Wine maps frustrate me, rarely delivering all of the important pieces of the puzzle at once. Perhaps a post in the future will address that. Suffice it to say that I got bogged down looking at maps the last few days instead of continuing with the education.
A look at Australia with Google Earth will easily show you where the growing happens. Look for green. The vast majority of the country is too hot for much of anything, certainly for viticulture. Look toward the coast.
New South Wales served as the birthplace and then epicenter of the Australian wine trade for more than a century but the production focused on sweeter styles of wines. While vineyards still flourish there, you will find precious few bottles represented on local shelves or wine lists. A handful of wines from the Hunter Valley make their way to the U.S. but are far from widely available. Located north/northeast of Sydney in eastern Australia, the region gets very warm and has some concerns with rain and humidity. Semillon, a grape used in small percentages in dry white Bordeaux and large percentages for sweet Sauternes from the same area, thrives here. Shiraz also performs well. Chardonnays are rich and unctuous. Brokenwood Estate makes a lovely, crisp, mouthwatering sauvignon blanc/semillon blend and Hope Estate produces some lovely values, including their shiraz and an overlooked grape called verdelho with a delicate approach but enough tactile touch to tantalize.
An interesting region to keep an eye on, or rather a palate, is the Yarra Valley, located east/northeast of Melbourne (nearly adjacent) in the hills near the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. It finds itself inside the larger area of Victoria, marked by more elegant versions of wines than we might expect from down under. The calling card for the U.S. is pinot noir but so far the bottles I have tasted show inconsistent results and I will refrain from offering any specific producers.
A full range of reds, whites and even sparkling wines emerge from the Yarra Valley, and Victoria, but importers feature pinot noir to differentiate the area from the rest of Australia. Chardonnay as well as cabernet and shiraz potentially perform well and display higher acidity than the fruit bomb style that thrust Australia onto the American palate but lead to fatigue and flagging sales in relatively short order. Based on my experience, the region, as represented by importers to the U.S., tried too hard to emulate their bigger, riper, fruitier brothers and sisters, losing their inherent character. Look for opportunities to taste as purer expressions arrive on our shores.
Next: Western Australia and then into the excitement of South Australia.