Australia is a wine powerhouse. We’re talking about the fifth-largest wine-producing country in the world! Australia is home to a talented community of winemakers championing all wine styles, from rosé wine to sweet wine and everything in between.
Australia produces a vast amount of fine wine, and although picking a nice bottle is easy, finding the right wine for you is a bit more challenging. After all, with so many alternatives, how to choose?
Here’s all you need to know about Australian wine and the grapes used to make it, from the robust Australian red wine made with Shiraz to the gentle Pinot Noir. Let’s find the right wine for you.
Australia’s Wine Regions
To understand Australian wine, one must first know how the 2156 wineries and 6000 grape growers are organized and how they label their wines.
Australia has a sophisticated yet straightforward appellation system. You’ll find distinct Geographical Indications (GI) under the umbrella term Wine Australia all along the country’s southern shore.
Vineyards run along Queensland’s southern shore, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia — grapes grow merrily in Tasmania as well! There are around 65 GIs in Australia, and they all focus on different wine styles depending on their climates, soil types and proximity to the sea.
To find the right Australian wine for you, let’s explore the most famous wine grapes where they are grown. Here’s a quick tour through Australia’s verdant vineyards. Our first stop? Australian white wine.
Australian White Wine
Chardonnay is Australia’s most planted white varietal and the third most important after the red Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Chardonnay is a noble grape. The queen of white grapes is native to Burgundy, France, but arrived in Australia in 1832. Winemakers love the grape for a reason — it thrives almost everywhere.
Of course, Chardonnay vines prefer colder climates, so you’ll find the finest Australian white wines made with the grape up on the hills or near the coast, where temperatures are lower.
Expect a tight acidic backbone and scents reminiscent of golden apples, white flowers, citrus peels and oaky vanilla over a medium-bodied and creamy palate. These wines are best enjoyed with pasta, creamy sauces, chicken thighs and savoury pastries.
Regions for Australian Chardonnay:
Margaret River, Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania.
Wine to try:
Sauvignon Blanc is the fifth most planted grape in Australia, and it’s often blended with Semillon, a style inspired by the white wines from Bordeaux. By the way, Semillon alone makes extraordinary wine in Australia as well, primarily in Hinter Valley.
Unlike Sauvignon’s European versions, these wines are brimming with tropical fruit redolent of passion fruit, lychee and kiwi, always with refreshing acidity. Enjoy Sauvignon Blanc with fresh cheese and seafood. For dry white wine, Australian white wine has you covered.
Regions for Australian Sauvignon Blanc:
Margaret River, Yarra Valley, Tasmania, Tumbarumba (Check the Sauv Blancs from neighbouring New Zealand as well!)
Wine to try:
Riesling is the queen of cold-climate white grapes; it's easy to see why it thrives in Germany and Austria. Well, Australian grape growers have found great spots for growing the late-ripening and aromatic variety as well. The result is an elegant wine with floral and petrol aromas, often with hints of ripe peaches and mango. The sweetness in these wines may vary, so read the label carefully.
Riesling is particularly compatible with white meat, including pork and veal. It can be a great partner for spicy food like curries, too. Riesling is a wonderful summer sipper, and it’s easy to enjoy on its own as well.
Regions for Australian Riesling:
Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Tasmania, Western Australia.
Wine to try:
Other Australian White Grapes
Many other white varietals show promising results in Australia, including Vermentino, Pinot Gris, Fiano, Muscat and others.
Australian Red Wine
Although Australian white wines are up there with the best in the world, the country is best known for its reds. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are the two most planted grapes in Australia and make almost half of the vineyards. Both grapes arrived in the country in the 1830s at the hands of the “Father of Wine Australia”, James Busby. Today, producers make the most acclaimed wines in the country with one of these two grapes, but there are others. Let’s get to know them.
Shiraz, AKA Syrah, is a red grape from the Rhône Valley, France. The rustic grape produces big and bold red wines with ripe fruit aromas and hints of freshly cracked black pepper and chocolate.
Shiraz is also commonly blended with Grenache and Mataro (Mourvedre) in the now-famous GSM blend, where Grenache plays first fiddle. These wines are complex but approachable and offer a wide range of fruit, herb and spice aromas.
Australian Shiraz is best enjoyed with hearty stews, meat pies, grilled red meat, barbecue, roasts, goat and lamb.
Regions for Australian Shiraz:
Barossa Valley, Margaret River, Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale.
Wine to try:
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape globally and the second most popular in Australia. There’s no doubt the noble Bordelaise varietal produces age-worthy and structured wines across the country. You can find wines made 100% with Cabernet Sauvignon everywhere and spectacular blends, most likely Cabernet-Merlot and Cabernet-Shiraz.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines are an excellent match for thick, fatty steaks, especially rib eyes and strip steaks. Cabernet will also shine with meaty stews, casseroles and semi-hard cheese.
Regions for Australian Cabernet Sauvignon:
Coonawarra, Barossa Valley, Margaret River, Victoria.
Wine to try:
Pinot Noir is not amongst the most planted red grapes in Australia, not because producers don’t want to grow it, but because the thin-skinned Burgundian grape is tough to grow and only thrives in the coldest climates.
Pinot Noir produces elegant, almost silky red wines with elevated acidity and fruit purity on the nose and palate. These sensual wines pair best with mushroom dishes, oily fish like salmon and tuna, and roasted poultry. Pinot Noir is also often used to make pretty rosé wine.
Regions for Australian Pinot Noir:
Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills.
Wine to try:
Other Australian Red Grapes
There are dozens of other red grapes in Australia, although not nearly as popular as those described above. Tempranillo is worthy of a special mention, and it’s doing great in Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Margaret River.
Merlot, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Petit Sirah (Durif) and many other grapes are worth seeking out, and they’re climbing the popularity ranks at an impressive pace.
There’s an Australian Wine For You
We’ve covered the most prominent red and white varietals in the Australian repertoire and where to find them. However, this is just a drop in the bucket — there’s much more from where these came from!
From world-class sparkling wine to lusciously sweet wine, Australian winemakers make wine for all occasions, food pairings and budgets. What’s the best Australian wine? That’s up to you. And you’ll have a great time finding the answer to that question.
Enjoy the wine Australia has for you and share it with friends and family. Australian wine is better than ever, and it’s not going anywhere. Are you ready to explore the vast country through your taste buds? All you need is a wine glass!