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AUSTRALIAN WINES

australia.gif (13393 bytes)Australia is a huge country and their wine history is much longer than ours here in California. 

Not only do they produce an amazing array of wines, the Australian per capita consumption of wine is something like twice that of the United States.

 

The drive to compete on the world market has fueled tremendous improvement in the quality of Australian wines.  Not too many years ago, certain of the "regulars" participating in our blind-tastings would routinely bypass Australian-themed events.  Today there's an amazing amount of wine available, some of it quite respectable and lot of it not...

Australia's predominant red wine grape is Shiraz.   Named after the Persian village "Shiraz," this grape is said to have been brought to France's Rhone Valley and there it's known, of course, as Syrah. 

Shiraz has been the workhorse variety in Australia since the mid-1800s.  It had been poorly regarded, surprisingly, and in the 1980s many old vines, producing small crops, were uprooted as the Australian wine industry was in the doldrums.   Because there was so much Shiraz planted, some wineries, seeking new outlets for production, would carbon-strip the color out of Shiraz to make a sparkling wine! 

However, few Australian Shiraz wines are comparable in character to those being made in the Northern Rhone or various outposts here in California.   Many Australian reds seem to be modeled along the lines of the wines of Bordeaux, Spain's Rioja reds or some California Cabernets.  That is to say these wines often display a lot of oak and not at all the hickory, bacony, peppery, spicy notes of a French Rhone Valley Syrah.   This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. 

We have periodically found some good Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Australia.   Chardonnays can be rather showy, too, though they often lack a bit of elegance and balancing acidity.   Pinot Noir and Riesling sometimes surprise, along with Sauvignon Blanc.  Sauvignon's Bordeaux stable mate, Semillon, is widely cultivated in Australia.  Many view it as the flagship white grape of Australia.

Numerous wines coming from Australia seem to be aimed at various wine critics around the planet.   We find a lot of Australian wines to be high in alcohol, often with a modest amount of residual sugar and a lot of oak.  These "extreme" characteristics make a wine stand out in a wine tasting, but they often are undrinkable after the first sip.  Of course, there seems to be, today, a generation of wine drinker which expects a wine to whack you over the head.  

Riesling can be really fine in Australia.  This seems remarkable since so many red wines are, to our palate, so boring.  We have tasted numerous excellent Rieslings and would consider having a selection of them were anybody to come into the shop and ask for Riesling.  Since there are, indeed, a few people requesting Riesling from Alsace, Germany and Austria (from time to time), we expect it will be a few years before people know Australia, too, produces interesting Rieslings.

The Aussies also make some amazingly fine dessert wines.  They know these as "Stickies".  There are some glorious port-styled dessert wines produced in Australia.  We're partial to a well-aged "Tokay" which pairs amazingly nicely with mocha, hazelnut and chocolate desserts.   We've periodically been impressed with late-harvest Rieslings and Semillons, too.

Prices for Australian wines have been all over the map.  There have been some excellent values in the ten-buck range and, if you're a philatelist, there are some "rare stamps" with huge scarcity taxes incorporated into the price of a bottle.  

Some big wine companies have put much effort into marketing wines with cute names and playful labels.  We think this has hurt the sale of more "serious" wines from Down Under.  So many wines are produced to the specifications of the marketing people, we roll our eyes when reps stop by with another cutesy Aussie wine.  Frankly, we don't have customers for these and we don't intend to drink them ourselves.

It's a shame, though, that the largest brands from Australia have stumbled in the market.  Brands which should be flagships and 'ambassadors' for "Australian wine" as a category have failed miserably over the past few years.  
Pity.



Regions of Australia

It's a big country, as noted above, and there are regional differences in the wines, to be sure.  Some wines come with specific "appellations," while others take a more broad designation.  Here are some names one encounters on Aussie wines:

VICTORIA

More than 200 wineries in this region with Melbourne as its most famous city

Swan Hill/Murray River...Echuca...Pyrenees...Bendigo...Goulburn Valley...Great Western...Macedon...Glenrowan...Rutherglen/Milawa...Yarra Valley...Geelong...Mornington Peninsula...

 

NEW SOUTH WALES

Second largest wine state, with Sydney as its most famous city.

Hastings Valley...Upper Hunter Valley...Lower Hunter Valley...Mudgee...Mildura...Riverina...Canberra...
SOUTH AUSTRALIA

With Adelaide as its prime city, this area has the most famous wine appellations outside of the Hunter Valley.  It is said to produce more than half Australia's total output!

Clare Valley...Barossa Valley...Adelaide Hills/Eden Valley...Southern Vales...McLaren Vale...Langhorne Creek...Padthaway...Coonawarra...
WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Perth being its major city, this region is old in terms of political history, but relatively new in terms of premium winemaking history.

Moondah Brook...Swan Valley...South West Coastal Plain...Margaret River...Frankland River...Mount Barker...Lower Great Southern...
QUEENSLAND
& the NORTHERN TERRITORY
Roma...Granite Belt (in Queensland)
TASMANIA

With Hobart as its main city, this island's wine history died out in the Gold Rush and only in the last 40 or so years has it resumed. 

Launceston...Tamar Valley...Derwent Valley/Coal River

What's In Store

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