Western Australia is the country’s largest state and yet its wine production is relatively small: about five percent of the national total. Western Australia wines get quality accolades and awards far out of proportion to their volume, however.
Great Southern is Australia’s largest wine region, and it is one of the country’s coolest. It divides into five sub-regions. Albany has a maritime climate, moderated by the Southern Ocean, with moist, cool winters and warm, dry summers, giving us Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Denmark is quite similar in configuration to Albany, a little cooler and wetter. Porongurup is the easternmost Great Southern sub-region, stretching out along the slopes of the Porongorups, an isolated mountain range The sub-region has cool to mild winters and warm, sunny summers. Soils are ancient, deep karri loams from weathered granite. Delicate Riesling leads the pack here, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier (one of the Champagne blending grapes). Mount Barker has also a reputation for floral, delicate Riesling. Frankland River is in the northwestern corner of the region, warmer than the others because of its inland location, suitable for Bordeaux type red wines and Shiraz.
Margaret River gets consistent accolades from the wine press. This is a region of numerous small producers—more than two hundred. Spring can be cool and windy here but summers are warm and dry. Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes throughout the region, along with its Bordeaux partners Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Shiraz sneaks its way in as well. The southern chunk of the region has more Antarctic than Indian Ocean influence and yields some Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Geographe, on the Indian Ocean north of Margaret River has a variety of soils: the coastal plains are sandy and the interior uplands granite, with alluvial soils in between. The result of this configuration is a range of wine grapes: Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Blackwood Valley enjoys summers that are cool and dry. Soils are commonly gravelly loam. The most prominent grape varieties of the region include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, with smaller plantings of Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Noir.
Manjimup is a high elevation forested area, planted largely to Pinot Noir but diversifying into Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho. The region is also known for its rare black truffles.
Pemberton has carved out a reputation for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Rhône varieties. Soils in the cool region are either gravely loam over medium clay or karri loams, formed from gneissic rock.
Peel is a coastal region with dry summers that do not get too hot because of coastal breezes. Sections closer to the coast have limestone soils, further inland granatic gravely soils predominate. White wines lead: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdelho.
Perth Hills has both altitude and sea breezes. Summer evenings are warm, leading to continuous ripening. Red wines (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir) have a slight edge over white (Chardonnay).
The Swan District is the hottest, driest wine-producing region in Australia. Most soils are alluvial. White wine styles lead the region’s significant production: Verdelho. Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. Some fortified wines are produced.
Tasmania’s wine regions are unofficial. The island is all a single zone, although that may change as vine plantings increase and investment by large wine firms floods into the island. The west coast of the island is too wet for viticulture, while the dry east coast faces irrigation and water issues. Nevertheless, Tasmania is burgeoning, with its decidedly cool climate, made all the more appealing as global warming pushes the arc of Australian wine production to the south. Some quick climate math tells us that in both hemispheres, the optimal cool climate band is moving to higher latitudes. This is no problem in the northern hemisphere, but the southern hemisphere risks running out of land. Tasmania benefits from the math. Pinot Noir leads in Tasmania with 44% of vines, its Burgundian partner Chardonnay has 23%. These two form the basis for a significant sparkling wine industry. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling round out the largely white wine focus of the island.
The Tamar Valley (which produces 40% of Tasmania’s wine) and neighboring Pipers River on the island’s northeast see their temperatures moderated by the Tamar River. They have a climate equivalent to that of France’s northernmost wine region, Champagne. White grapes thrive here. Chardonnay with high natural acidity generally undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften the acids. It is made more complex with barrel fermentation. The Riesling is steely and fragrant, with the natural acidity characteristic of the grape that allows it to age in bottle a dozen years. The Gewürztraminer is a more delicate affair, showing spices and rose petal. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are also produced, as are sparkling wines. High quality Pinot Noir is served on its own or becomes a sparkling wine component.
The East Coast produces approximately twenty percent of Tasmania’s wine. The area has an optimal combination of cool climate and dry weather, promoting slow ripening for intense flavors of light-bodied Pinot Noir and citrus-rich Chardonnay.
Derwent Valley and Coal River in the south are dry regions, affected by the rain shadow of Mount Wellington. They produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
The Huon Valley is Australia’s southernmost region, producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the hardy German varieties Sylvaner and Müller Thurgau.