Australia has influenced the drinking habits of the post-war generation more than any other wine making country in the world. The country, at least the wine producing parts of it, is hotter, larger and younger than anything we normally associate with European winemaking. It is very much the can-do attitude of modern Australian wine makers that has successfully taken the world by storm. The classic French grape grower sees God and nature as the dual influences on its harvest and its production, often summarised by that mysterious term terroir, the average modern day Australian in contrast, sees nature as something to tame and control resulting in the view that they are merely the processors of abundant agriculture produce.

This unencumbered view of European tradition and its associated fallibility, was kicked into touch by the 60’s graduates of the world famous Institute of Adelaide. This new breed burst upon our emergent demand for wine armed with degrees in agricultural science and technology. This view, reluctantly absorbed in some cases by northern hemisphere vineyards, plays its influential part in so many of today’s wines.

Australia made wines easy to understand. They introduced a simple uncomplicated label commonly citing a grape variety rather than a town or a place – how many wine drinkers understood Australian Chardonnay before French Chablis, Syrah before Hermitage?

Australia’s climate offered ripe fruit too, year in year out, consistent irrigation in any and all regions, and, above all a route to consumer price-points up and down the scale devoid of pretension and snobbery.

Remarkably, wine is made in all six Australian states, however the greater part of our importation comes from the south-east. Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales produce some 90% of exportable wines with small quantities off the coast of Western Australia, proximity to the equator being a defining factor. Trying to keep vineyards watered and ensuing harvest cool is a prime concern. It becomes ever more important when one considers that the bulk of Australia’s wine-makers, who transport  the grape hundreds if not thousands of miles in the searing heat and by refrigerated lorries, need to blend in high-tech wineries unattached to the farms from whence the fruit came.

These persistently warmer climes, with vineyards owned by internet farmers or retired doctors, have been instantly successful with a host of European grape varieties, Shiraz (Syrah in France) and Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon led the charge with Chenin, Colombard, Riesling, Mourvèdre and Muscat following close behind.

Blending too, holds no fear with Shiraz/ Cabernet and Semillon/Chardonnay being the very first supermarket wines upon which we in Britain cut our teeth. Blends with more than two grapes come under the catch-all phrase such as Dry Red and Classic White within the E.U.


It was only as recently as the 18th century that any cultivated vines were recorded in the township now known as Sydney. The 19th century saw Captains or Governors of various regions in the South begin the civilised task of wine-making alongside the ensuing immigrants, initially from convict ships and later the Italians, Swiss and Germans all contributing  their own native vines to the mêlée. This colonisation provided the bedrock of today’s wines. The bulk of the early wines were inevitable fortified in an effort to stabilise the wine for internal consumption and colonial travel. Many wines emulate port, sherry and sweeter styles similar to Muscat Beaumes de Venise in France. Between the wars production increased dramatically with the now famous Barossa Valley, in South Australia providing 75% of all white and red wines. It is interesting to note that during this period Australia was sending more wine back ‘home’ than France sent across the channel. After the Second World War, cool fermentation in stainless steel, an increase in unfortified table-wines and the introduction of oak-aging provided the pathway to our understanding of the vast array of ripe, fruit flavoured wines we now associated with the country.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Still the most widely consumed red variety in the world and principally imported to Oz as a wine by a generation raised on Old-World Claret.

Shiraz (Syrah)

Now Australia’s most widely planted red grape offering a deep, full bodied riper style than its counterpart in the Rhone valley, often ‘sweeter’ too reaching high degrees of alcohol and an accessible warming finish. The first and most famous blended red, with Cabernet Sauvignon, that landed upon our post-war shores.


Increased plantings have now given, when blended with Cabernet Sauvignon in the Bordeaux manner, a softer easier drinking red.


Although exported from its expensive and world-renowned heartland in Chablis, it has become synonymous with any mention of Oz wine. It has provided a voluptuous richness, seeped in nuances of tropical fruits, and has turned many a British head away from the security and complexity of its French counterpart. Not as favoured recently by many who have shunned its over-oaked style: often achieved by the addition of oak-chips in stainless steel vats rather than barrels, but nevertheless still commands a global following. Almost every wine producing country in the world (including India and China) have tried to emulate its obvious, fruit laden style.

