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Australia: From Yellowtail to Penfolds Grange

The United States may be the New World’s largest producer of wine, but to many Australia is the real New World. A lack of pretension, a unique climate, and science-friendly, cutting-edge winemakers have all come together to create world class wines altogether distinct from their Old World counterparts. Australian wine is a world unto itself, and while many people associate Australia with the bulk wines that make up the majority of its exports – Yellowtail being the iconic mass wine that makes up nearly a third of all exports – high-end Australian wines are among the best in the world (and some of the best values).


The Australian wine industry was born in the 1820s, well before the industry kicked off in the United States. Even early on the country earned accolades – in the late-1870s Australian wines won a number of prestigious international awards. Phylloxera ravaged vineyards across the country, along with much of the world, in the next few decades, and the wine industry struggled until the 1970s, when a new renaissance occurred. By the turn of the 21st century, Australian wine had re-established itself, overtaking France as the number one import to the United Kingdom, and rapidly approaching that mark in the United States.


Australia is known primarily for its shiraz – the grape known as syrah in much of the world. Hot climates throughout the country lend themselves to this hardy grape, as well as others (including grenache and mouvèdre, used to produce the GSM blend so popular in higher-end domestic wines). A handful of regions are acclimated to excellent examples of other varieties. Notably the Tamar Valley in Tasmania with chardonnay and pinot noir, the Clare Valley with riesling, and the Yarra Valley with pinot noir.


The majority of wine in Australia is produced in the southern half of the continent, and the majority of that in a relatively small section of coastal New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria. The Barossa region of South Australia is the most notable, and is home to many of the biggest names in Australian wines – including the archetype of fine Australian wine: Penfolds Grange. Since the 1950s Penfolds Grange has been winning international accolades, and bottles from prime vintages are among the most prized in the world.


The universe of Australian wine is vast, and well worth exploring. Over the years, however, French influence has helped steer the industry – many French winemakers take advantage of the reversed seasons in the Southern Hemisphere to work during their native winter – but the wines are uniquely their own.