Winecast: Australian Wine

By Brian Lemay 22 comments

Hello everybody and welcome to the Winecast. I’ve been wanting to do a cast on Australian
wine for a while, and I’ve also received quite a few requests for such a cast, and in a lot
of ways this cast is overdue, since Australia is a major wine producer and important player
in the wine world, but in addition to those things Australia is something else as well. It’s large. Very large, actually. In fact, if you compare it to the 48 contiguous
United States, it clocks in at only a little smaller in terms of total area. So, it makes about as much sense to try to
talk about all Australian wine in a single cast as it would to talk about all American
wine or all French, Italian and Spanish wine, for that matter, in a single cast. Therefore, the goal for this cast will just
be to introduce you to Australia’s role in the world wine economy, give you a little
bit of a lay of the land in terms of where the major production areas are, and then talk
some about wine law, grapes and styles, all in anticipation of future casts on each of
the major wine regions of the country, like I’ve been doing for France, and, more recently,
Spain and Italy. Wine grapes, or Vitis vinifera, first made
it to Australia when cuttings from the Cape Colony, in what would later become South Africa,
arrived in New South Wales, on the Eastern Coast of the continent in 1788. Since there are no grape species that are
native to Australia, the incoming vines didn’t have to face any natural predators like vines
arriving on the East Coast of North America did, and it was possible to start making wine
in Australia from the get-go, with the only obstacles to quality production being good
cuttings and viticultural and winemaking know-how. The first steps at overcoming these obstacles
were taken in 1833 when James Busby, a British subject who can rightfully be thought of as
the Father of Australian Wine and who had come to Australia earlier to teach viticulture,
returned from a trip to France and Spain with cuttings from a large number of varietals
from each of these countries as well as with information on more effective wine growing
and winemaking techniques that he had acquired during his travels. Wine knowledge and technique also got a boost
a few decades later as immigrants from various wine producing regions in Europe made their
way to Australia, and quality wines were consistently being produced Down Under by the mid-1800s. Later in the century, though, disaster struck
with the arrival of Phylloxera in the 1870s. Phylloxera first landed in Victoria and then
spread to New South Wales, doing considerable harm to the local industry. Like most countries affected by this pest,
Australia recovered, but also like most affected countries, the recovery came by emphasizing
quantity production over quality production, and, for most of the 20th Century, Australia
was known more for bulk wine and fortified sweet wine than it was for quality dry wine
production, though were some notable exceptions to this trend, like the remarkable Penfolds
Grange, for example. Starting in the 1980s, though, Australia entered
what can only be called a wine boom with huge increases in the amount of land under vine
throughout the country and corresponding increases in production and, most importantly, exports,
making Australia into a true global wine powerhouse. Despite some setbacks to the wine economy
during the new millennium, Australia remains a powerful player on the world wine stage. In 2016 it was the world’s 5th largest producer
of wine and the 5th largest exporter of wine in that year as well, with exports equivalent
to 1.7 billion U.S. dollars. 2016 was also significant because it saw China
become the premier destination for Australian wine exports for the first time, replacing
the U.S. and the UK that had vied for that spot in previous decades. China’s new place as the top destination for
Australian imports is consistent with Australia’s role as a provider of wine for other countries
in its corner of the world, and it’s a major exporter to countries in South East Asia and
India and has been playing a more and more important, though still modest, role in supplying
wine to South Korea. Though it’s a big exporter, Australia hasn’t
been a big importer of wine, and in 2016 it ranked as only the 15th largest importer of
wine in the world with Aussies preferring to drink domestic, and only around 17% of
wine sold in Australia is imported wine. For comparison’s sake, that number in the
U.S. is closer to 30%. So where is all this wine coming from? Well, though there’s wine produced in all
6 of Australia’s states and in the Northern Territory, the big players are the states
of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There are somewhat smaller but still very
important production areas in Western Australia, and the island-state of Tasmania, though not
as well known for individual wine regions, has been coming into its own as a producer
in recent years. So that’s where most of the wine is coming
from, but how is the system regulated? In Australia, wine production is regulated
through Geographical Indications or GI’s, but I’m using regulated very loosely here
because the Australian system is a lot like the systems used in Germany or in the United
States and most other New World wine producers that are really all about guaranteeing the
claims that a producer makes about place of origin, vintage and kinds of grapes in the
bottle, instead of mandating specific practices in the vineyard or winery. Currently, there are over 100 GI’s in Australia
that range in size from the entire country, to much smaller regions and subregions. The Country, Multistate, State and Zonal,
or in the case of several combined Zones, Superzonal GI’s are based on boundaries national,
