The definitive guide to Australian Wines
To celebrate the release of James Halliday's new book, Australia's Top 100 Wineries, we're giving our members exclusive access to the entire book right here on the website!
This is James' personal selection of our country's finest wineries – from Bannockburn to Bay of Fires, Woodlands to Wirra Wirra. With extensive introductory material – which includes a history of Australian wine; its grape varieties and styles; and where those styles sit in a world context as well as climate and terroir – this is an invaluable resource for any wine lover.
Explore the Top 100 Australian Wineries, as selected by James Halliday.
Wine has been continuously made in Australia for 190 years, and there are a number of family-owned companies with six generations directly involved in winemaking. It is often assumed that South Australia pioneered viticulture, but the first wine grapevines were planted in New South Wales in 1817–18, in Tasmania in 1823, then Western Australia in 1830, and finally in South Australia in 1837.
The very French notion of terroir looks at all the natural conditions which influence the biology of the vines and thus the composition of the grape itself. The terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil, and the landscape. It is the combination of an infinite number of factors: temperatures by night and by day, rainfall distribution, hours of sunlight, slope and drainage, to name but a few.
It will be obvious from the foregoing that French vignerons regard much of the impact of climate is inextricably involved in terroir. Their Australian and Californian counterparts turn the approach upside down: they argue that climate is the most important influence on the quality of grapes, without denying that in some instances the soil, subsoil and rock components of terroir are of equal importance (Coonawarra being a prime example).
It is important to understand that Australia has no areas of terroir and climate that are precisely similar to those of France (or any other country), and that the reverse is equally true. This can lead to the statement that even if an Australian winemaker tried to exactly copy a similar French wine it could not do so (true), and that it follows that any comparison between French and Australian wine is either futile or invalid (untrue).
There are significant comparisons which can be made between Australian and French wines. Most notably in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône Valley red wine varieties and in Burgundy, Alsace, Sauternes, Hunter Valley Semillon and Champagne white wines, as well as with Australian Sherry and Port which cannot be matched by any other country in terms of its complexity.
All of the major wine-producing countries of the world, including Australia, produce very small quantities (seldom more than 5% of the total vintage production each year) of fine wines, often described as ultra premium. These succeed because of their quality. The other 95% – and, to emphasise the point, this is as true of France, Italy, Spain and California, to name but a few, as it is of Australia – are technically well-made wines which sell on the basis of their price, which is far lower than that of ultra-premium wines.
Geographic Indication (GI) is the term for the officially recognised super zones, zones, regions and subregions of Australia which have been entered in the Register of Protected Names pursuant to the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980 (Cth). At its most general, registration is based on state boundaries or an aggregation of states or parts thereof. The broadest is South Eastern Australia,which takes in the whole of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania and those sectors of Queensland and South Australia in which grapes are grown, followed by individual states.
There are a series of controls on the form and content of wine labels that coexist with the Geographic Indications regulations. The most important is what is commonly called truth-in-labelling, guaranteed by the Label Integrity Program (LIP). This is a control system self-imposed on Australian winemakers, the cost of compliance likewise funded by Australian wineries (by a levy charged on each tonne of grapes crushed).
The use of cork (crafted from the bark of a specific type of oak tree, Quercus suber) placed inside the neck of the wine bottle is a 350-year-old technology. This alone should be a reason to question whether there may be a better way of keeping the wine safe.
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