Australia is the world’s fourth largest wine exporter (760 million litres pa), and sixth largest wine producer. A substantial domestic market sees Australians consume nearly 500 million litres of wine per year. Per capita wine consumption (24 litres pa) is the highest in the English-speaking world.
Australia’s wine industry has almost 2,000 wine producers - most of whom are small, with the market dominated by a few major wine companies. Australian wine is now a significant contributor to our economy through production, employment, trade, and tourism.
Although vine cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, Australian wines have only gained prominence in the last 40 years. Nascent stirrings occurred in the 1830s, when James Busby began planting his many varieties sourced from France and Spain in the Hunter Valley. The 1850s gold rushes saw an influx of miners and free settlers from Europe, with skills and knowledge to improve Australian wine quality and production. For example, emigrants from Prussia, helped establish the Barossa Valley as a winemaking region; while a short-lived gold rush at Rutherglen, laid the basis for its famed, fortified dessert wines. Many wineries established at this time have passed their winemaking philosophy down through the generations.
Despite accolades for Australian table wines at international exhibitions during the 1870s, and some visionaries predicting Australia would become a prime source of wines for the tables of Britain and Europe, the economic depression of the 1890s quickly killed off this dream. Until the late 1970s, Australian wine production consisted largely of sweet and fortified wines.
In order of production, our main red varieties are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache. The main white’s produced are Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Increasing interest in ‘alternative varieties’, has seen significant recent plantings of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Pinot Gris, Petit Verdot, and Viognier.
The French use the word ‘terroir’ - we could use the aboriginal word ‘pangkarra’ - to describe the combination of factors in a particular vineyard site. A region’s terroir will determine its success with particular varieties or styles - allowing certain regions to shine with the right grape ‘fit’. We now think of Eden, Clare, Great Southern and Tasmania for Riesling; Coonawarra, Margaret River and Yarra Valley for Cabernet; Barossa, McLaren Vale and Heathcote for Shiraz; and Tasmania, Port Phillip or Adelaide Hills for Pinot Noir.
Aged Hunter Valley Semillon is a truly, unique Australian style. Possibly first produced due to necessity - requiring early harvest to avoid potentially damaging, late summer humidity. Its high natural acidity as result of early harvesting, provides the backbone for ageing. In youth, the wines have rather neutral grassy, apple and lemon characters, but with six or more years cellaring they develop distinctive toast, honey and fig characters.
Rutherglen Muscat and Tokay (Topaque) are the pinnacle of Australia’s range of fortified dessert wines. Made from Muscat Petits Grains and Muscadelle grapes, Rutherglen’s hot, dry climate is ideal for sugar accumulation. Fortified to stop fermentation after three to four days, the wines carry high levels of residual sugar. The real secret to these luscious treasures is the extended ageing in large, old oak; giving the wines intensity and complexity. Fruit cake, butterscotch, mocha, nutty and rancio characters dominate these distinguished dessert wines.
Sparkling reds are another unique Australian style. Originally called ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ there are many theories how it came into being. It is believed that in pre-phylloxera Burgundy, sparkling wines were made from Pinot Noir, but fell out of fashion. Hans Irvine, pioneer of sparkling wine-making at Great Western in the late 19th century, employed Burgundian wine-makers who fashioned sparkling reds out of local Shiraz, and the style persisted. Whatever the history, between 1940 and 1980, ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ was almost obligatory with Christmas dinner.
There are many, many other examples that demonstrate the breadth and quality Australia’s fine wine industry, but the best way to familiarise yourself, is to pick a region, variety or style, and investigate further.
Dan Murphy's supports the Responsible Service of Alcohol. New South Wales: Liquor Act 2007. It is against the law to sell or supply alcohol to, or to obtain alcohol on behalf of, a person under the age of 18 years.Victoria: WARNING: Victoria Liquor Control Reform Act 1998: It is an offence to supply alcohol to a person under the age of 18 years (Penalty exceeds $7,000), for a person under the age of 18 years to purchase or receive liquor (Penalty exceeds $600). WARNING. Under the Liquor Control Act 1988, it is an offence: to sell or supply liquor to a person under the age of 18 years on licensed or regulated premises; or for a person under the age of 18 years to purchase, or attempt to purchase, liquor on licensed or regulated premises.South Australia: Liquor Licensing Act 1997, Section 113. Liquor must NOT be supplied to persons under 18. Queensland: Under the Liquor Act 1992, it is an offence to supply liquor to a person under the age of 18 years. For more specific legislation in your state or territory visit our Liquor Licensing Acts page. ABN 88 000 014 675.