The Mountain Times

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Wine from “the land down under” holds impressive variety

Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world after Italy, France and Spain; and the second biggest source of imports into the US after Italy by volume. By value it ranks third behind France, an indication that more wine from Australia ranks in the 'budget-value' level, though there are some very good high-end wines as well.

Wine production in Australia is most concentrated in the southeastern part of the continent, and to some extent on the southwest coast. The grape variety Australia is famous for is Syrah, or Shiraz, as it is called there. It is the same grape grown in the Rhone Valley of France that is thought to have originated from Shiraz, Persia, but pronounced without the 'z' in French, and to differentiate themselves the Australians added the 'z' again in English, perhaps with a bit more twang as in 'shiraice'.

Chardonnay is the dominant grapes for white wines, with some Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Semillon, the latter often blended with Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pint Noir are the other red grape varieties that have taken a strong hold on the continent.

Australia's place-of-origin system is similar to that of the US in that it is simply an area on a map, known as 'geographical indication' or 'GI'. There are no restrictions on procedure or yield for grape growers or winemakers in these areas, unlike the systems in Europe. In order to list the 'GI' or the grape on the label, the wine must contain at least 85% of that area or varietal, and blending grapes or sources can be listed or not.

Most of the well-known wine areas are in Southeastern Australia with the exception of Margaret River all the way to the west where constant sea breezes kept the region cool. This makes ideal conditions for crisp and delicious white wines, particularly Chardonnay.

Famous for its quality wines is McLaren Vale, one of the four regions surrounding Adelaide, the others being: Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and Eden Valley. The climate of this entire region is very "Mediterranean", generally warm and dry, with cool breezes blowing in from the ocean. McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley's reputation is built on Shiraz, while Eden and Clare Valleys are better known for their Riesling.

Coonawarra, also in South Australia, but further south east, is known for its limestone soil, which is bright red, called 'terra rossa'. It is best known for quality Cabernet Sauvignon. A little more eastwards, around the city of Melbourne in Victoria are the areas of Heathcote, Bendigo, Goulburn Valley and Rutherglen. All are influenced by the distinctive climate of cool winds descending from the Mt Carmel Range with moderate summer temperatures. All of these areas are known for their big and bold premium shiraz wines.

Australia usually stands for high-alcohol, fruit-driven and full-bodied wines that are a result of sheer unlimited sunshine and warm-to-hot temperatures. While many wines are simple, inexpensive, high-volume brands that have been commercially very successful, there is a good number of handcrafted, complex Shiraz or Shiraz blends that are highly regarded by wine drinkers that like expressive wines with silky tannins, balanced structure and impressive length.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, wine, Australia