Australian Shiraz and Understanding the Wine Regions of Australia

Australia is producing a wide range of wine from many sub-regions, but it’s probably most well known for its Shiraz production. Why is this the case, what makes Australian Shiraz stand out, and what regions are producing the best wines? What foods go well with it and what producers might you recommend visiting and tasting?

The wines of Australia are as varied as there many climates and terrains. Whether it be for bargain or premium wine production, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, sparkling wine and dessert wine are all made from specific regions that have climates and soils seemingly tailored for those specific varietals. One commonality in nearly every wine region in Australia is the presence of Shiraz.

Shiraz is synonymous with Australia. It’s popularity came about with the harmony of a global wine culture that was looking for something new and a country looking to export and showcase a wine that it had been making for over a hundred years. The very warm days, cool nights, and long growing seasons that are common among most of the climates of Australia’s wine sub regions are ideal for Shiraz. It would succeed where other grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir would fail. Those that grow the grapes and make the wine work to preserve the heritage of being a Shiraz producing country. Australia has the oldest Shiraz vines in the world (1832) and has more of that varietal planted than any other country.   Shiraz can be easy to produce if making a bulk wine, but it also responds to the skilled attention of those looking to create a quality product. All these wines needed was a global audience.

Old Vines Shiraz Vines Growing in Australia
Australia has the oldest Shiraz vines in the world (1832) and has more of that varietal planted than any other country.

The French Paradox was a phenomenon that began in the late eighties that boasted of the health benefits of red wine. With this heightened interest came a global desire to try new wines. The rich and bold flavors and supreme drinkability of Australian Shiraz consumed the wine market. Deep and dark fruit flavors, a full body and soft tannins were different and appealing to someone new to wine. Shiraz is at once simple and complex which provides something for wine lovers no matter the seriousness of their palates. Shiraz represented something not only new in respect to style and flavor, but new in respect to being a global consumer. This model of Australian Shiraz has been retooled by other wine producing countries and regions to create a distinct identity. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Argentinian Malbec and even Napa Valley Cabernet have all followed this model. Many know that a wine’s origin is important to quality and this simple method has changed how many wines are marketed and sold.

Australian Shiraz Vineyard | Hunter Valley, Australia
The sun rises over a misty morning and Shiraz vines in Australia’s Hunter Valley wine region.

To aid its rapid popularity was Shiraz’s ability to pair with food that people love to eat. Barbeque, steak, burgers, lamb and most anything grilled or charred is great with Shiraz. The boldness of the wine calls for heavy satisfying dishes that can be as simple or as complex as the wines themselves. When it comes to those that are more complex, I recommend trying those from producers that have been making Shiraz longer than most. Yalumba is the oldest family owned winery Australia, and like many Australian producers, has many tiers of quality. They are known for their full bodied wines with thoughtful complexity. From their Patchwork to their Octavius they continue to produce excellent wines from Barossa and South Australia. They also blend many of their wines with some cabernet sauvignon such as in The Signature. From the Yarra Valley in Victoria, I recommend Yarra Yering whose wines have a lighter and dryer approach to Shiraz. I also recommend the wine of John Duval. He was once the winemaker at Penfolds and has only refined his craft in making approachable and affordable quality Shiraz.

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Alec Bruggenthies
National Beverage Director at Smith & Wollensky's

I feel I found my career through my previous experience in the service industry coupled with my exposure to and desire to learn about beer, spirits and eventually wine. My family always had an open attitude toward alcohol. My uncle and grandfather both had interests in wine and its culture, and at a young age, we were allowed to enjoy wine with the family on holidays.


As for being in the service industry, that started at an early age as well. From being a golf caddy at the age of twelve to my current position of being the General Manager of the National Wine Program of Smith & Wollensky, I have always been in the field of service and education. From Irish pubs to sorority kitchens to education and outreach programs, I worked many jobs while in college. I always enjoyed being in service and enhancing the enjoyment of my guests. This led me to working in restaurants and making my way to manager. I had always had an interest in the stories, history and origins of beer and spirits, even in my teens (which given my age in a pre-internet world was not an easy hobby to explore). I eventually became a certified sommelier through the International Sommelier Guild, an organization for whom I would later teach, a certified wine educator and I am currently in the process of becoming a certified spirits specialist.


These certifications helped me establish myself at a few notable restaurants and restaurant groups in Chicago. After some stints at smaller restaurants, I worked as a sommelier for Lettuce Entertain You while at Ambria, one of Chicago’s top French restaurants and wine destinations for 27 years, and as the Beverage manager and sommelier at B.R. Guest’s Blue Water Grill. From there I went to work at Smith & Wollensky where I have been for the last eight years. All together I have been in control beverage for sixteen years and a certified sommelier for twelve.


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