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South Australia

South Australia is one of the Australia's six states, located (as the name implies) in the south of the vast island continent. It is the engine room of the Australian wine industry, responsible for around half of the country's total output each year. But the region isn't just about quantity – countless high-quality wines are made here, most of them from the region's signature grape, Shiraz. These include such iconic wines as Penfolds Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace, Torbreck The Laird and d'Arenberg The Dead Arm.

From east to west, South Australia measures roughly 745 miles (1200km), and borders every other Australian state except the island of Tasmania. Its measurements from north to south are less neat and man-made, as its southern border is formed entirely by the arching coastline of the Great Australian Bight. It is at the eastern edge of this arch, as the coastline plunges southwards into cooler latitudes, that the vast majority of South Australian wine is produced.

The south-eastern corner of South Australia is significantly cooler and less arid than further north, which is simply too hot and dry for viticulture. The climate is moderated by two large gulfs, which bring the cool waters of the Southern Ocean hundreds of miles inland from the main coastline. Between the eastern side of the Gulf of St. Vincent (the smaller of these two) and the Murray River is a belt of green about 50 miles (80km) wide, clearly visible on satellite images. Here, the famous Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions are to be found.

South Australia's wine portfolio is heavily focused on powerful red wines, most of which are made from Shiraz. Another variety which thrives here is Cabernet Sauvignon, the best examples of which come from the Limestone Coast in the state's far south-eastern corner (particularly in Coonawarra, Padthaway and Robe). Grenache has also proved well-suited to the South Australian climate and wine-making style, particularly when combined with Shiraz and Mourvèdre to create the classic Australian GSM blend. Such diverse European varieties as Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Petit Verdot are also to be found in South Australian vineyards, but only in small quantities.

White wines are not South Australia's strong suit, with the notable exception of the world-class Riesling that has emerged from the Clare Valley in the past few decades. Almost inevitably, Chardonnay is grown widely here, but rarely produces top-quality wine outside the cooler climes of the Adelaide Hills. Among the less common white-wine varieties are Sémillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Verdelho.

Given the size of South Australia, climate and topography vary significantly across the state. Even within the main winegrowing regions in the south-east, the distances are significant; Coonawarra lies a full 275 miles (445km) south-east of the Clare Valley, and 350 miles from the state's northernmost wine region, the Southern Flinders Ranges. To put this into context, this is an area larger than Portugal.

The winegrowing regions cover six full degrees of latitude (38°S to 32°S). Altitude is also diverse here, ranging from almost sea-level in Langhorne Creek to 600m in parts of the Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills. This makes it impossible to summarise South Australia's terroir to any useful degree of accuracy, while also explaining how a single region can produce such diverse wines as crisp, cool-climate Chardonnay and rich, robust Shiraz.