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
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
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
than 200 wineries in this region with Melbourne as its most famous city
|Swan Hill/Murray River...Echuca...Pyrenees...Bendigo...Goulburn
|NEW SOUTH WALES
largest wine state, with Sydney as its most famous city.
|Hastings Valley...Upper Hunter Valley...Lower Hunter
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...
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...