Road Less Travelled – Discover Lesser Known Wine Regions in Australia
We all know about the Barossa Valley, the Hunter Valley and Margaret River, but it’s worth discovering some of Australia’s lesser-known wine regions. Touring might be off the agenda for now, but that doesn’t stop you seeking out their specialties.
Granite Belt, Queensland
The sunshine state doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when you’re thinking wine. But Queensland’s Granite Belt, centred on the town of Stanthorpe, is one of the highest wine regions in Australia.
Some vineyards sit at more than 1000 metres above sea level atop the Great Dividing Range. Sometimes it even snows there! Grapes have been grown in the region since the 1870s.
While you will find the usual suspects such as Shiraz, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the region is developing a reputation for what they call “Strange Birds” – defined as a variety that represents not more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia. There’s even a Strange Birds Wine Trail, where you’re invited to try Marsanne, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre or Viognier.
East Coast, Tasmania
Officially, Tasmania is classified as a single wine region, but it has seven sub-regions, including the East Coast. One of Australia’s younger wine districts, this area saw its first plantings in the late 1970s with the first commercial winery opening in 1979. The
sub-region now has a dozen or so wineries stretching from Bicheno in the north to the Tasman Peninsula in the south.
The climate here is similar to Champagne and parts of the Rhine Valley, with warm summers and cool winters. Long autumn days create perfect ripening conditions. Signature wines of the area are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with medal-winning sparklings also on the list.
Great Southern, Western Australia
Although less famous than its northern neighbour Margaret River, Great Southern is the largest wine region in Australia. It has five sub-regions with a wide range of microclimates, varying from the maritime areas of Albany and Denmark to the inland sub-regions of Mount Barker, Porongurup and Frankland River. The first modern vineyards were planted at Mount Barker in the 1960s with extensive plantings in the other sub-regions following through the 1970s and 1980s.
Around Albany, both red and white varieties do well, with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz the most widely grown. The Denmark sub-region is establishing a reputation for high quality sparkling wines. The inland sub-regions of Great Southern are becoming known for some of Australia’s finest dry Rieslings as well as excellent Cabernet Sauvignons. Many other varieties are also grown throughout the region.
Macedon Ranges, Victoria
There are more than 40 wineries in this cool-climate region located less than an hour north west of Melbourne. The first plantings in the region were very early – in the 1840s and 1850s. However, the 1890s recession and the loss of English markets for Australian wines meant most of the plantings were abandoned. Viticulture was revived in the area in the late 1960s.
Macedon Ranges is another cool climate wine region, with elevations of 300 to 800 metres, so it’s no surprise to find Pinot Noir as a flagship wine. The area is also noted for Chardonnay, and both of these varieties contribute to some excellent sparkling wines. However, the region also produces many other varieties including spicy Shiraz, Gerwurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo, Lagrein and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hilltops, New South Wales
The area around Young, on the south-west slopes of New South Wales, is particularly famous for its cherries. Although vines were planted by a Croatian family as early as the 1860s, after World War 2 the vineyards became neglected and many were ripped out in the early 1960s in favour of planting cherry trees. Then, in 1989, McWilliams bought a 13 acre vineyard owned by the Robertson family and began the revival of the industry. There are now more than 400 hectares of vineyards in the region.
The region is now known for elegant red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and for crisp, fruity whites including Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The multicultural heritage persists, with Italian varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese also grown and made here, along with the Spanish Tempranillo.