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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
AustraliaAustralia  Contents 
Issue 3, December 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 5, February 2003


Despite most of Australian production is limited to a specific area, this country has proven to be, year after year, one of the leading wine countries of the world

 When one thinks of Australia, the things that first come to mind are its particular fauna and flora, its amazing, uncontaminated and wild places, but probably not its excellent wines. Australian producers surely worked very hard in order to have their wines known all over the world, in fact, most of the Australian production is exported outside the country. The development of Australian enology has been, maybe, among the most rapid and efficient ones of the whole world, a relatively recent history and an excellent level of quality achieved in a short time, moreover, they also added a typical character to their products, both by means of technology and casks, which allowed the creation of a real and proper “mark” that can be surely defined as “Australian”.

 Perhaps the secret of the success of Australian wine was the adoption, since the very first moments of Australian enology “renaissance”, of advanced enological technologies and advanced practices, a step that allowed a rapid development and the achievement of a high level of quality; as a matter of fact, the most famous ”flying winemakers” of the world are from Australia and they are often hired by European and American wineries in order to benefit of their competence and collaboration.


 Australia is currently the eighth wine producer of the world and has a pro capita consumption of wine of about 20 liters (5.28 gallons) and it ranks as the eighteenth among the countries which drink wine. Indeed, Australia produces more wine than it really consumes, a condition that requires a strong commercial strategy oriented to the export of wine, and this led Australia to have a high export percentage towards some western countries, such as the United States of America, almost equal to some historical wine producers countries such as Italy or France. However, it should be noticed that one of the main factors that played a fundamental role in Australian enology and its spreading and appreciation everywhere, is the excellent quality offered at a reasonable price. Of course, this is what happens in general terms, just like every other wine producing country of the world, there are some exceptions; there are some Australian wines whose cost is as high as the ones of the most renowned European or American wineries.

 The history of Australian viticulture and enology is, in regard to other European wine producing countries, relatively young. It is said that vine was introduced in Australia in 1788 by the governor Captain Arthur Phillip, who brought to Sydney, coming back from one of his many journeys abroad, some vine plants coming, surprisingly not from Europe, but from Rio de Janeiro and Cape Good Hope (South Africa). These vines were planted in the governor's estates which proved to be pretty good for the cultivation of vine but not really good for the production of wine. Governor Phillip did not give up and he decided to repeat his experiment and planted a new vineyard in the garden of a property in Parramatta, not far from north of Sydney. This land resulted to be more suited than the previous one, and this encouraged Phillip to send official requests to the British Government in order to have some wine and viticulture experts to be sent in Australia. The British Government sent two French prisoners, to whom was offered freedom in return, because they were convinced that every French was an expert in enology or, at least, they would surely know something about viticulture and wine making. The results they got were obviously catastrophic and one of them was sent back to England while the other tried to produce cider, by making the mistake of using peaches instead of apples. Australian enology could not have had a beginning worsen than this.


 In spite of these “accidental facts”, there are other information about Australian enology. From 1820 to 1840 viticulture and enology were well established and spread in New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and Southern Australia. The vines cultivated at those times were all from Europe, there are no evidences or information about indigenous Australian vines and the practice of hybridization, which was very common in the United States of America, was never adopted. However, it should be noticed that Australian soil, contrary to the American one, was not infested by parasites, such as the awful phylloxera, therefore the cultivation of European species has never been difficult there. Anyway, Australia was not saved by this flagellum and it officially appeared in Victoria's lands in about 1877. Curiously, this was the only place that was infested by phylloxera and it never spread elsewhere including the neighboring areas and therefore were saved by the terrible consequences of this tiny vine's parasite. Phylloxera dramatically altered, just like every other place it infested, both the production of wine and the strategies of wine making, forcing producers to adopt specific actions in order to prevent damages. Although phylloxera destroyed most of the Victoria's vineyards, this area become, almost at the end of 1800, the most important wine producing area of Australia and it produced alone almost twice the wine produced by all the other states.

 The advent of phylloxera altered the production style of Victoria and this, as well as other factors, was the beginning of its decay as a wine producing area. The change of consumers' preferences, from a dry wine to a fortified wine, gave a strong impulse, in the beginning of 1900, to the enology of Southern Australia and this strongly contributed to make it the most important wine producing area of Australia also because of the fact, contrary to Victoria, it never suffered from the catastrophic effects of phylloxera. In 1930 Southern Australia produced more than 75% of the total production of Australia and it was in that time that Barossa Valley became famous. However the production of wine was oriented to fortified wines and they were mainly destined to export, particularly in England.