Riesling or Rhine Riesling

Widely planted in the South, adored by home-sick early German immigrants and, at last beginning to make impact here that it so justly deserves.


The second largest plantings, after Chardonnay with which it is often confused, have gained an increasing foothold here although often introduced via the eponymous blending with Chardonnay, Semillon can offer butter-yellow, generous, dense, fat whites which have the natural propensity to age. The sweeter, dessert wine style of the variety has begun to surpass many French equivalents.


Originally from the northern Rhone; like Syrah, this resinous, crisp almost buttery wine has an increased following on restaurant wine lists as a single variety. Grown most successfully in Victoria.

Principal Regions

Barossa Valley

Just north of Adelaide, Barossa is seen as the quintessential wine producing region of the south. Originally the widespread influence of German immigrants here, with their Germanic churches and singular language: Barossa Deutsch, provided oodles of that aristocratic grape, Riesling, mainly for local consumption with a regrettable lack of understanding beyond the area. Riesling began to give way to the world’s favourite Australian export, Chardonnay, that first influenced the world beyond, with soft, buttery, easy drinking whites with a distinct and attractive hint of honeysuckle. The other bargain priced wines from the region being Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Southern Vales

The most famous being McLaren. This area south of Adelaide and sitting conveniently on the coast providing its port of embarkation, has forged an enlarging reputation for smaller volume wineries, boutique vineyards and increasingly higher prices. Dazzling styles of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are well worth the extra dollar or two.

Clare Valley

Although one of the most northerly wine regions in the area it has a compensatory cooler climate producing many similar varieties to the south but with one notable exception. Its Rieslings are sublime, they flourish well in the unusual micro-climate. They are fuller in flavour so much so that they often require an additional measure of acidity to gain a refreshing edge. The best examples are gloriously expensive but now compete easily on the world stage. Some botrytised examples offering sweeter ‘pudding’ wines and are well worth seeking out.

Eden Valley

A little cooler than Clare even, just to the east of Barossa, providing Riesling again as well as some isolated plantings of Pinot Noir, unsuccessful in more arid regions. The great Shiraz’s of the wine-world under the gold dust label known as Hill of Grace, encourage vinous tourism here to the Henschke family vineyard, with wines seen more in auction houses than vineyards.


To the fine wine drinker the Yarra Valley region will be well known. Suffering, like France, in the 19th Century when Phylloxera (the root eating aphid) struck the region, it has climbed its way back to global recognition. Yarra produces some of the most delicate and European styles of Pinot Noir I have sampled as well as its benchmark sparkling wine in conjunction with Chandon, marketed here as Green Point. Another famous name that has created high quality wines at high street prices is the Brown Brothers.

A surprising and delicate Sauvignon Blanc is grown here and sold successfully, after limited oak-ageing, as Fumé Blanc.

In north-east Victoria we discover two of the crown-jewels of Australian fortified wines known as liqueur Muscat and liqueur Tokay. Picked late, virtually at the commencement of fermentation and hidden in oak barrels for years, these wines take on an almost Madeira-like syrupy quality when mature.

Western Australia

Both the Swan Valley and Margaret River, close to Perth in the west, offer cooler climate around the softening effects of river valleys. Chenin is grown widely and successfully, although more robustly flavoured than the Loire Valley in France. The French influence does not end there with Chardonnay and Semillon, more akin to the Burgundian styles.

New South Wales

The first state to have recorded a wine industry, albeit to serve the local consumption in the emerging sprawls of Sydney, the Hunter Valley would be a region known to many and where some of the earliest aspects of wine technology were honed. Due to the scorching heat, grapes are picked mechanically at night when the temperature may drop to an English summer’s day. Perfect area for Semillon and Shiraz rather than Chardonnay or Cabernet