Wines from Australia: Australian Wines
There are strong similarities between the sort of enterprise shown by Australian winemakers and their counterparts in California. Both are extremely innovative, completely unfettered by tradition, and convinced that their best wines are the best in the world. The difference is that the Australians have had a longer unbroken history of wine production, which is today reflected in a sophisticated level of wine connoisseur-ship. Most of Australia’s vineyards are clustered around her underskirts in the cooler, southern limits of the country, though new, even cooler areas are being sought out continuously. It is worth remembering that all of Australia is closer to the equator than Naples.
Australia’s common or garden wine, most of it sold in boxes – for they were pioneered here – comes from the intensely hot irrigated river areas well towards the centre of the country. As in California, both reds and whites are characterized by a fair amount of apparent residual sugar, but the quality is excellent for the price. Varietal labelling is taking over from the old, and somewhat dubious, practice of naming wine after its European prototype (hence ‘Coonawarra Claret’ and ‘Hunter Valley Burgundy’).
Approximately an hour’s flight north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is probably the most famous quality-wine region. It adds its own very particular minerally flavour (sometimes known as ‘sweaty saddle’) to its most famous red grape, Shiraz, closely related to the Rhone’s Syrah. This is Australia’s most widely planted grape variety and makes rich, almost chocolaty, spicy wines. Hunter Valley’s traditional white grape is Semi lion which can mature to golden glory.
An isolated patch of red earth in South Australia called Coonawarra is reckoned to produce the best Australian Cabernets while the Barossa Valley north of Adelaide has a strong tradition in Germanic wines made, increasingly, from the ‘real’ (Rhine) Riesling. The state of Victoria shows enormous promise with a wide range of different varietals in recently replanted areas such as the Yarra Valley. Its traditional pride and joy are the luscious dark liqueur Muscats of Rutherglen in the north east. New vineyards in the cool southern tip of Western Australia and Tasmania are currently expected to yield some of Australia’s most elegant wines. Chardonnay is currently the most fashionable grape variety, as it is in the USA, and plantings are increasing dramatically throughout the country’s vineyards.