We recently posted a blog about New Zealand wine regions, so now it’s time to learn about the wine regions in Australia. For many travelers, wine is one of the biggest reasons they visit Australia. Some see several wine regions, while others simply want one day among the vines. Either way, it’s important to know where the different wine regions are, and what they’re known for. That way, you can maximize your valuable time by visiting the place that best suits you!
There are over 60 official wine growing regions in this vast continent, and Australia is world-renowned for the quality and ingenuity of its wines. While some vines were planted as far back as the 1840s, most wineries in Australia began more recently, starting around the 1970s so the wine scene here is exciting, really pushing the envelope.
You’ll notice that Australians tend to call Shiraz by a different name, Syrah. You’ll also find, like in New Zealand, that they often mix different varieties of grapes in one bottle — Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot is a popular one. And like New Zealand, they shorten wine names in conversation. So Cabernet Sauvignon becomes “Cab Sav,” for example.
This blog is going to explain the most prestigious and convenient wine regions in Australia for visitors. We’ll walk through these regions one by one, organized by state. We hope you enjoy this tour of Australian wine!
South Australia wine regions
South Australia, whose capital is Adelaide, is the most prestigious state for wine touring in Australia. It’s also a great place to experience wildlife and foodie touring on Kangaroo Island, or visiting the Outback in the Flinders Ranges or Coober Pedy. We recommend one or two days of wine touring, as well as a couple of days on Kangaroo Island and a couple of days in the Outback when you visit South Australia.
The main wine regions are centered right around Adelaide, because within a few hours’ drive, you reach the Outback where the climate is too dry to support viticulture. In fact, as you travel north from Adelaide through wine country, the weather gets more and more warm and dry so red wines tend to get more and more full-bodied and robust. That means that if you love strong red wines, then this is the place to be.
Wine regions north of Adelaide:
1/ Barossa — An hour’s drive north of Adelaide, Barossa is the star of Australia’s wine scene. Historical and well-established vines date back to the 1840s, while a new wave of exciting winemakers are setting up shop and challenging the established old ways. The word, Barossa, is practically synonymous with Syrah, and half the grapes grown here are Syrah. Other excellent varieties include Grenache, Riesling and Semillon. For keen wine tourists, we recommend spending one or two nights in the Barossa Valley, rather than just doing a day trip from Adelaide. There are some beautiful accommodations here that take wine touring to the next level.
2/ Clare Valley — Almost an hour northwest of Barossa, the climate here is a bit drier and warmer so the reds tend to be even more robust. The Clare Valley produces a lot of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which love the high temperature fluctuation between day and night, and varied topography in the Clare Valley. However, they’re especially well known for their dry Rieslings. Folks who have only had European Rieslings will be in for a surprise when they try Australian Riesling. It tastes so different!
3/ Far North / Southern Flinders Ranges — Most wine tourists don’t make it this far north, since it’s about five hours from Adelaide and up to three hours from the Clare Valley. However, if you’re driving to the Flinders Ranges or Wilpena Pound, then it’s worth stopping at one of the small wineries here en route. Syrah is the main varietal here, and is very robust.
Wine regions south of Adelaide:
1/ McLaren Vale — About 45 minutes south of Adelaide, this is another of Australia’s most prestigious wine regions, along with the Barossa. The climate here is different from Barossa though, predominantly mild and coastal — quite Mediterranean. The stars here are the red wines, especially Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s an easy day trip to McLaren Vale from Adelaide, though there are a few local places to stay if the city isn’t your style.
2/ Kangaroo Island — Come for the wildlife, stay for the food and wine. A short flight from Adelaide, or a 90-minute drive through McLaren Vale followed by a ferry, Kangaroo Island is a very exciting place to do wine touring. Chock full of kangaroos, koalas, and other unique Australian wildlife, Kangaroo Island is about the size of Puerto Rico so has plenty of space for cultivating vineyards (and cottage industries for various foods as well). The climate here is temperate, maritime and windy. While both reds and whites are produced, the most common type you’ll find is a mixture of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
3/ Coonawarra — Off the beaten path for international tourists, but big on the Australian wine scene, Coonawarra is about five hours south-southeast of Adelaide. It’s a great place to stop if you’re driving between Adelaide and Melbourne. Close to Melbourne, you have the Great Ocean Road. Close to Adelaide, you have some of Australia’s most prized wine growing regions, with Coonawarra at the heart of it. This region contains rich terra rossa soil structure, which is also common in Mediterranean wine growing regions. The Coonawarra area is Australia’s biggest producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is sometimes mixed with Syrah.
New South Wales wine regions
New South Wales, whose capital is sparkling Sydney, is probably the most convenient place for most tourists to go wine touring since Sydney is on most itineraries. While this area’s wines tend to be less prestigious than other parts of Australia, they’re still of very high quality with unique notes. Plus, due to its proximity to Sydney, there are heaps of expert guides and exciting tour options. For anyone who likes wine, we highly recommend carving out a full day for wine touring while you’re in Sydney. The scenery in the countryside of New South Wales is stunning and the wines are flowing!
1/ Hunter Valley — About two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is big on the tourist scene, but still far enough from the big city to feel rural and authentic. It’s actually the oldest wine-producing area in Australia. Wet and humid by wine-growing standards, the Hunter Valley has very distinctive Syrah but Semillon is the classic Hunter Valley varietal that people go to taste, having a unique dry white flavor. For folks who prefer not to rush things, there are several excellent places to stay overnight in the Hunter Valley, and plenty of wineries and foodie stops to fill more than one day. However, most visitors go to the Hunter Valley as a day trip from Sydney.
