Australia is undeniably leading the new world of wines. With more than 100 grape varieties growing across 65 wine regions, you could sit in Sydney and enjoy a Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon from Western Australia, as much as you could sip a dry Riesling from Tasmania. The wide diversity of climates and soils across the country, coupled with the lack of regulations compared to their peers in Europe, is offering winemakers numerous opportunities to innovate, blend, and create different styles to adapt to their consumers’ palate and preferences or simply surprise them!
Depending on where you are in the world, you may or may not be familiar with Australian wine, but if you are a wine enthusiast, it’s likely that you have heard of the Barossa Valley, in South Australia, and its famous Shiraz. With its overall warm climate, the Barossa Valley has initially offered a Shiraz that is big, bold and plummy, with a spicy style. It is these characteristics that made the region (and the country) gain in popularity around the world.
Barossa Valley is also where I chose to immerse myself for five weeks during the 2022 vintage, in order to learn more about the industry and the winemaking process. It was incredible to see how innovative this region is. I came across blends that would not be permitted in Europe: Cabernet-Shiraz; Sangiovese-Barbera; Montepulciano-Primitivo; but also grapes that would not necessarily be used as a single varietal in other countries, such as Sémillon.
Meanwhile, the region has been working on making their Shiraz more and more elegant. It appeared that the full bodied Shiraz with a big explosion of dark fruits, was not for everyone. More and more producers look at sourcing their grapes from Eden Valley (a sub-region of the Barossa zone), where the climate is colder, due to the higher altitude. Here they can grow Shiraz while maximising the level of acidity and avoid the jamminess that can potentially be a problem when ripening grapes in the warmer Barossa Valley. This, coupled with a French led winemaking style, allow them to offer more refined Shiraz, or even, as some dare to call it, Syrah. And mate, they really are delicious!
Although I am very appreciative of that leaner, new-ish style, I must say I have missed the big bold Shiraz that I was expecting everywhere when visiting the region, and wished that I could have found more!
In addition, the Barossa region also offers Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling (more likely from Eden Valley, the Barossa Valley being too warm), Grenache, Mourvedre (they call it ‘Mataro’ there) and blends such as GSM. But also, Arneis, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Savagnin, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Zinfandel, Cinsault… the list is long!
Another thing I’ve learned while I was there is that South Australia still has plantings of vines that are amongst the oldest in the world. For example, Langmeil winery has Shiraz vines dating from 1843! This is due to the fact that South Australia was one of the few regions not being affected by phylloxera in the 1860s, hence the region was able to keep its historical vines intact. It’s incredible to know that we can enjoy wine from the original plantings that were done by the settlers two centuries ago!
Last but not least, what struck me in this region is not only how passionate people are about their wine but also their kindness; and the way I was welcomed by everyone I met. If you get the chance to visit the region, take the time to stop for a meal and a glass of wine in Tanunda; the main town of the region. Their 4,500 inhabitants made it a charming place where you take the time to chat, drink good wine and shorten the words in an Aussie style. My favourite cellar door remains @brothersatwar, where I got to spend most of my time, as they offered me the opportunity to be part of their team and spend some time between the cellar door and the winery for a few weeks. So come say ‘Good day’ and try their Shiraz… and their Syrah!