Australia is the world’s fifth biggest exporter of wine, producing more than a billion litres a year from an estimated 2,468 wineries. Although best-known for its bold shiraz, tasty tipples in many different varieties are taking the world by storm from this ‘New World’ wine country. Here are our pick of the best wine regions Down Under to visit in 2018.
Hunter Valley, New South Wales
Just over two hours from Sydney is Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley. World-renowned for its stellar semillon, it was established in the mid-19th century by James Busby, who is widely regarded as the ‘father’ of the Australian wine industry after he returned from Europe in 1832 bringing with him 20,000 vine cuttings, many of which were planted in the Hunter Valley. With vineyards dating back to the 1860s still in production, as well as more than 150 wineries, plentiful cellar doors and a wide selection of winery tours, there are many ways to explore the celebrated fruits of the Hunter Valley. It only takes 40 minutes to drive from one end of the valley to the other, but the region is just as famous for its spas, fine dining and outdoor adventures (think hot air ballooning) as it is for its wines, so there’s plenty to keep you entertained if you’re looking for activities other than wine tasting. There are day tours from Sydney as well as within the Hunter Valley, which makes this the perfect destination for a day out or even a cheeky weekend away.
Known for: its mild and humid climate, and producing the world’s benchmark semillon wines, which get better as they age with their lemon curd complexion. But the Hunter Valley is also acclaimed for its spicy, earthy and leathery shiraz, and its rich chardonnay (and being one of the first regions in Australia to grow the chardonnay variety).
Nearest airport: Sydney Kingsford Smith
The Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region
The Barossa Valley, South Australia
The Barossa is perhaps Australia’s most famous wine region, known for its bold shiraz and heavyweight wineries like Penfolds and Wolf Bass, so it goes without saying that any discerning connoisseur would want to put the Barossa Valley on their list. The area has more than 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors, and some of the world’s oldest vines at over a century old, so there’s plenty to keep any oenophile satisfied. The wine growing here is steeped in tradition, largely influenced by the German settlers who came to the area in the mid-19th century, and although the region’s shiraz takes the top spot, chardonnay, riesling and cabernet sauvignon are also strong contenders to sample when in the Barossa. Just 70 kilometres north of South Australia’s capital Adelaide, the Barossa also entices visitors with its seasonal produce, award-winning restaurants, and weekly market. The Barossa Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from 7.30-11.30am, and visitors are spoilt with a choice of locally grown produce and artisanal goods that they can buy directly from the growers and makers.
Known for: its Mediterranean climate that lends itself to full-bodied shiraz, rich cabernets, fresh lime rieslings, and spicy grenache with raspberry flavours.
Nearest airport: Adelaide Airport
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
This wine region is defined by its cool climate, and by focusing on cooler climate grapes, Adelaide Hills has risen through the ranks to produce some of Australia’s most incredible cool-climate chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and sauvignon blanc. A young wine region compared to the world leaders such as the Barossa and the Hunter, it is thought by many to produce Australia’s top sauvignon blanc as well as a world-class méthode traditionnelle sparkling wine. Best of all, you can reach this beautiful wine region in under half an hour from Adelaide. Who said finding the perfect tipple had to be difficult?
Known for: its changing seasons, meso-climates, and hills and valleys, which define the wines produced here. Taking the lead in the region is the sauvignon blanc, which is aromatic, zesty and crisp, with distinct ripe tropical fruit flavours, and hints of grapefruit and gooseberry. It is also the leading region for high-quality pinot noir, known for being medium-bodied with ripe cherry and strawberry flavours and soft tannins. Thanks to the diverse meso-climates, shiraz is also a successful wine here too.
