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Australian Origins
By Liza B. Zimmerman

The arrival of phylloxera in the UK in 1877 aided the growth of the Australian wine business by leaps and bounds, allowing the colony to step up and furnish supplies. Production in Australia really exploded in the 1980s with a focus on bulk and box wines which lead many of the wines to lose respect in the global arena. The focus on quality has grown enormously over the past handful of decades and both small, independent producers, as well as big corporate players are making high-quality wine across a variety of price points.

Many Australian regions benefit from having almost perfect wine growing conditions: including lots of sunshine and maritime influences. Key grape varieties continue to be the familiar Chardonnay, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling for whites; and Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache for reds. Wines must contain at least 85 percent of a grape mentioned to be a varietally labeled wine.

Regions and Labels

Labeling regulations were established in the 1990s and South Eastern Australia is the country’s largest “geographical indication,” or GI. New South Wales, in the southeast of the country, is one of the oldest and one of the largest wine producing areas of the country.

South Australia also produces a large percentage of the country’s wine, much of it coming from the Riverland area. The somewhat geographically distant Western Australia, keep in mind that this country is similar in size to the United States, is responsible for low yields and volume that is often considered some of the country’s highest quality because of the area’s cooler-climate growing conditions.

Two of Australia’s best-known regions are the Hunter and the Barossa Valleys, in great part because of their accessibility to the cities of Sydney and Adelaide. The Hunter has been called “The Cradle” of Australian viticulture and produces the bulk of its wines from Chardonnay, Sémillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

The Barossa is generally considered Australia’s top quality wine producing region, famous for its powerful, lush reds primarily based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Mouvèdre and Syrah. Many of the country’s corporate giants, such as Penfolds and Hardys, have vineyards here. The island of Tasmania is also attracting a lot of attention for its cool-climate wines.