From chardonay to shiraz, Australia has been churning out top class wines for centuries, and following the recent devastating bush fires, there’s never been a better time to show them some love. But with so many, where oh where to start?
Lead image: Tapanappa Wines’ Tiers Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills
The wines of Australia are made with attitude and latitude. Many have voluptuous, vibrant, fruity flavours due, in part, to all the sunshine the vines get because of the country’s geographic location.
They have been making wine for over two centuries, and in the Barossa Valley there are vines still producing wines today that date back to the 1840s.
The areas under commercial production occupy a small percentage of the total landmass of this vast continent, and are mainly located in the south east and in western coastal areas.
In nearly all cases, quality wines are produced between 30 and 40 degrees latitude; the main exception is Tasmania, which makes many fine cool climate wines.
Within these areas there are regions or zones which are suited to the production of particular varietals; for example the Barossa Valley for shiraz, Margaret River for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay and Hunter Valley for semillon.
‘In nearly all cases, quality wines are produced between 30 and 40 degrees latitude; the main exception is Tasmania, which makes many fine cool climate wines’
Australian wines start at around £5 a bottle for something pretty basic, to around £500 for icons such as Penfolds Grange and Henshcke Hill of Grace (it’s significant that both of those are shirazes, since Australia produces some of the best in the world made from this grape, also known as syrah, in places like the Rhone Valley).
However, there are many world class bottles between £25 and £100 and plenty of quality and value in the key £10-25 range. As always, at the Australia Day tasting in January, I found some truly terrific wines. There were over 1,000 to run a palate over.
The Australian Bush Fires
One cannot write about these wines without mentioning the appalling bush fires that have recently ravaged parts of Australia, including many areas where there are wineries, particularly NSW and Victoria but also Adelaide Hills, where up to a third of the vineyard production may have been destroyed.
Fortunately, less than 1% of the country’s 146,000 hectares of vineyards has been affected. But even grapes unaffected by fire can be affected by smoke. At this stage it is too early to determine the extent of this – growers and winemakers will test grapes before harvest to measure for compounds in them that might affect flavour.
10 of the best australian wines
Wayne de Nicolo’s pick of the best from the Australia Day Wine Tasting
d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2018 (13.5%): Fine fruity aromas introduce ripe peachy flavours. Lovely wine for the price. £12.30-£13.95. Widely available.
Voyager Estate Margaret River Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%): Full, rounded stone fruit taste from top quality grapes. A ripper, as the Aussies would say. £24.95 from divinefinewines.co.uk
Yalumba The Virgilus Eden Valley Viognier 2016 (13.5%): Complexity and elegance to the fore here, with a gentle apricot taste. In a good year like this, one of the best Australian viogniers from a specialist in the grape. £30 from specialistcellars.co.uk
Robert Oatley Vineyards The Pennant, Margaret River Chardonnay 2013 (13%): A superb wine showing rich, ripe white fruits and complexity. Shows why winemaker Larry Cherubino has received much critical acclaim. Not available in the retail market but just as good is the 2015 at £33.95 from thevinorium.co.uk
Tapanappa Tiers Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2017 (13%): A charming, high quality wine from beautiful fruit. Oak, fruit and acid all in balance. £44.95 from winedirect.co.uk, £49 from ozwines.co.uk. Note: An equally highly rated version of this wine from the same vineyard, but made by historically related winery Petaluma in 2016, costs £26.95 from thevinorium.co.uk
Giaconda Estate Vineyard Beechworth Chardonnay 2017 (13.5%): One of the aristocrats of Australian wine and perennially in the top drawer for chardonnays. Medium bodied with refined, elegant and complex flavours which give it an ethereal quality. £90 from vincognito.co.uk and D Vine Cellars London SW4
St Hallett Blackwell Barossa Shiraz 2015 (14.5%): Deep colour and ripe black fruits on a plush palate, from a highly regarded shiraz producer. Hard to beat for this money. Still a little youthful but has 15 years ahead of it. £25 or buy six for £21.68 per bottle from laithwaites.co.uk
Glaetzer Bishop Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 (14.5%): Black cherries, plums and chocolate abound on the powerful, textured palate. Great wine for the price. Drinkable now but will improve over next 3-5 years. £25.80 from bancroftwines.com
Kilikanoon Tregea Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (14%): Has luscious, ripe, plum and cassis fruit, with a touch of appealing sweetness. Made only in the best years. £41 from ozwines.co.uk
Torbreck The Factor Barossa Valley Shiraz 2016 (15%): This producer is renowned for high alcohol wines made from super ripe fruit; this is no exception. Wonderfully rich, dark fruit in the mouth, with some tannins evident, adding to the complex mix. For me this is Australian shiraz at its best, but pricey. £137.22 from winebuyers.com