Australia’s Wine Regions

The vineyards of Australia cover 170,000 hectares in different wine regions in New South Wales (NSW), South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and part of Queensland.

Australia has become the 7th biggest wine producing country having about 1,200 million litres of wine produced each year. With the country’s own consumption representing less than 40% of the production, Australia is the 4th largest wine exporter.

Australia has spent millions of dollars to build a brand around Shiraz (Australia’s word for Syrah). As a result Australia wine production has tripled since 1990. However, despite this success, Australian wines have suffered some serious drawbacks in the media. Wine critics often disregard most Aussie wine as “Critter Wines”, referring to the cute animal designs that adorn many of the wine labels.

Australia’s main grape varietals are Shiraz followed by Chardonnay. The two varieties make up 44% of the total wine production.  However, Australia is working toward diversification.  The balance of production comes from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre and Pinot Gris.

The Wine Regions

Margaret River (Western Australia) produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Shiraz.

Barossa (South Australia) produces Shiraz.

Coonawara (South Australia) produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, and Merlot.

Adelaide Hills (South Australia) produces Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris.

McLaren Vale (South Australia) produces Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Clare Valley (South Australia) produces Chardonnay, Sémillon, and Riesling.

Hunter Valley (New South Wales) produces Sémillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Yarra Valley (Victoria) produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Rutherglen (Victoria) produces Shiraz and Durif.

Heathcode (Victoria) produces Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mornington Peninsula (Victoria) produces Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Tasmania produces Riesling and Pinot Noir.

The grape varietals produced in Australia are bolder than the same varietals grown in the northern hemisphere, in places like France, Germany, or Canada.  However, if you prefer the bolder spicier flavours, Australian wines may be right for you.

The impact on the wine industry from the wild fires currently raging in Australia remains to be seen.  More than 3.4 million hectares of land have already been destroyed.  Previously the most land burned during an entire fire season was only 280,000 hectares.

Vines not destroyed by the fires could still be impacted by the smoke.  Bushfire smoke can permeate the skin of the grapes as they ripen, causing wine to have an unpleasant smoky characteristic. It is worse in red wine, when the skins are used to create colour.

Experts say it is still too early to determine what the extent of the fires will have on the 2020 harvest. 

Grape growers are facing a second problem; record high temperatures which have reached the upper 40’s Celsius.   Extreme heat can cause leaves to droop or even drop off, leaving grapes exposed to sunburn. This causes discolouration and affects the flavour profile of the wine.

The effect of heat can be managed provided vineyards still have access to enough water – which they don’t in many areas across South Australia, central and northern Victoria, and NSW.

As we prepare to enter 2020, no one seems to face more challenges than the Australians.  I fear that some of the Australian wines the world enjoys today may soon disappear forever.  A sobering thought to close out 2019.

Sláinte mhaith

Festive Holiday Selections

Traditionally white wine would be the only choice to serve at Christmas.  However, this is no longer the case.  Today there are many more options available to complement your menu, whether it is brunch, afternoon munchies, dinner, or dessert.

Christmas morning could start off seated around the holiday tree with a flute of Champagne or Prosecco.   The sparkly can also be combined with orange juice to create mimosa.  The same could be included as part of Christmas Brunch. 

When serving hors d’oeuvres such as prawns or seafood, a zesty white is always good, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.  Rosé, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais are also viable choices.

For a traditional turkey dinner, white options would include an oaked Chardonnay or White Burgundy.  Red options include Pinot Noir, Baco Noir, Chianti, Beaujolais, a mature Bordeaux or Rioja.

With ham, wines with some sweetness, lots of acidity and bold fruit are in order. These would include Riesling, Moscato, Chenin Blanc, Rosé, Lambrusco, Grenache or Zinfandel.

If you are serving goose or duck during the holidays, these fatty meats should be paired with a white such as an oaked Chardonnay, white Bordeaux, Chenin Blanc or an off-dry Riesling.  Red options would include a mature Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais.

When serving sweets or desserts, a Late Harvest Riesling or Ice Wine will suit the bill.  The day can end with a glass of your favourite Port, whether it be a sweet ruby or a dry tawny.

Here’s to the best of the season!

Sláinte mhaith

Hosting a Wine & Cheese Party

If you are thinking of hosting a get together for friends or family this holiday season, a wine and cheese party may be the way to go.  Such an event can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

On the simple side you could offer 2 wines and 4 cheeses.  I would suggest a dry but not overly bold red wine, such as a Pinot Noir, and a dry crisp white wine, such as a Riesling or Pinot Gris.

Cheese selections could include an aged cheddar, a blue, a mild, and a soft and creamy.  To accompany the wine and cheese a baguette, crackers, fruit, olives and nuts are a few suggestions.

