One of the most endlessly fascinating things about wine is in how it expresses the varietal character of its component grape depending on where it is grown. So many elements work together in that regional alchemy of sun, soil and vine to produce defining wines – temperature, sun exposure, rainfall, soil composition and more – that it’s no wonder winemaking is equally considered to be an art, as well as a science.
And when it all does come together, through that interplay of the regional elements, the vine and the winemaker’s art, the end result is not merely a delight – it becomes iconic.
Let’s take a closer look at why, through the lens of some of our great wine regions and the varieties they’re so often celebrated for: Hunter Valley and Tumbarumba for their Chardonnay, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale for their Shiraz, and Tasmania for its world-renowned Sparkling.
We begin where the story of Australian wine began – the Hunter Valley region. From humble beginnings in the mid 1800s, the Hunter Valley has grown to include over 150 wineries, and has exerted an immeasurable influence on this country’s history of winemaking – an influence that continues to this day.
Conditions here can be challenging – the region is perhaps the hottest, wettest wine-producing region in the country – but its proximity to the coast helps mitigate such climate extremity, with the surrounding valley and ranges serving to funnel air in off the Pacific Ocean.
Of its key grape varieties, which include Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, Semillon and Verdelho, Chardonnay made here has had perhaps the greatest impact and until recently was the region’s most widely-planted grape.
In fact, Hunter Valley Chardonnay is widely regarded as having been the catalyst for the Chardonnay craze that swept the globe in the 1980s, and as one of the first Australian regions in which it was grown, the variety unquestionably helped the Hunter Valley become the icon of wine that is today.
The regional style is typically full-flavoured with flavours tending to range from ripe peach to citrus notes – qualities that are superbly showcased in such recent wines as the Virgil Chardonnay 2019, the McKelvey Estate Chardonnay 2018, and the Boydell’s Chardonnay 2020.
Originally planted with an eye for making premium Sparkling wines – which it is does so spectacularly – Tumbarumba is a relatively recent arrival in the world of Australian wine, but its ascent to iconic status has been rapid indeed.
Situated in the Western foothills of the Snowy Mountains of NSW, roughly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne against a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery, it enjoys the coolest climate in the state with elevations of up to 800 metres – ideal conditions for a great many wine varieties, particularly white wines.
Of the varieties planted here, it is Chardonnay that has really truly exceeded expectations. The mountainous soils, consisting of decomposed granite and basalt, along with the crisp mountain air, result in elegant expressions of great poise and fresh acidity, displaying restrained flavours of stonefruit and citrus.
With wines as good as the De Bortoli Regional Classic Chardonnay 2019, the First Creek Botanica Chardonnay 2018 and the Molly’s Cradle Chardonnay 2019 appearing so regularly, the iconic reputation of this cool climate region just keeps getting hotter and hotter.
Few Australian wine regions evoke such passion as South Australia’s Barossa Valley. One of the most-studied – and certainly one of the most successful – of Australia’s great regions, the Barossa is home to some of the most esteemed families in the industry, as well as some of the country’s oldest vines.
Roughly an hour’s drive from Adelaide, the Barossa exhibits a warm, Mediterranean-influenced climate and is a complex system of valleys and hillside that offer a huge variety of growing sites, slopes and aspects.
Rainfall is low, and the resulting water stress – particularly with old vine stock – produces the deeply concentrated flavours Barossan wines are so celebrated for. Soils range from clay loam to sandy in nature, generally brown and red, and the combination of these conditions has proven particularly ideal for the production of premium, full-bodied red wines.
Of those red wine varieties, Shiraz is by far and away the most iconic. So famous is it, in fact, that for many international wine lovers, Barossa Shiraz is Australian red wine. And no wonder – Barossan Shiraz is lush, beautifully textured, and positively alive with dark fruit flavours and soft, ripe tannins. Better still, their longevity is the stuff of legend.
Indeed, of all our wine regions, the Barossa is arguably the most iconic – and with such sumptuous examples as the Hill & Jacobs Limited Shiraz 2016, the Boisterous Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz 2018 and Schwarz Wine Co.’s The Grower Shiraz 2019 typifying the region’s quality, the Barossa’s iconic status only deepens with each passing year.
When it comes to wine, there’s just something special about South Australia. And McLaren Vale is very special indeed. Ever since Thomas Hardy and other pioneers first planted vines here in the late 1830s, it’s been considered one of the country’s premium wine regions, consistently turning out wines of exceptional finesse and quality.
Only 45 minutes’ drive from Adelaide, McLaren Vale occupies a blessed proximity to sensational beaches, mountains and parklands, resulting in a Mediterranean-style environment that generates a range of micro-climates, resulting in a huge diversity of conditions to grow a variety of high-quality grapes.
And while Grenache has recently emerged as a star of the region, McLaren Vale Shiraz has long been considered one of its signature wines and is still considered its most important grape. So multi-faceted are the growing conditions and soils here that McLaren Vale Shiraz can be made in a huge range of styles, which all share one thing in common – they’re all equally delicious.
Compared to its Barossan counterpart, McLaren Vale Shiraz is distinguished by its elegance, structure and red to blue fruit characters, with signature hints of chocolate or liquorice often present. While it displays extraordinary longevity, the region’s Shiraz style is widely considered to be very approachable even when young – and is a big reason why it’s one of the foremost Shiraz regions in the country.
For proof, look no further than wines like the Hancock & Hancock Home Vineyard Shiraz 2018, the Five Geese Shiraz 2017, or the Blackbilly Shiraz 2018 – exceptional wines with years ahead of them, and a perfect illustration why McLaren Vale is held in iconic regard.