Great Southern! The Oldest Wine Region in Australia

Great Southern! The Oldest Wine Region in Australia

Given that Australia is the sixth largest country in the world, it probably isn’t surprising that we are home to the world’s largest and most isolated wine region. Some might say that it’s a dubious honour, but the wine industry of the Great Southern Region in the southwest of WA wears it as a badge of honour.

The vast region is 100 km from north to south and 150 km across, covering some 1.7 million hectares of land! Said to be the most ancient wine-producing region in the world, the area is thought to date back as far as 2.8 billion years. The viticultural history of the district can be traced back to 1965 when the first trial vineyards for wine production were planted near Mount Barker. The first commercial wines emerged in 1972 when a Riesling and a Cabernet Sauvignon were produced. Success was swift, as a 1975 vintage Riesling won a bunch of trophies around Australian wine shows. In 1996, the ‘Great Southern’ received its own Geographical Indication (GI), and since then, the region has continued to shine.

The Great Southern is home to some cracking wineries; think Alkoomi, Castle Rock Estate, Singlefile Wines and Plantagenet. And it’s their Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that are delivering the accolades (though it was a local Riesling that was named James Halliday’s wine of the year in 2019!). There are 24 wineries across the 5 sub-regions of the GI, and with very different terroirs and micro-climates, varietals can have vastly different characteristics.

Howard Park may be based in the Margaret River region to the north, but their Chief Winemaker, Nic Bowen, was born into a Great Southern winemaking family and well understands the uniqueness of the district and its varying terroir. His range of “Flint Rock” wines all retail at less than $30 a bottle and are made from fruit sourced from vineyards across the region and showcase regional typicity. The 2023 Chardonnay, sourced from Mount Barker, Porongurup and Frankland River sites, is as graceful a style as you’ll find. There’s a flinty minerality, green citrus, peach and pear all wrapped up in a cloak of French oak and malo-inspired mouthfeel loveliness.

While I enjoyed the 2023 Flint Rock Pinot Noir, it was Bowen’s 2022 Flint Rock Shiraz that most tantalised the taste buds. A deep brooding purple colour in the glass, upfront, the rich plums, cassis and red cherries invite a second sip before coffee beans and a liquorice savouriness emerge alongside firm tannins on the finish. The sweetness of the ripe fruit is harmoniously balanced by a mineralic structure and gentle acids. A drink now style from an under-rated cool climate region.

Great Southern wines may not generally be big in palate weight, but their presence and power is remarkable. This is a massive region; perhaps it’s a case of bigger is better?


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