If you want to create a more elaborate affair you could provide a selection of 8 to 12 cheeses, along with 3 or 4 different wines.  To make your party a little more unique you could go with a Canadian theme where you include only a selection of Canadian cheese and wine.

There is much disagreement among cheese and wine experts as to which wines are best suited to accompany the various types of cheese.  However, here are some general recommendations.

For a varied cheese plate, almost any dry white or red wine is appropriate.

White wines, such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Riesling, are good options. However, it is generally best to stay away from an oaked style of Chardonnay.  If you feel the need to include a Chardonnay, be sure it is either a Chardonnay Musque or an Unoaked Chardonnay.  The label will clearly identify both of these wines.

Most red wine is cheese-friendly. Generally speaking, the richer the cheese is, the richer the wine should be. For a cheese plate of mild and medium cheeses, choose a lighter wine, such as Pinot Noir or Gamay; for richer, creamier and full-flavoured cheeses, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Meritage blends are good choices.  I suggest avoiding heavy bold reds such as Shiraz or Barolo, as these wines may be too overpowering for the foods being offered.

As far as portions go it is recommended to provide 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of each cheese per person.  This equates to about a 1/2 pound of cheeses and 1/2 bottle of wine per person.

Remember, the wine & cheese party is just an enabler to allow friends and family to get together over the holidays.  Therefore it isn’t necessary to plan and present an extremely elaborate affair.  Simple and easy is a good way to go.

All the best for your holiday celebrations!

Sláinte mhaith

Christmas Gift Giving

A bottle of wine may be the go-to gift for any wine-loving friend or difficult relative, but choosing a bottle is not always easy. Here are some suggestions that may be of some help when buying wine as a gift.

Do Your Homework

There are lots of web sites, blogs and educators who can help with recommendations so if you’re feeling lost, do some research before you start shopping. Vintage guides, which are often available at your wine seller, will tell you what is currently available for drinking now or what will make a great addition to someone’s cellar.

Avoid Brand Bias

Selecting famous vintner names may be tempting but you will end up paying a premium. Find something more unique from a region with a similar climate using the same grapes. While wines from France may be supreme, you will typically pay  premium prices for them.  You may get an equally good, but lesser known wine for less cost. For example, a Merlot from Chile will be a great alternative to Bordeaux, while a New Zealand Pinot Noir could be chosen in place of a Burgundy.

Accept Advice

Asking the store clerk for assistance can be most helpful.  They will likely be highly educated and have tasted the full range so can give you the best service and tailor their knowledge to your desires. I have a go-to guy at the store I most often frequent, who I rely on for suggestions and answers to my questions.

Consider Food Pairing

Often people will enjoy a glass of wine alongside a nice meal, so take this into consideration when buying a loved one a bottle of wine for a special occasion. If you know their favourite dish, consider selecting a bottle that will pair nicely with that dish.

Selecting by Appearance

While an appealing label can make an attractive gift, it doesn’t say anything about the wine in the bottle. Be sure to read the fine print as this will reveal the most about what to expect from the wine and the story of its production. Anyone can pay for premium design work but it’s the winemaker who makes a product great.

The Price Point

Don’t be sucked into selecting a wine based on a display setting or sales promotion.  Often these will be items that the merchant is trying to get rid of for various reasons.  Such wines are not necessarily right for you. Don’t be distracted by discount tags and take your time to scour the shelves to find the perfect bottle for the right price.

Who doesn’t like a bargain?  However, a bottle on sale does not necessarily mean that it’s a great deal.  Don’t just automatically go for the best deal; be sure to browse the wine offerings fully to find the right bottle for the right price.

Likewise, the best bottle within your allocated budget might not be the one that reaches the upper limit of your price range. Many factors come into the pricing of wine, including production style, bottling processes, taxes and demand for that type of wine.  As a result, there will be some variation between prices of similar wines. Price does not always correlate with quality, and so, if you select a bottle from a unique region or variety, you may be able to find a wine that is a better value for your money.

Gift Packages

Gift packages may not be a good idea.  They are designed to look appealing but looks can be deceiving.  When buying prepackaged gift sets, it is best if you are familiar with at least the winery, if not the wine itself.  That way you have a better understanding of the quality of the gift you are giving.  Case in point, a few years ago I couldn’t resist buying a Bordeaux set that included 2 bottles of wine and an irresistible wooden case that they were contained in.  As it turned out, it was an expensive box as the wine was mediocre at best.

If the idea of providing a wood box is appealing, I suggest selecting the wine of your choice and purchase a gift container separately.  Your local retailer may have suitable containers for sale.

Too Many Choices

If the number of wine varieties is too many to fathom, making the decision too daunting, rather than being overwhelmed and selecting a bottle at random, maybe take a different approach and choose an accessory for your wine-loving friend, such as a corkscrew or wine stopper.

I wish you great success with your Christmas shopping adventures.  Whatever you decide, it will be the right decision for you.

Sláinte mhaith