Think of Australia and images of the rugged outback, Ayers Rock, the Sydney Opera house and, of course, the latest installment of “The Bachelor” immediately pop to mind.  It is a continent with a reputation for harsh terrain, harsher climates, crocodiles, knife-wielding men who like to trounce shirtless through the Outback (just ask “The Bachelor” ) and, lately, great value-priced wines.  Many of those images are stereotypes or misinterpretations, but the wine part is definitely true.

Approximately the same size as the continental U.S., Australia has about 850 wineries, but produces less than 30% as much wine as California.  Yet, wine consumption in Australia is double that of the U.S. – go figure.  The industry has really grown over the past 20 years, allowing wineries to develop some of the most technologically advanced winemaking techniques – thus helping reduce costs.   The concept of terroir has only recently gained popularity.  Traditionally it was undervalued or even dismissed as winemakers focused on ingenuity and blending of grape from within and even between regions.  This is the reason so many quality, reasonably priced wines have been produced in Australia.

Australia’s popularity has been built on Chardonnay and Shiraz.  Today, with new emphasis on region and terroir, the country produces some fabulous, fruity reds and full-bodied whites that rival the best (and best values) in the world.  Australian Shiraz (Syrah in France) is deeply concentrated, with hints of mint, black pepper and eucalyptus in some areas.  Other reds that have devoted followings are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and blends of various varietals.  In addition to Chardonnay, Australia is known for Semillion, Riesling and Muscat.

The majority of Australian wine is produced in Southern and Eastern Australia, including the states of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.  Each region in these states is becoming known for particular varietals.

Western Australia boasts some of the country’s best producers.  The Margaret River region, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, is a magical place where wines benefit from the cooling effect of the sea.  It is quickly becoming known for powerful, elegant reds, including Shiraz, Cab and Zinfandel, and voluptuous whites from Chardonnay to Sauvignon.

Australia, while known for quality and value pricing, produces some fabulous wines in all the big varietals.  Join us at our next Wine Down Wednesday for an exploration of Aussie Reds and New Zealand Whites.

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