civic and other political units and weren’t thought up with homogeneity of terroir in
mind. So, it’s the smaller Regional and Subregional
designations that were drawn up based on similarities of geography and climate that are the most
prestigious. The system is administered by Wine Australia
that until recently was known as the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, a government-funded
company based in Adelaide that, among other things, defines the various GI’s in the system. Though the Geographic Indication system doesn’t
regulate much in the way of viticulture or winemaking practice, it does have standards
for labeling of grape origin, varietal labeling and vintage dating. And in all of these cases, the system follows
the so-called “85% rule.” So, if the labels lists a single GI, then
at least 85% of the grapes that the wine was made from will have come from that GI. If less than 85% of the grapes are from a
single GI, the producer has the option of designating the wine with a larger GI up the
scale that does account for at least 85% of the grapes, or he can list all of the GI’s
from which the grapes were sourced separately on the label. If a wine is designated as a single varietal,
then, similarly, 85% of the grapes from which it’s made must be that varietal. If no grape reaches the 85% threshold, then
the label can either not show a varietal at all or must list each varietal used in descending
order of its presence in the wine. And finally, if the wine has a vintage designation
then a minimum of 85% of the grapes used to make the wine must have been grown in the
named year. And what are these grapes? Australia grows lots and lots of different
grapes with at least 150 different varietals of Vitis vinifera available to winemakers. The top 7, based on numbers available for
2010, are Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, that you
may hear pronounced “Semillon” by some Australians, and Pinot Noir. Following closely on their heels is Riesling,
a very important player in Australian wine and, though somewhat smaller in terms of their
plantings, Grenache and Mourvèdre have a long history in Australia of being paired
with Shiraz to create GSM, or Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre, blends. In terms of styles, Australia a great reputation
for varietal wines but blend, especially those featuring, members of the top 7 grapes, are
well known, too, with Shiraz and Cab Sauv blends being especially popular. Sweet, fortified wines that Australians refer
to as “Stickies” and the usually feature Grenache if red or Muscat if white were a big part
Aussie production during the 20th Century and still have a loyal fan base. And sparkling wines, especially sparkling
whites from the southernmost part of the country, have been making a splash recently, but if
you really want to try a different sort of bubble, be on the lookout for red, Sparkling
Shiraz, a perennial favorite Down Under. We’ve covered a lot of ground in this cast,
but I don’t want to end it without pointing you to at least a handful of key regions and
the wines they’re famous for. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales has a
curious climate that’s very warm and humid by day but cooled by breezes in the evening
thanks to its proximity to the sea. This is white country, producing creamy, luscious
Chardonnay and spectacular Sémillon that seems to keep getting better with age. By contrast, the Mudgee area just west of
the Hunter Valley is known for its reds, particularly its Cabernet Sauvignon. Rutherglen in Victoria is famous for big,
brassy Shiraz, and the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley, some of the most southerly
of the appellations on the main body of Australia, take advantage of the cooler climate down
South to grow well regarded Chards and Pinot Noir. And where there’s Chard and Pinot, of course,
there will be bubbles. In South Australia Barossa and the McLaren
Vale have a remarkable reputation for Shiraz while Coonawara gets praise for its intensely
concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Clare and Eden Valleys keep whites on the map with
their Rieslings. Western Australia’s Margaret River produces
both reds and whites, but it’s especially highly regarded for Chardonnay and for Bordeaux-styled
blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Finally, Tasmania, the farthest South and
coolest of Australia’s states, took a page from the Yarra and Mornington playbook and
has been producing hard to find but much sought after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay both still
and sparkling. Finally, though I doubt this makes any difference
in terms of quality, if it’s important to you to seek out vines planted on their own
root stock, it’s worth noting that Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia as
well the minor wine producing area in the Northern Territory are Phylloxera-free and
are kept that way by a strict quarantine system. Queensland is also free of the pest, though
some of its vineyards are in an at-risk zone for the bug. Thanks for joining me for another wine cast. There’s much, much more to say about Australian
wine, particularly about the wines produced in the various regions but also about what
Australia’s wine boom can teach us about the economics and culture of wine, but that will
all have to wait for future casts. For now, I hope this cast oriented you better
toward Aussie wines and left you feeling more comfortable about checking them out or getting
to know them better. If it has or was otherwise helpful and interesting,
please like and subscribe if you haven’t already and always feel free to leave a comment, question
or request. I’m your host the Unknown Winecaster, and
I’m out. Enjoy the grape, but always enjoy it responsibly.


