Will the “Real” Australia Please Stand Up?

Australian Wine

We all know Australia produces ripe, rich wines like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. But what if I told you Australia produces cool-climate style wines as well? Would you believe me? On a recent trip, I participated on an international panel of wine writers to uncover the true character of Australian wine. What I found was restraint and beauty. I spent about two weeks touring, traveling and tasting roughly 100 Australian wines and found many examples of elegant Chardonnay, restrained Pinot noir and some great examples of Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Mourvèdre.

In Australia, wines with elegance are slowly replacing the reputation of overblown “hot” wines often associated with a heavy-handed use of oak. But what maddens me is the availability of finding these new styles in America. There are rows upon rows of amazing wines found on the shelves of Australia that we will never see in the States.  I have read that the U.S. market enjoys unprecedented access to the very best wines Australia has to offer, but I have yet to find a copious selection on the west coast.

K & L, the online retailer offers roughly 130 selections, but if you were to compare this to the 2,500 offerings of French wines at your disposal, it pales by comparison.  And because of this, I suppose the only way an American can truly experience what Australia has to offer is to visit and drink through its vast assortment—many of which are intriguing, from cool-climate Riesling and Chardonnay to traditional grapes like Shiraz and Pinot noir, veering to unique GSM blends and Italian varieties.  The country has no native grapes, which in my eyes, makes them prime candidates for experimentation. And who doesn’t like experimentation? It might take a lot of trial and error to get it right (and heck, we might have to suffer through a lot of bad wine) but once vineyard managers are satisfied with the results its smooth sailing.

This is where the small producers in Australia are right now—experimenting and figuring out what grows best in what region.  Speaking of regions, the funny thing is that most have no idea Australia has more than 60 distinct wine regions and they are not all suburbs of the Barossa Valley. Today, many producers focus on site selection and choice of winemaking techniques to increase quality and enhance flavor profiles.  The wines I recommend are a few outstanding examples I think you will enjoy—excellent examples that really highlight what Australia is producing today and hopefully into the future.

2010 Yabby Lake Block 6 Chardonnay Mornington Peninsula Australia ($80)
Strap in and get ready for an exhilarating experience along this twisting, cliff-hugging route of grapefruit, lemon and zest. Exhilarating as its hugs the corners with perseverance.

2010 Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Australia ($55)
Restrained and intricate red fruits mingle with spices and tea; sleek and delicate core leads to an expressive smooth finish.

2007 S.C. Pannell Nebbiolo Adelaide Hills South Australia ($47)
Soft yet spicy, deliciously appealing with perfect balance—violets, cherries and truffles wrapped in a sensuous little package that bursts with enthusiasm and anticipation.

2008 Teusner “The Dog Strangler” Mataró Barossa Valley Australia ($24)
Mysterious and soulful, this Flamenco dancer flaunts her emotions until she uncovers each layer of earth, mineral and inky black fruit goodness with astute precision.

2009 Clarendon Hills Blewitt Springs Grenache South Australia ($78)
Run through this violet and lavender pasture to find a freshly baked raspberry pie awaiting your arrival.

2010 Kooyong Single Vineyard Meres Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula Australia ($65)
Superbly rich style revealing lavish cherries and liquorice erupting on a brooding layer of smoke and earth.

2008 Giaconda Nebbiolo Victoria Australia ($110)
A beautiful expression of Nebbiolo outside of its native Italian roots—linear and refined, layers of classic roses and tar mingle effortlessly with a melody of truffles, mineral and tea.

It’s on to Adelaide tomorrow!


About the Author:

Editor and co-founder of Enobytes.com, Pamela is a sommelier and former restaurant manager and wine buyer with Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers & Center for Wine Origins certification. She has contributed to or been quoted by various publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Sommelier Journal, Vegetarian Times, VIV Magazine, UC-Berkeley Astrobiology News, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, NPR and USA Today. True to her roots, she seeks varietal and appellation integrity and is always passionate about finding the next great bottle of wine.


  1. Sam D. April 22, 2013 at 9:44 AM - Reply

    I can certainly agree with you on the selection available in the U.S. I’d say Mollydooker is the brand you see most on the retail shelves. If I want something special, like a Ochota Barrels Syrah or a Cullen Chardonnay, I have to rely on the internet or a friend to return with a few special bottles! I wasn’t aware of the Italian wines Australia made but I am looking forward to giving them a try.

    • Pamela Heiligenthal April 22, 2013 at 8:17 PM - Reply

      The Italian varieties were a pleasant surprise. If you come across one, try it. They are quite interesting and refined.

  2. Quinn April 22, 2013 at 9:49 AM - Reply

    Great article. I had the pleasure of sampling the Giaconda Nebbiolo and it was a complete shocker it came from Australia. It is exciting to see where this country came from in terms of wine styles and where it is going.

    • Pamela Heiligenthal April 22, 2013 at 8:19 PM - Reply

      Thanks Quinn, quite an honor coming from you, thanks. And agreed, exciting times for Australia!

  3. James Scarcebrook April 22, 2013 at 8:57 PM - Reply

    Wonderful article covering numerous excellent points Pam. If I could add some additional commentary…

    I have been researching alternative and particularly Italian varieties in Australia for some upcoming articles. The first commercial plantings were made as early as the 1980s but it has only been the last ten years that plantings have increased exponentially as has quality. Sangiovese and pinot grigio are by far the most popular. Interestingly varieties from very different regions in Italy are being planted in the same varieties to some success.

    Ultimately we aren’t attempting to make Brunello, Barolo or Amarone. The expressions are our own as the ‘terroir’ is different. European wines are a benchmark purely for quality and elegance, not necessarily style and complexity.

    The major reason that you only see the same Australian wines in the USA is because that is what you as a market wanted, thanks in large part to certain wine critics. These jammy oaky alcoholic wines have long gone out of fashion in Australia and therefore the quality of our small artisan cool-climate wines has increased for the domestic market. Much to the annoyance I’m sure of many consumers in North America. But the marketing machine pushed heavily branded dross out of the country whilst most of the best stuff stayed here. Fine with us if you ask me…

    The irony is that the two states with the most diversity in terms of climate and geography aren’t well represented outside of Australia, mostly because the majority of producers are quite small and lack the resources to promote and export wines. These states are Victoria and Western Australia (although NSW is creeping up). Yet another reason that you get the same basic wines in the US is because most of South Australia is warm and irrigated, meaning you get plenty of yield and therefore wine but it’s not exactly great.

    The only way you’re going to get them is by creating the demand. Which is what I’d like to help you do…

    • Pamela Heiligenthal April 23, 2013 at 5:53 PM - Reply

      Lets work on creating demand! Its not that I don’t appreciate the oak and jam style every once in a while, but the cool-climate wines are really spectacular.

  4. Lonnie Murray April 27, 2013 at 3:56 PM - Reply

    With its distinct maritime cool climate, the Mornington Peninsula produces a vast array of quality wines. Traditional varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir excel, with smaller quanities of Shiraz and Pinot Gris.

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