The first batch of vines arrived in Australia with the first batch of convicts on the First Fleet way back in 1788. They were planted rather unsuccessfully in New South Wales – an unlikely forerunner of the booming industry there today – but paved the way for thirsty settlers to begin cultivating their own vines for winemaking.
As early as 1822 wine was being exported from Australia and by the end of that century the penal colony was producing such a high quality of wines that French judges at a Viennese competition managed to thoroughly embarrass themselves during a blind tasting, by mistaking an Aussie red for a French classic. Mon dieu! The shame!
And so began the history of an industry, which is, today, exporting more than 20,000,000 cases of wine a year, made from over 130 different varieties of grapes.
Unfettered innovation in wine-making seems to have gifted the Australian industry with the Midas Touch. Using technology and a well-researched understanding of the huge variations in terroir and microclimates that the country has to offer, Aussie winemakers are well known for pushing the envelope. Happily creating outstanding wines with all the regular varietal old timers such as Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay while at the same time successfully pushing boundaries with new immigrants (Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot). These are exciting times for Australian wine growers.
Wine production is mostly concentrated in the South of the country, with South Australia alone bottling over half of the national wine. However there are over 60 wine producing areas across this massive continent. Generally the hotter the climate the more full bodied the wine, so Australia has earned a reputation for creating punchy, full-blooded reds such as its Shiraz and deep, rich whites, particularly Chardonnay. More delicate wines can be found though amid the cooler, more temperate regions. Tasmania has recently begun producing beautiful aromatics such as Riesling and Gewurtztraminer, similar in style to those of the Alsace.
Like the country from which it is produced, Australian wine is at once beautiful, varied, exciting, confident, surprising and at times a little brash. Enjoy!