Australia’s expansive, dry landscape produces world-famous wines. Australian Shiraz, for example, remains extremely popular due to its generous flavor, full body, and spicy finish. While much of Australia has a warm, dry climate perfect for powerful red wines, parts of the vast, varied country produce wines that might surprise you. Below, you’ll discover some styles that will challenge your expectations of Australian wine.
Margaret River Chardonnay
The Margaret River section of Western Australia benefits from the cooling influence of the Indian Ocean and winds blowing north from Antarctica. The resulting microclimate allows for subtle wines that evoke the Old World with their bright acidity and low alcohol. While Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps the best-known grape in Margaret River, their Chardonnay can be amazingly refreshing and vibrant, with flavors of green apple and citrus. Try these wines if you like Burgundy or if you enjoy some of the more restrained Chardonnays from Santa Barbara in California.
Clare Valley Riesling
Australia may be known for rich red wine, but there are several areas in the country that produce racy, elegant whites like Riesling from the Clare Valley. Whereas Riesling in the US is often sweet, most of the Australian versions are bone dry and crisp, with a lean mineral edge. They are appealing to those who enjoy whites from cool-climate places, like Austria or Chablis. Clare Valley Riesling is delicious as an aperitif, with seafood, or with pork dishes like grilled chops.
Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir
The Mornington Peninsula, just south of Melbourne, is home to some of the most highly esteemed Pinot Noir vineyards in the country. These wines tend to be silky smooth and medium-bodied, with intense berry and cherry flavors accented by spice and a hint of eucalyptus. Pinot from the Mornington Peninsula is great with duck and salmon, but it’s also delicious on its own.
Hunter Valley Semillon
The Hunter Valley, near the capital city of Sydney, is among the more northerly wine regions in the country, which leads to relatively high temperatures and humidity. The cloudy skies and sub-tropical conditions don’t seem to bother the vineyards full of Semillon, a white grape most famous in Bordeaux, where it is usually blended with Sauvignon Blanc. In the Hunter Valley, it’s bottled as a varietal wine with a full-body, deep golden color, and distinctive flavors of tropical fruit, honey, and flowers. Hunter Valley Semillon is among the most distinctive wines in the country and can mature with age for a long time relative to other whites. Some examples may improve in the cellar for a decade or more.
Adelaide Hills Grenache
South Australia’s Adelaide Hills provide an excellent home to diverse vineyards and winemakers – some of whom are making creative and distinctive wines. The Grenache grape is best known in the south of France and Spain, but it has been growing in Australia for generations; the best examples can give Shiraz a run for its money. Styles of Adelaide Hills Grenache range from full and fruity to delicate and understated. Some of my favorites feature a French winemaking technique often used in Beaujolais called “carbonic maceration” that results in wines with an almost effervescent mouthfeel and light color. The delicacy of hue and texture doesn’t mean these wines are bland, however. They generally have deep, poignant flavors and a highly aromatic bouquet.
Barossa Valley Port
The British Empire was obsessed with fortified wines during much of the time of Australian colonization. Wars in Europe made trade difficult, and it was decided that Australia would be a good place to make Port. Although fortified wines don’t have the prominence they once did, Australia still makes some delicious Port. Try an example from the Barossa Valley where many of the vines planted hundreds of years ago still produce deeply flavored, spicy fruit. Australian Port will keep in the cellar for centuries, and even an open bottle will stay fresh for several days. Pair with decadent desserts like chocolate cake for a gastronomic celebration of Australian wine.
The vast and varied nation of Australia continues to reveal new discoveries for wine lovers decades after Americans first embraced Shiraz from “down under.” Keep your eyes open the next time you shop for wine, and you might discover new and surprising favorites!