 The new era for Australian enology began around the half of the 1950, a process that led to radical changes and that brought back the attention of producers in making dry wines instead of fortified ones; a process that allowed Australian enology to become what it is today. The huge investment to support the most advanced technologies, the many experiments they did for the improvement and development of wine making technologies, allowed Australian winemakers as well as the wine making school of Australia, to reach a prestigious and respectable place in the wine scene of the world. A striking success which was achieved in a relatively short period of time: about 30 years. A drastic change which made completely forget about the mediocre past production of the 1950, a change that led Australia and Australian wines among the most important and primary positions in the enology of the world.


The Australian Quality System

 Contrary to other wine producing countries of the world, Australia does not have any quality system for the production of wine regulated by specific norms and laws. Currently, there are no laws or norms that indicates to the producers what grapes are allowed for the production of certain wines, geographical delimitations of areas or allowed wine making and viticultural practices. To make things clear, there are no production disciplinary like the ones in force, for example, in France (AOC), Italy (DOC) or United States of America (AVA).

 Indeed, the need of creating a legal quality system for production of wines emerged about 40 years ago, the first attempts are dated back to 1963, however Australia does not have any indication or disciplinary that regulates the production of wine yet. Anyway, Australia has a specific system which defines and imposes directives that must be followed in writing wine labels. This system is called LIP, (Label Integrity Programme) and is regulated by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation which also is in charge for defining and regulating the viticultural areas of Australian, a project still in progress. This labeling system imposes producers to write their labels in a way that allows consumers to known useful information about the wine contained in the bottle. In order to understand Australian wine, a proper knowledge about the way wine labels are written is required as well as the way labels are to be interpreted.


  • In case the label indicates the name of the grape used to make a wine, at least 85% must be produced with that grape
  • In case the label indicates the name of the production area, at least 85% of the wine must be produced in the named area
  • In case the label indicates the year of vintage, the minimum percentage of wine produced in the named vintage must be at least 95%
  • In case a wine has been produced by using more than one grape, they must be indicated according to the used quantity and in decreasing order. For example, in case a label indicates “Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz”, this means that the wine has been produced with these two grapes where the Cabernet Sauvignon represents the higher percentage. The exact percentage of the composition of the wine must be indicated in the label as well, Australian producers usually write this information in the back label. The same rule applies to the wines that indicate in the label more than one area

 Moreover, it should be noticed that Australian wine labels can also indicate brand names or fantasy names that designate a particular wine, sometimes fantasy names as well as names of the grapes are also found. Another kind of indication that could be frequently found in Australian wine labels is the term bin followed by a number. This habits, which probably started in the beginning of the 1930, indicates the number of the bin where the wine has been kept before being bottled. The system of numbering containers was done by producers in order to keep track of the wines produced in the various years, as well as the many assembled wines that were made in the cellar including those wines produced in particular areas or vineyards. In practice, the number identified a specific wine produced in a specific year and with a particular method. This system has now become a habit for Australian wine producers and it is still used now, in fact many Australian wines have the term bin in their labels followed by the number with which they are known practically since ever.


Production Areas

 Wine production in Australia is mainly made in the southern area of the country, particularly in the areas of New South Wales, Victoria and Southern Australia, the latter to be considered as the most important area of the country which also produces most of the Australian wine. Most of the production is made by the very active and flourishing wineries which are located near the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide. The rest of production, in more modest quantities, is made in Tasmania and Western Australia, near to the city of Perth. Moreover, a marginal production of wine is also made in some areas of Queensland and Northern Australia.

 One of the characteristics which mark Australian viticulture and enology, is the huge use of technology, from vineyard to cellar. Harvests, as well as other works done in the vineyard, are usually mechanized, it is quite uncommon for producers in Australia to manually harvest grapes, maybe because of the lack of personnel, and the processes of wine making are done according the most advanced technologies. This surely is because of the spirit of adaptation and experimentation Australians have, perhaps, more than any other country, here they highly value ideas and encourage experimentation, both in the vineyard and in the cellar and, most of the times, their results and methods are adopted by some wineries of the other countries.

 In Australia are produced both white wines and red wines, with a higher percentage in favor of white wines, as well as a modest quantity of sparkling wines and fortified wines. The most cultivated white grapes in Australia are Chardonnay, Riesling, Sémillon (here in Australia it is written as Semillon), whereas the most cultivated red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (in Australia, as well as in South Africa, this grape is called Shiraz). Undoubtedly the best results of Australian enology are achieved with Chardonnay for white wines and Shiraz for red wines. Other white berried grapes cultivated in Australia, even though in modest quantities, are Muscadelle, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat Gordo Blanco (the name Australians use for Muscat of Alexandria), Palomino and Pedro Ximénez (both mainly used for the production of fortified wines), Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho. Among red berried grapes we find Grenache, Merlot, Mourvèdre and Pinot noir.


Southern Australia

 Southern Australia is undoubtedly the most representative and productive area of the country. More than the half of the Australian wine is produced in this area and here are located the most prestigious wine areas of Australia such as Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, Padthaway and McLaren Vale. The most active and important areas are located near the city of Adelaide except Padthaway and Coonawarra which are located to the southern side of this area.