Nearest airport: Adelaide Airport
McLaren Vale, South Australia
South Australia yet again… but who can blame us for putting another SA wine region on our list when there’s just so much incredible wine coming out of the state. What really gets us excited about the McLaren Vale is its openness towards innovation in winemaking. Plus, being just 45 minutes from Adelaide, it’s super easy to get to. Although one of the most acclaimed Australian wine regions and the birthplace of wine in South Australia, the region has welcomed many creative winemakers looking to try something different, and open boutique wineries that push boundaries. The environment is high on the list here, too, with a large percentage of producers farming organically, biodynamically and sustainably. While you’re there take on the Shiraz Trail, an 8 kilometre route that follows an old railway line close to some of the region’s signature shiraz producers.
Known for: its Mediterranean climate and proximity to the ocean, which produces a selection of meso-climates. There are many varieties that do well in the McLaren Vale, but it’s shiraz that accounts for almost 50 per cent of the total crush in this region each year. Expect notes of dark chocolate, berries and spice.
Nearest airport: Adelaide Airport
Margaret River, Western Australia
Located about three hours south of Perth, the Margaret River is one of the most isolated wine regions in the world. But a visit here is well worth the trip thanks to its blend of outstanding wineries, beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventures on offer. This now world-renowned wine region was little known 50 years ago, and in just a few generations has taken the wine world by storm with its knockout wines including cabernet sauvignon, semillon/sauvignon blanc blends and chardonnay. In fact, the region produces 20 per cent of Australia’s premium wines out of just 3 per cent of the county’s wine grapes. Fringed by the impossibly blue Indian Ocean, endless white sandy stretches, dramatic surf beaches and beautiful Aussie bush, and home to fine-dining restaurants and art galleries as well as more than 150 wineries, it’s easy to see why the Margaret River has become such a popular destination. Nearby are natural wonders such as Lake Cave, with its impressive crystal formation that hangs from the ceiling, and Busselton’s 150-year-old, 1.8 kilometre-long jetty (the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, complete with an underwater observatory where you can watch the tropical fish and sealife up close), meaning there’s even more reason to visit. Verdict: the Margaret River is a great destination whether you’re an adventure-seeker, foodie or oenophile, so what more could you want?!
Known for: a climate similar to that of Bordeaux in France. Many would say the region’s cabernet sauvignon is king, with its earthly tones and cassis and violet aromas. But the complex chardonnay and crisp, juicy sauvignon blanc and semillon shouldn’t be missed either.
Nearest airport: Perth Airport
Busselton, near the Margaret River, has the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere
Yarra Valley, Victoria
As Victoria’s oldest wine region, and one of Australia’s coolest regions, the Yarra Valley boasts 300 vineyards and more than 150 wineries producing some of Australia’s best pinot noir. But cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and chardonnay all do well here, too, and the Yarra Valley is also home to many revolutionary winemakers looking to push the boundaries in wine making, with a strong focus on the quality and flavour of the wines. The area is also celebrated for its fresh farm produce, including freshwater salmon, handmade cheeses, crafted preserves, artisanal chocolates, sensational breads and an abundance of fresh fruit and veg. Less than an hour from Melbourne, this is a foodie and wine-lover’s dream.
Known for: its cool climate, which produces a premier pinot noir, with notes of plum, strawberry and cherry. Also look out for the cabernet sauvignon that ranges from full-bodied to floral, chardonnay with notes of white peach, melon and fig, and the increasingly popular Yarra Valley shiraz.
Shiraz vs syrah
Australia and South Africa tend to use the term shiraz, while Europe and most other countries use the term syrah. It can be confusing to even the most discerning wine connoisseur, but what’s most important to remember is that they both derive from the same grape varietal. The difference in names mostly reflects the difference in winemaking styles, climates and influences of terroir.
What about the Clare Valley, the Mornington Peninsula, the Swan Valley, Coonawarra, the Tamar Valley we hear you cry! We could wax lyrical about Australia’s more than 60 designated wine regions. So why not get out there and explore to your heart’s content. Many of Australia’s wine regions are easily accessible from major airports, giving you even more reason to hit the road.