The World's Best Australian Wines

Shiraz features heavily in the list of Australia's greatest wines.
© Wine Australia | Shiraz features heavily in the list of Australia's greatest wines.
The elder statesman of Southern Hemisphere wine is still very much a leader in the important things.
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Saturday, 07-Nov-2020

Trying to please everyone is usually a thankless task, so it's understandable that most people don't bother trying. Except Australia, that is.

When it comes to wine, the Great Southern Land really does have something for everybody, a reflection of the country's overall generosity both of spirit and endowment. Zippy Rieslings, elegant Chardonnays, velvety Pinots, patrician Cabernet Sauvignons and even crisp Sauvignon Blanc feature on a national wine list that fairly bursts at the seams.

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But for all Australia's great abundance in wine it hasn't been an easy ride. Australia's wine industry knows what tough times feel like. Ridicule, rejection and forced reinvention have featured heavily in the past 200-odd years of Australia's considerable wine history and that's without even going into issues like decade-long droughts, wildfires, disease and corporate misadventure.

However, Australians are nothing if not resilient – sharing on the edges of a vast desert with a startling variety of lethal wildlife will do that – and the "Aussie battler" mentality has played a big part in getting them to where they are today.

It wasn't always easy, of course. When European settlers first started to flood into the Lucky Country they began to plant grapevines and produce wine. However, the wines weren't always met with universal acclaim. They were frequently derided as rough, uncouth and alcoholic, especially in Britain, where the same dismissals were often equally applied to Australians themselves.

The wine industry, such as it was, tended to produce big, ripe wines, often based on the relatively unpopular Shiraz grape, and frequently fortified them with spirit as well. Australian wine remained something of a domestic product for many years.

Around 60 years ago, many producers were sick of the perception of their wines, even though it was obvious that Australia could produce world-class wines by then. Instead of aping European styles, these producers realized that a distinct Australian style was not only possible but desirable, and so began the renaissance.

That gained pace in the 1980s, when Australia began producing affordable, good-quality wines that had strong, clearly delineated flavors of fruit and oak. These wines took Europe, particularly, by storm; such a novel idea – wines that actually tasted of fruit? Madness!

But they took hold, especially in the crucial UK market. Australian wine helped to elevate varietal labels above stuffy appellation labels and also championed the then-novel idea that it was perfectly okay for a wine to taste of blackcurrants, or peaches, or plums instead of being a muddled melange of underripe fruit, tannin and pencil shavings.

Of course, the simple wines only take a country so far, but Australia never stopped aiming for the heights, too. The legendary wines of Penfolds, Henschke, Tyrrells and Wynns were joined by a new generation of quality winemakers determined to show that Australia was about more than simple, overoaked fruit-bombs.

And boy, haven't they done the job well? There is still plenty of uncomplicated, inexpensive quaffing wine sloshing around, but the number of quality wines attracting the big scores increases each year. And the scores are certainly backing that up as we shall see when we look at the wines we rank as Australia's best, based on their aggregated critic scores.

Let's get the housekeeping out of the way first, and talk about how we arrive at our scores. Wine-Searcher collates scores from a wide range of critics, from influential single palates like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson to publications like Wine Spectator, all adjusted for the 100-point scale. To generate a wine's aggregate score, Wine-Searcher uses a Bayesian methodology to calculate a weighted average, since not all critics are equal. This score is calculated for specific vintages of a wine, as well as across all vintages.

The World's Best Australian Wines on Wine-Searcher:

What a difference a year makes. Last year when we ran this list there were substantial differences, and not just among the wines appearing on it.

Back in 2019 (when the world was carefree and young), there was one 96-point wine on this list and three 94-pointers. This year, the scores have shuffled upward, with the two top wines having added a point to their aggregated, all-vintages score, while the Seppeltsfield Vintage Tawny dropped a point and, consequently, two places from the top spot.

Penfolds maintains its three entries on the list, but there are some notable absences. Henschke's Mount Edelstone Shiraz has fallen off, as have wines from modern favorites Chris Ringland and Mollydooker. In their place are new entries from Clarendon Hills and a brace of Torbrecks.

The other thing that this list shows clearly is the importance of Barossa to Australia's wine reputation. For all the kudos Coonawarra gets, it only appears once on this list and even that is as part of a cross-regional blend with a Shiraz from Barossa.

Barossa might not be the world's biggest wine region, but it shares its flavors with a large chunk of the world. Generous to a fault, mate.

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