Whilst most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.
The most important grape of the Northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is quickly becoming one of the most noted grapes planted in America. America's best bottlings hail from the Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Syrah displays a spicy blend of black pepper and raspberries, with dark fruit undertones; full-bodied with smoke, tar and tannins. It is made into a few magnificent varietally labeled wines, but is also often the base grape for Rhone-style blends. There are those who believe that the Napa Valley should be planted mostly to Syrah, for it thrives in warm growing regions. In Australia, where it is the most-planted red variety, and in South Africa, the grape is known as Shiraz. While viticulturally identical with Syrah, Shiraz grown in Australia is typically sweeter and riper, with more chocolately notes than pepper and spices.
The Australian region of Victoria is the country's most historically significant wine region, with vine cultivation and wine production going on there since the mid 19th century. In those times, Victoria produced over half of all Australia's wines. However, today, despite having a huge number of wineries, Victoria has begun to focus on quality over quantity – many of the six hundred wineries based in this region produce wines made from lesser known grape varietals, often producing fascinating wines full of character, but made from vines with far lower yields and a considerably smaller audience. Today, most of the viticulture in Victoria takes place near the cool, coastal region around Melbourne. However, recent years have seen irrigation projects help wine makers grow vines in the more arid parts of the region, with a wide range of grapes now being grown.