Sipping Australian Wine

Most of Australia is far too hot and dry to support vineyards, but many coastal areas are well suited to viticulture and this is where most of Australia’s wine regions are located. As you might imagine in a country the size of Australia there is a big range of climates and soil types as well as grape varieties. All of this makes for interesting wines and varied wine styles. Today we are sipping four wines from several Australian regions, all of which we received as tasting samples.

Australia uses a place-of-origin system to identify its wine regions. These geographical indications (GIs) ares defined by boundaries on a map with regions nested within others: country, multistate, state, super zone/zone, region and subregion. 

Australian wine regions map from
Australian wine regions map from
Click the link for more detail.

No restrictions in terms of grape variety, growing practices or winemaking styles are placed on GIs, except that for a winery to state a GI, variety or vintage on the label the wine must contain at least 85% by location, variety or vintage. If less than 85% of the wine is from a single GI, the winery has the option to list all GIs or use a larger GI that meets the requirement. If a wine contains more than 15% of a blending variety it can decline to make a varietal statement on the label or it can list all the varieties in descending order of content.

More than 100 grape varieties are grown in Australia and the top five are: Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. 

2017 Tournon Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australia photo
2017 Tournon Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australia

2017 Tournon Mathilda Shiraz, Victoria, Australiamedium ruby in the glass with aromas of red and dark fruit and dusty earth. Flavors of blackberries, raspberries and plums combine with earthy, toasty notes. Slightly drying tannins linger on the finish along with a twiggy bramble flavor in this medium bodied wine. 14.5% abv. SRP $16

This delicious, sippable Shiraz is so delicious and balanced. It is an absolute steal at $16. 100% Shiraz is fermented in stainless steel and aged in stainless steel tanks and cement vats for 12 months.

Esteemed Northern Rhône specialist Michel Chapoutier established Tournon in 2007, naming the enterprise after the Hermitage commune. He purchased 123 acres in the cool Victorian Pyrenees and Heathcote where diverse soil types and exposures give him the building blocks for exciting wines.

2015 Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, McLaren Vale, Australia photo
2015 Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, McLaren Vale, Australia

2015 Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, McLaren Vale, Australiamedium ruby in the glass with generous aromas of red and dark fruit with roasted jalapeño in the background. Flavors of blackberries, raspberries and plums combine with dusty earth and dried herbs. Tannins are drying and the body medium. 14.5% abv. SRP $23

The combination of red and dark fruit with roasted jalapeño in the background is so appealing to me and the flavors don’t disappoint. This wine hints at a cool climate, but doesn’t scream it. Got a burger?

The blend is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Shiraz, 12% Merlot with aging in French and American oak.

Wirra Wirra, which is an Aboriginal phrase meaning among the gum trees, was first established in 1894 by well-known South Australian eccentric and cricketer Robert Strangways Wigley and his brother Thomas. The winery succeeded and when Robert died in 1924 the vineyards were purchased by Vern Sparrow, son of the winery foreman Jack. By 1936 the winery had failed. When it was purchased by Greg and Roger Trott in 1969 only a few walls and fermentation tanks remained, but the winery was resurrected.

Greg Trott’s motto became:

Never give misery an even break, nor bad wine a second sip. You must be serious about quality, dedicated to you task in life, especially winemaking, but this should all be fun.

Wirra Wirra has a bell tower, and a catapult used to launch watermelons across the lawn. On the other hand estate vineyards are managed organically and according to biodynamic principles, so there is fun to be had but they take winemaking very seriously.

2018 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley, Australia photo
2018 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley, Australia

2018 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, Barossa Valley, Australiatranslucent ruby in the glass with generous aromas of strawberries, roses and dusty earth. Red and dark fruit flavors of red cherries, strawberries and blackberries are supported by notes of dusty earth and toast. Tannins are smooth in this not-quite medium bodied wine with juicy acidity. 14.1% abv. SRP $21

This is a delightful, pure fruit expression of Grenache that was even more intriguing and delicious on day two. The translucent color is an absolute pleasure to behold. 

100% Grenache bush vines that are at least 35 years old are the source for this bottling. Each parcel is fermented separately in either static pump over fermenters or open top fermenters. Most, but not all, batches are destemmed and all are fermented using wild yeasts. Select batches remain on the skins post-fermentation for complexity. After pressing, all batches are racked into used American, French and Hungarian hogshead barrels for six months.

2018 Yalumba Y Series Viognier, South Australia, Australia photo
2018 Yalumba Y Series Viognier, South Australia, Australia

2018 Yalumba Y Series Viognier, South Australia, Australia — medium yellow in the glass with aromas of asphalt, white flowers and citrus. Flavors begin with citrus and ripe melon along with hints of white flowers and cut hay. The wine has a bit of roundness, nice acidity and a medium+ finish. 13.5% abv. SRP $16

Luxurious is the word that comes to mind to describe this Viognier, more like a cashmere sweater than a cotton knit, because of the roundness and palate-coating quality of the flavors. It’s a brilliant food wine and the floral notes come forward a bit with food.

100% Viognier is gently pressed and fermented in stainless steel using wild yeast. The wine remained on the lees for three months.

Samuel Smith was a brewer by trade and a religious man who refused to work on Sunday, as required by the brewery that employed him. His solution was to move with his wife and children to Adelaide from Dorset, England in 1847. After moving to nearby Angaston in 1849 he planted a vineyard and orchard with his son, Sidney and called the property Yalumba, which means all the country around in the Aboriginal language. In 1853 Samuel purchased an additional 80 acres of land and released Yalumba’s first wine a year later.

By 1908 Sidney’s sons, Walter and Percy, had overseen completion of Yalumba’s Angaston marble wine cellar and clocktower. Sidney passed away shortly after its completion.

In 1938 Wyndham Hill-Smith assumed management responsibilities at Yalumba after the death of his father, Walter, and then six months later his brother, Sidney.  Yalumba’s vineyard holdings expanded in Australia under Wyndham’s management.

Robert and Sam Hill Smith, Wyndham’s sons, bought out other family members in 1988-89 and expanded into New Zealand, California and France.

Yalumba makes a wide range of wines, including an organic range, has its own cooperage (the only on-site winery cooperage in the Southern Hemisphere) and a vineyard nursery that provides rootstock and vines to Australian winegrowers.

Over the past six week we’ve been sipping through a collection of Australian wines sent to us by Winebow. This is the last group of wines from that collection. There have been many memorable wines and a few I put squarely in the stellar category (Margaret River and Tasmanian wines come to mind.) Each blog post has been an opportunity to research various Australian wine regions and wineries. It has been a delicious learning experience.

One style of wine that was missing from this collection, and it’s a style of wine that I closely associated with Australia before this tasting experience, is very ripe, high-alcohol Shiraz. I was relieved, actually, as this style of wine exhausts my palate quickly. The two takeaways from tasting all of these wines are: Australian wine is not defined by one style and the quality of Australian wines is very good. The range of varieties and styles is as varied as this beautiful country and that’s something to celebrate.


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