Situated on the extreme southwestern edge of the Australian land mass, the ocean-influenced Margaret River region benefits from a long growing season. Its Chardonnay is typically focused, crisp, and ageworthy, while Cabernet Sauvignon has long been the favored red grape of the area, producing wines in a distinctly Bordeaux-like style. Shiraz has been growing in popularity, especially among winemakers and consumers who prefer a more precise Old-World style. The cooler Great Southern region to its south and east is home to a more Germanic expression of Riesling than is usually found in Australia, plus spicy, peppery Shiraz with Rhône-like weight and complexity. The Margaret River region, has emerged as a top growing area for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which is often blended with Semillon. With rare exceptions, Australia's Sauvignons and Sauvignon-based blends are best enjoyed within a couple years of the vintage."
Two keys to Australian wine quality are the continent's mostly hot and dry climate and its great number of technically proficient winemakers. Australia's wine regions are spread across the southern rim of the country, generally close to the sea, from the Hunter Valley, just above Sydney on the east coast, across to the Margaret River, south of Perth on the west coast-a distance of roughly 2,000 miles. (The generic appellation South Eastern Australia is used to describe blended wines from virtually anywhere but Western Australia.) Making blanket statements about Australia's weather in a given growing season would be almost like saying that Southern California and North Carolina experienced the same climatic conditions.
Even within fairly small areas conditions can vary dramatically according to ocean influence, altitude and type of soil. The often scorching hot Barossa Valley in South Australia, for example, can produce red Australian wines that approach vintage port in their dried-fruit flavors and alcoholic heft. But parts of the Clare Valley, less than 50 miles away, are significantly cooler. At the same time, though, Barossa benefits from a high percentage of old vines with deep root systems, which are more likely to be able to get water than younger vines in other regions, which rely heavily on irrigation and scarce water resources.