Erik Wait

Jul 7, 2017, 4:36 pm Reply

PERFECT TIMING! I just finished a 3 week study of Australian wines. The highlight of my study was drinking a 2009 Penfolds Grange on my birthday. Thanks again for your videos!


Jul 7, 2017, 5:03 pm Reply

Today we start the Australia Lecture and Tasting at the International Culinary Center in NYC. Thanks for the awesome introduction. I did exceptionally well in the France exam thanks to your casts. cheers!


Jul 7, 2017, 6:59 pm Reply

Welcome Back!

Antonio Herrero

Jul 7, 2017, 8:47 pm Reply

Any subtitles?

Peter Snow

Jul 7, 2017, 12:35 am Reply

I absolutely love you're videos, they may have helped me pass the WSET level 3 exam,
I thank you for posting such useful information, I really appreciate you're work, time and effort that you put into these videos that definitely helped me and I'm sure many others to be able to learn while we're not technically studying, and the time to still geek out when you're supposed to be chilling out is priceless

Sally Liang

Jul 7, 2017, 5:10 am Reply

Wow thank you so much ! Amazing video, I love it

Dracaena Wines

Jul 7, 2017, 10:52 pm Reply

Great post! It is nice that they stick to a set number for labeling purposes. US varies depending on what you are talking about- vineyard designate, varietal designation, county. The laws seem to be never ending.

UnderneathTheBottle Wine Sommelier

Jul 7, 2017, 7:15 am Reply

Solid stuff once again! Lot's of Australian bulk goes to Japan aswell. I hope you are having a great summer. Cheers ??

Peter Bowen

Jul 7, 2017, 12:54 am Reply

Thanks for your channel. Your succinct, knowledgeable posts are very well done. I always learn something new. Much appreciated. I wouldn't mind a post on your take on writing (amateur) wine reviews. Guidelines? A possible structure? Take care. Thanks.

Ryan The Wine Guy

Jul 7, 2017, 2:59 am Reply

Great video and info!


Aug 8, 2017, 3:25 pm Reply

Aww really? the union jack? thats only a small part of our flag, definetly not GB


Jan 1, 2018, 11:58 pm Reply

Thanks for doing this video. If you could, I’d love to see more videos about Australian wines. But this really helped thanks.

Thomas Erickson

Mar 3, 2018, 5:37 am Reply

Hi, Unknown. I just wanted to point out that one reason why China has overtaken USA and UK as top importer of Aussie wine wares is largely due to the fact that China has reduced the import tariff on Australian goods to Zero (is nearing the end of the process of making that happen, as they have already done for Chile). In so doing, the Aussie wines become relatively cheaper, and thus relatively more attractive than consumers. I live in Shanghai, and can say that Rawson's Retreat, Jacob's Creek, Yellow Tail, and even Hardy's are quite a common sight. Much harder to find USA wines due to the 48% import tariff on them… (plus the U.S. is less likely to export since USA is the destination market for wine, the opposite of the Australian export industry). Thanks for your great and very thoughtful Winecasts. They are great to listen to throughout the day, giving me new tidbits and challenging my to recall lost knowledge. rock on.

taff daniel

Mar 3, 2018, 4:07 am Reply

With this 10minute cast l feel like I have study the whole Australian wine…thanks again for your time and effort it's really worth it ?

Ben Hall

Jun 6, 2018, 7:50 am Reply

Great introductory video. Thanks for making it. As an Australian wine drinker I hope you don’t mind me adding some points of clarification: WA, esp Margaret River, is renowned for its Cab Sav and blends, Yarra Valley also produces excellent Cab Sav, and Hunter Valley is well known for its Shiraz. Also, Australians are increasingly drinking more international wine. NZ Sauv Blanc in particular but also wines from other countries, esp the Old World. This in turn is having a beneficial effect on the types of wines being made in Australia. Aus Chard from the cooler wine producing regions is often outstanding, and a world away from the cheap and cheerful over oaked examples made in the 1980s. And increasingly Spanish and Portuguese varietals are being grown in areas where full bodied Shiaraz has traditionally thrived. Exciting times here!

Keep up the good work. I am about to embark on WSET level 3, and your videos are great.

warner Barrantes

Jul 7, 2018, 4:54 pm Reply

Amazing wine cast I enjoy it. At lot info in just 10 minutes that why I love this wine-cast keep going my friend you helping at lot of people.

Wine and Vinyl

Sep 9, 2018, 8:01 pm Reply

This was fantastic!

Sean McKinney

Feb 2, 2019, 10:41 am Reply

Let us see a more in-depth series on Australia! Please! You're awesome!

Akshay Shinde

Apr 4, 2019, 6:25 pm Reply

Inspired me to study and pass wset level 2 now inspiring me to go further

Stefan Uttam

Apr 4, 2019, 10:20 am Reply

You got the wrong flag. The Australian flag contains the Union Jack, the Southern Cross and the Commonwealth Star

Andrew O

Jun 6, 2019, 6:18 am Reply

I think our Wine Equalisation Tax is a big reason for the lack of wine import into Australia.

Kaiser Frost

Jul 7, 2019, 5:16 am Reply

I want to go on a fishing vacation in Australia someday. Hitting up a vineyard on the trip sounds like an awesome idea. I prefer dry red wines like merlot and pinot noire, and very dry rose. One time I tried and Australian "rose" that was cherry-red and beautifully tart and dry. I know this is a tall order but, which vinyard(s) should I visit?

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