What Is Barossa Wine?

If you love deep, brooding red wines, the Barossa Valley, nestled in the foothills of the Mount Lofty Range in South Australia, is a must-explore region at your local wine shop.

Australia’s Barossa zone is known for rich, powerful Shiraz wines that account for 50% of the region’s plantings, as well as elegant Rieslings grown higher up in the Eden Valley. Other wine varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, old vine Grenache, Mataro (Mourvèdre), Semillon, and Chardonnay. 

Here’s why Barossa Valley has earned its reputation for great wines.

Barossa Valley History

The region was first settled by Prussian and German immigrants fleeing religious persecution with German-speaking Lutheran’s from the 1850s planting vineyards. Today, many of the most iconic vineyard sites are generationally owned.

Barossa Valley vintners first planted Shiraz (Syrah) and Grenache to make fortified wines. This tradition continued until the 1960s when producers shifted to dry table wines as consumer preferences shifted.

Barossa Wine Production Numbers

Today, Barossa produces roughly 10% of all Australian wine. The Barossa Valley’s average yearly wine production weighs in at an impressive 52,082 tonnes.

Barossa Valley Growing Climate 

Barossa enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with dry warm summers and rain falling in late autumn and winter. 

Low rainfall naturally reduces yields and increases the wine’s intensity and quality.

That said, drought can be an issue, and vineyard sites with shallower soils will be irrigated. Low overall rainfall through the growing season also makes fires an ongoing threat. 

Barossa sits off the ocean and maritime breezes aren’t obvious.

However, the valley benefits from cooler air currents that roll off the hills in the morning and then again in the afternoon as warm valley air heats up, creating a vacuum.

These air currents, along with low humidity, make organic and biodynamic farming possible. 

What’s the Barossa Valley Zone?

Although we typically just refer to the region as ‘Barossa’, it’s actually sub-divided into 2 distinct geographical indications:

  • Barossa Valley: This valley is lower in altitude and warmer. 
  • Eden Valley: This valley sits higher up in the hills with a cooler mesoclimate. There’s also a High Eden sub-region that sits higher up (hence the name), with more temperate weather patterns. 

Barossa and Eden Valley share similar temperatures during the middle of the day, but then at night, there’s a greater temperature difference as the Eden Valley cools off more quickly, creating greater temperature shifts – or diurnal range.

Vineyards sitting at higher elevations also take longer to warm up in the morning. This nuanced temperature fluctuation helps wines grown in the Eden Valley retain their acidity.

Barossa Valley Soils

Barossa wasn’t affected by the most recent ice age. This means that the soils are old and varied, including alluvium, clay, loam, schist, and sand. The soils come from ancient sea beds and volcanic activity. 

Northern Eden Valley has rich, brown earth suitable for intense Shiraz. Southern Eden Valley has acidic soils, with sandy loam, suitable for Riesling.

Barossa Valley has the largest planting of pre-phylloxera vines in the world.

And while phylloxera’s known to struggle with sandy soils, South Australia has strict quarantine measures in place to keep the pest out of its vineyards and the local wine community has proactive restrictions to protect its vineyards.

Barossa Valley Old Vines

Stephan Ridgway Old Vine Grenache - barossa wine
Old Vine GrenacheAttribute: Stephan Ridgway

You can’t cover Barossa Valley without at least mentioning old vines. The region boasts the world’s oldest continuously producing vines.

Barossa’s vineyards claim title to the oldest genetic vine material in the world.

There’s even a classification system for vine age. Old vine Shiraz is naturally at home in Barossa Valley, but old vine Grenache from the Barossa is gaining in recognition.

These vines are planted as bush vines (freestanding bush-style vines that don’t use a trellis system). Bush vines allow for sunlight and long ripening for Grenache.

Do Old Vines Make Better Wines? 

I want to believe that they do. On an emotional level, yes, of course, old wines make better wines because it’s part of the spiritual story that unfolds in a glass of wine. 

Robert Hill-Smith, from Yalumba, explains that “the vines are old because they’re good, not good because they’re old.” 

Put another way, if the vines weren’t producing good fruit, vineyard owners would have grubbed them up in the past.

Helpful Tip: Go read more about old vine wines and what it means on wine labels here.

Barossa Valley Shiraz

Barossa Shiraz Let Ideas Compete - barossa wine
Attribute: Let Ideas Compete

Shiraz (aka Syrah) is arguably Australia’s signature grape, and the most planted grape in Barossa accounting for 50% of production. Barossa is home to Australia’s most iconic and premium quality Shiraz. 

The region’s temperate Mediterranean climate helps develop the fruit’s richness. The grape is well-suited to the region’s red-brown earth.

Barossa Shiraz can be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or made into fortified wines. 

Shiraz will show blackberry, plum, tar, leather, smoked meat, and charcuterie. 

As a Shiraz, the wines vary in style but generally are made in full-bodied, rich wines with ripe fruit and powerfully firm tannins. They burst with flavor and will always be a style that people will gravitate to. 

Jammy is attractive, but the cooler growing sites craft more elegant wines that are restrained with more overt black pepper (rotundone), lavender, and vibrancy. More producers are making less extracted wines, with less new oak – opting to pick the grapes earlier for more freshness and lower alcohol.

These two divergent styles mean that producers can experiment with their wines. 

Other Barossa Grapes

While Shiraz is the superstar of Barossa, the region also grows several other key grape varieties. The region produces a wide range of styles and winemakers continue to push the limits on style.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most planted grape with black currant and ripe tannins.
  • Mataro (Mourvèdre) is dark fruited and gamey, blended with Grenache and Syrah. 
  • Dry Barossa Riesling is a famous Barossa wine growing in recognition.
  • Barossa Semillon tends to produce fuller-bodied styles than the more Australia’s more famous Hunter Valley to the east. (Here’s a full post on Semillon from around the world – check it out)

Why Do Barossa Wines Use Screwcaps?

Don’t be surprised if the bottle of Barossa Valley wine you find comes with a screw cap. Most Australian wines are under screwcap, and it has nothing to do with the wine’s quality – even super-premium wines have screwscaps.

Twist off and enjoy!

Thirsty for More?

Love big Australian red wines? Check out these other strong red wines you should absolutely seek out.

Here’s a great post on key wine regions around the world and their signature wines. Just getting started with wine? Go to this quick guide on pairing food and wine.

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