 Among the wine production areas of Southern Australia, Barossa Valley and Coonawarra are the ones that certainly are the most renowned ones, not just the most famous ones of this area, but also of Australia. Barossa Valley, which is located in the proximity of Adelaide, is renowned for its full bodied and amazing wines produced with Shiraz grape, whereas Coonawarra is famous for its wines produced with Cabernet Sauvignon. Besides wines made from Shiraz grape, Barossa Valley is also renowned for Chardonnay, most of the times produced by making use of cask, and in this area there are the most important and productive cooperage industries, a sure sign of the massive usage of casks both in Barossa Valley and in Australia. Among other interesting wines produced in Barossa Valley there are good examples of Riesling, Sémillon and Cabernet Sauvignon.

 Clare Valley, north from Barossa Valley, produces elegant and refined wines where the most renowned ones are produced with Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Another interesting area of Southern Australia certainly is Coonawarra, which produces both excellent white wines and red wines. In the beginning was the Shiraz grape to excel in this area and, no matter it still is one of the most important grapes of this area, they found out the land was particularly well suited for the cultivation of Cabernet Sauvignon. Among white wines, Riesling from this area seems to be superb, as well as Chardonnay, and both are to be considered as some of the best white wines of Australia. Not far from south of Adelaide, there is another interesting area, called Southern Vales, which also includes the area of McLaren Vale, where they produce excellent examples of wines made of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay


New South Wales

 The New South Wales actually represents the second wine producing area of Australia. Among its renowned areas here we find Hunter Valley, Mudgee and Riverina. Undoubtedly the most renowned area of this area is Hunter Valley, north from Sydney, which is famous for its Chardonnay wines and, last but not the least, for its surprisingly and amazing wines made of Sémillon. The wines produced with Sémillon in the Hunter Valley can also be considered, in their youth, as ordinary wines and not really surprising, indeed, when they are allowed to age in the bottle for sufficient time, at least 5 years, or even 10 years, they become extraordinary complex and amazing: intense and strong aromas and flavors of honey, hazelnut and dried fruit surprisingly come out from the glass.

 Another interesting wine area of New South Wales is Mudgee, which is located west from Hunter Valley, and here are probably produced the best wines made of Cabernet Sauvignon of the whole area. In the central part of this area there is Riverina, which is mainly renowned for the production of fortified wines as well as a vast production of table wines.



 The area of Victoria has been, until the end of the 1960, the most important wine production area of Australia, however, when Australian enology began the course of radical changes that led to the quality results they achieved now, Victoria ceded its scepter to Southern Australia. Victoria is currently the third most important wine area of Australia and it is located to the most southern side of the country, excluding the isle of Tasmania, near the city of Melbourne.

 The areas near the ocean, such as Yarra Valley, Geelong and Mornington Valley, are characterized by a climate which is pretty cool and therefore suited for the production of Chardonnay and Pinot noir wines. In the inner parts of this area, Central Victoria, Goulburn Valley, Pyrenees and Grampians, the climate is suited for the production of wines made of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It should also be noticed that Victoria makes a good quantity of sparkling wines produced with the classic method and, in the areas of Rutherglen and Glenrowan, an interesting dessert wine production made of Muscat Blanc is found as well.



 Tasmania, a triangular shaped island located to the south of Australia, is among the emerging wine areas of the country and it is getting more and more consideration among the wine areas of Australia. Wine production is mainly made in the northern and southern coasts of the island. The particularly cool climate of the island is suited for the cultivation of red berried grapes, in particular Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir, however here we find an interesting production of wines made of Chardonnay and Riesling as well. Tasmanian wines are renowned for their delicacy and elegance and in this island are also made sparkling wines produced with the classic method from Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes.


Western Australia

 Far from the main wine producing area of Australia, thousands kilometers to the west, we find Western Australia which is developed around the city of Perth. No matter this area is so far from Southern Australia as well as producing a pretty modest quantity of wine, when compared to the other area, here we find interesting white wines produced with Chardonnay, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc as well as interesting red wines produced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

 The most renowned area of this region is Margaret River, south from Perth, which is mainly famous for its wines produced with Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as for wines produced with Chardonnay and Pinot noir. Another area of this region that should be mentioned is Swan Valley, east from Perth, which also was the first wine area of Western Australia to become famous. Even today this area is renowned for the production of a white wine made of Chenin Blanc, Muscadelle and Chardonnay. In this area we also find a modest production of wines made of Verdelho. Finally, another area which proved to produce good wines is the Great Southern Region, to the far south of the region, and thanks to its cool climate, produces good wines with Pinot noir and Riesling.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 4, January 2003   
AustraliaAustralia  Contents 
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