under. In fact, production has tripled since 2015, focused in Victoria’s King Valley. Dal Zotto, Brown Brothers, Di Sciascio are three to watch.

Best’s Great Western
Best’s Great Western

Sparkling Shiraz, the tannic, fruity and sometimes off-dry red bubbly, finds its home in many South Australian regions (try Bleasdale and Hentley Farm). However, two of the best-known labels, Seppelt and Best’s, are from the Great Western region in the Grampians of western Victoria.

Finally, pét-nats (a k a pétillant naturel or Méthode Ancestrale) should not be overlooked. The porch-pounding style on every natural wine lover’s lips is on the rise in Australia. Sutton Grange in Bendigo was one of the country’s earliest pét-nat pioneers with a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Viognier. Jauma was another, experimenting with the style using Chenin Blanc. See the “Outliers” section below for more producers, many of whom offer a pét-nat.

The Clare Valley, which is renowned for its Riesling / Getty
The Clare Valley, which is renowned for its Riesling / Getty

 

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.

The Lane, Adelaide Hills / Photo by Adam Bruzzone
The Lane, Adelaide Hills / Photo by Adam Bruzzone

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.

Shaw + Smith and Sidewood are two names to look for in Australian Sauvignon Blanc. Some producers age it in a little oak for added texture and flavor. They also might blend it with Semillon for more weight and complexity. The Lane in Adelaide Hills is a producer to watch. This combo is particularly prevalent in Western Australia, where many Margaret River and Great Southern producers include a “SBS” or a “SSB” in their lineup.

The gardens of Bird in Hand Winery / Photo by Mike Annese
The gardens of Bird in Hand Winery / Photo by Mike Annese

 

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.

Netting over vines in the Margaret River region of Western Australia / Getty
Netting over vines in the Margaret River region of Western Australia / Getty

 

White wine alternatives

A plethora of white varieties thrive in Australia. Try crisp Vermentino from Chalmers in Heathcote or Vigna Bottin, honeyed Fiano from Oliver’s Taranga (all in McLaren Vale); fruity Viognier from Yalumba; amphora-aged Friulano or floral Pinot Gris from Quealy in Mornington Peninsula; zesty Grüner Veltliner from Lark Hill in Canberra or Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills; apple-forward Chenin Blanc from Dormilona or Ipso Facto in Margaret River, Bella Ridge in the Swan Valley or Coriole in McLaren Vale; and finally, the full-bodied Marsanne and Roussanne, whether blended or on their own, from producers like Tahbilk in Nagambie Lakes and Yeringberg and Ben Haines, both in Yarra Valley.

Jamsheed wines
Jamsheed wines

 

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.

Published on January 24, 2019
Topics: Wine Basics
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