Australia and New Zealand are both relatively new in the world wine market. Since the 1960s and 70s Australia and New Zealand have been becoming more prominent players in the wine world. Over the past thirty plus years, we have seen some great contenders.
Australia – turning non-native vines into true native wines
Australia does not have any native grapes, but relies entirely on plantings imported for years from Europe. Australia, like California, has many different microclimates that support growing a variety of grapes. Most grapes are grown near Adelaide, which is the capital of Australia. This is where most of the Shiraz that Australia is famous for is grown. Shiraz is a grape imported from the Rhone Valley in France, where it is called Syrah. Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown in this area. The warm climate in Australia’s wine growing regions overall are good for growing red grapes and these warmer temperatures also help to inhibit some of the insects that could negatively impact the vineyards and grapes.
In the higher elevations where Australia’s climate cools, several white grapes are grown including Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia grow all the major types of French grapes.
Shiraz accounts for roughly 40% of all red wine production in Australia followed by Cabernet Sauvignon. For white wines, Australia is known for producing some very good Chardonnay and Rhine Riesling. Just about all European native vines are grown in Australia. The wines produced have increased in popularity due to a very consistent approachability in their wines which means their ‘easy-going’ wine styles likely appeal to a variety of consumers. Australia’s red wines are often likened to those produced in California, having soft, spicy and well-rounded texture and can be enjoyed much earlier than European wines of the same varietal.
New Zealand follows a similar path
New Zealand’s wine history is very similar to that of Australia. New Zealand consists of several islands to the south of Australia. New Zealand also does not cultivate any native grapes, but imported grape varieties from Europe. New Zealand has a cooler and longer ripening period than Australia. New Zealand’s North Island is the warmer of the two major islands and is best at growing red grapes. It is particularly well know for Cabernet Sauvignon. The South Island, which is cooler, grows most of the white grapes, especially Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Still fine tuning in the new world
Australia and New Zealand are still going through some evolution in firmly establishing consistency in wine standards and label integrity. That said there are enforced requirements for Australia’s wines that regulate that the varietal, origin and vintage stated on the bottles must each have a minimum of 85% of that designation in the wine. Similarly, New Zealand is following the same 85% rule as Australia to ensure that what is promised on the label is provided in the bottle too but they have a little more work to do in legally defining their wine growing regions and sub regions.
However, this should not sway anyone from trying wines from these countries. And it hasn’t now making Australia the seventh largest wine producer and by not (yet) having such strictness as European wine standards, some fantastic blends of wines are approved for production in designated wine zones.