2/ Central Ranges — If you’re really keen on wine and up for a self-drive adventure, then the Central Ranges in New South Wales should be on your bucket list. Roughly four hours northwest of Sydney, you’ll find soft hills around the town of Mudgee giving way to higher elevations around the town of Orange. The countryside here is truly beautiful, but also off the beaten path so accommodations are few and far between — and be prepared to see roadkill! The soil here is very fertile, supporting strong agriculture and produce as well as wines. Top varieties are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon (sometimes mixed with Merlot), Chardonnay, and other whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Semillon, though the Semillons of the Hunter Valley are more prestigious. One great way to visit here is to do an extended drive through the beautiful countryside of New South Wales, incorporating the Hunter Valley and the Central Ranges over the course of three or four days before heading back to Sydney.
Wine Regions in Victoria Australia
The state of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, produces more wine than any other state in Australia. Most of it is in the North, though for visitors, you’ll find more cellar doors and better infrastructure for tourists closer to Melbourne so that’s where we’ve focused our attention here. Like in Tasmania, vines were grown here as far back as the mid-1800s but the industry fell quiet when the gold rush of the late 1880s lured folks away from spending their time and money making wine. The wine industry picked up again around the 1970s and today, it’s winning tons of awards.
1/ Yarra Valley — About an hour’s drive northeast of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is the best spot in Victoria for wine touring. Cool temperatures, lots of hills and varied exposure are found in this area, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most common varietals. However, every visitor also ought to taste the sparkling Pinot Noir and Syrah — yes, even red wines can be sparkling, and the Yarra Valley is one of the best places to find them, along with Tasmania! There are one or two luxurious inns and B&Bs to stay here if you want to extend your wine touring beyond a day trip.
2/ Mornington Peninsula — Between one to two hours directly south of Melbourne and north of Phillip Island, the Mornington Peninsula is a quaint, small-town type of place that’s very popular not just with wine tourists, but also with Melburnians on vacation as well as foodies. It has a cool, maritime climate and their top varietals are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The Mornington Peninsula is just starting to gain steam and prestige in the wine industry, so you should visit here before everyone else knows about it!
Wine Regions in Tasmania Australia
This huge island off the southeast coast of Australia is most well known for its wilderness, wildlife, hiking opportunities and unique mountain/coastal scenery. However, it has a growing wine industry with excellent cool-climate wines that are only starting to reach their potential. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most common, followed by Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and more of Australia’s prestigious sparkling Pinot Noir as well as sparkling Chardonnay. In fact, the conditions in a part of this island are very similar to those in Champagne, France so the sparkling wines are definitely worth writing home about.
The capital is Hobart, located in the Southeast. There are tons of wineries right around Hobart, as well as delicious food touring. Other reasons to visit Hobart include the Museum of Modern Art, the historic penal colony called Port Arthur, and coastal cruises around Bruny Island.
If you’re driving from Hobart North, then you may wish to stop at a couple of the wineries along the East Coast along the way. Also, of course you’ll want to see the East Coast’s gorgeous Freycinet National Park and Wineglass Bay.
In the North of Tasmania, the largest town is Launceston, which makes a great base for wine touring. Extending northwest from Launceston is the River Tamar, with its scenic Tamar Valley Wine Route. Over thirty wineries here produce some of Tasmania’s best wines. Once you finish the Tamar Valley, drive East just a short ways and you’ll reach world-famous Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm golf courses.
Like Kangaroo Island, Northern Tasmania also has excellent wildlife touring, with one of our favorite guides ready to take you on an immersive wildlife spotting experience that includes a delicious meal of local food and wine out in the bush. Why not get your Australian wildlife and wine tour all in one place?
Western Australia Wine Regions
With a capital city of Perth, Western Australia is farther than many North American tourists go. However, we highly recommend spending time here if you really want to know what authentic Australia is all about- plus this is the area I was born and raised!
The most prestigious and popular wine regions are right around Perth, in the southern part of Western Australia. (Like in South Australia, the climate gets too extreme farther north to support good viticulture.) Fortunately for visitors, the wine region here is also the foodie region so all of your tastebuds will love it.
1/ Margaret River — Located about three to four hours’ drive south of Perth along the coast, Margaret River is charming, beautiful, lush and luxurious. There are several places to stay overnight here, some of which is five-star, and we highly recommend staying overnight since the drive is so far from Perth. The Margaret River is best known for its cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Chardonnay and a mixture of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
2/ Swan River area — About thirty minutes north of Perth, the Swan Valley is the most popular wine touring area for day trippers. Unlike the Margaret River farther south, the climate here is warm and dry, supporting Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, fortified Verdelho, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The state’s largest producer of wine is located here, and the Swan Valley is almost the only major wine region in the world to be located within thirty minutes of a capital city. Day trips here also often incorporate foodie stops, a wildlife park or a river cruise as part of the tour.
Are you ready for a glass of wine? Whether you come from Boston or Saskatoon or somewhere in between, contact us today to start planning your trip and remember no drink driving! You are always best going on a tour not just to keep you safe but because you get the expert knowledge and all the inside secrets of the region.