Since the early 90s, Australia has been known simply for making decent quality, easy drinking wine that could be had for way below $10 a bottle. But with demand for Australian wines at an all time high — Australia recently toppled France as the top wine importer to the UK — Australia is becoming a major player on the global wine scene.

Australia has about 400,000 acres of grape vines, just slightly below California’s acreage, about half of which are found in Southern Australia. While most of Australia is quite arid, Southern Australia enjoys more moderate temperatures and even some areas that qualify as “cool climate.” Even in this region, most of the vineyards rely on vast irrigation systems, and refrigeration and stainless-steel tanks are used to control temperature throughout the fermentation process.

Originally, most Australian wines were blends made from grapes from a variety of regions, but now Australian winemakers are recognizing the value of terroir and certain regions are becoming known for particular varietals:

    • Coonawarra, home of the famous region of Terra Rossa (red earth), produces some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • The Barossa Valley produces wines, notably Shiraz, with big earthy flavors. Australia’s oldest Shiraz vines still live on in the Barossa from low yielding dry grown bush vines that produce highly concentrated, complex and full-bodied wines
    • Clare Valley is regarded as the Australian home for Riesling
    • Yarra Valley in the state of Victoria (southeast of South Australia) has a cool climate with moderate amounts of rain, which produces great Burgundian varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Australian naming conventions are a little different than the U.S. or Europe. If a label indicates a single varietal, the wine must be made from at least 80% of that type of grape. If multiple grapes are listed, as in a blend, the varietals are listed in descending order of quantity. Likewise if the label indicates a region, the wine must be comprised of at least 80% of grapes from that region, and multiple regions are listed in the order of quantity.

If you’d like a taste of the land Down Under, join us at the DWO’s March 29 Wine Down Wednesday which will feature the wines of Australia.

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