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Australian Wine Basics
Land of the big, easy drinkers!
During World War II, my father was assigned as a liaison to the British 8th Army in North Africa. The units he worked with had lots of Australians and he once told me that he never met an Aussie he didn't like or a Brit that he did! While I have not had the same problem with Brits, I have to agree with him about Australians and their wine. I have never met an Australian who wasn't friendly and personable. And, while I have tasted a few "clunkers" I have never had the kind of lean, acidic, generally nasty wines that Italy and France can produce in a bad year. Why is that you ask? Because they just don't have bad years in Australia. The worst vintages they ever produce would be considered average in Europe. Australia's wine country has very consistent climate with lots of sunshine and very little rain which means grapes almost always ripen perfectly. That ripeness has defined Australia's winemaking style as "fruit forward," producing rich, soft, easy drinking wines with wonderful fruit character.
Australia's 1,318 wineries only produce about 1/3 the amount of wine we make here in the United States. However, when you consider that there only 18 million Australians and 220 million of us, that's a lot of wine. In spite of the average Australian drinking 3 times as much wine as we do, it still leaves plenty for export, and ship it out they do. Last year, Australia produced $2.7 billion worth of wine and exported $1.2 billion of it.
Some of the best values in the wine world come from Australia. Between 1991 and 2000 Aussie wine exports grew by a staggering 570%. They built their reputation by producing oceans of very drinkable Chardonnay, Shiraz and Rhone style Shiraz blends that sell for less than $10. The real jewels are only now beginning to reach our shores. Small production, hand crafted wines from wineries like Leeuwin, d'Arenbreg and Yalumba are now receiving the 95+ point scores in the American wine press usually only reserved for first growth Bordeauxs and California Cult Cabernets.
Australian Wine Labels
Australian wine labels are probably the easiest to understand in the world. By law the label must list the grape varietals used to make the wine in order of their proportions. Australian winemakers traditionally take the practice a step further by actually listing the percentages of varietals on their blended wines. So, when you buy a bottle of Penfolds 1997 Bin 389 the label tells you that it is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Shiraz. What a thought... actually telling the customer what's in the bottle they are buying! We pioneered it, the Aussies perfected it and the French still think it should be a mystery....
Australian Wine Regions Like the American
"Appellation of Origin" or the French "Appellation Controlee," the Australians regulate the use of the names of the geographic areas where grapes are grown calling the "Geographic Indications." These areas can be as broad as the most commonly used G.I., South Eastern Australia, or any of the 7 Australian States. From there they break down into 62 currently recognized zones, regions and sub-regions.
The state of South Australia produces 58% of Australia's wine and is home to most of Australia's largest wineries like Wolff Blass, Peter Lehmann and Penfolds. The most important growing regions (G.I.'s) are the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra and McLaren Vale.
The state of Victoria, on the south eastern tip of the continent, produces 14% of Australia's wine and is home to many smaller wineries as well as the giant Lindemans. The most important growing regions (G.I.'s) are Glenrowan, Milawa, Murray River and the Yarra Valley.
The state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, produces 27% of Australia's wine and is an important source of fruit for many of the high-production wineries. Tyrell's, Rosemount and Wyndham are located here and the most important growing regions (G.I.'s) are the Lower Hunter Valley, Upper Hunter Valley and Mudgee.
The state of Western Australia, has much cooler growing regions and produces less than 1% of Australia's wine. Margaret River is the most important growing region made famous by the Leeuwin Estates award winning Chardonnays. July 25, 2001
July 25, 2001