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The view of Australia as a hot, sunny continent is true for 90% of its land mass. It is not, however, true for many of its finest wine regions, which are situated in the far cooler -albeit sunny - remaining 10%. To begin to understand the relationship between the Australian climate, terroir, wine style, wine quality and choice of grape variety, you have to make the distinction between fine wine and beverage wine, between Cru Classe and vin ordinaire.

Just as France has its basic wine lands in Provence and Languedoc, and California has the Central Valley, Australia has the Riverlands of the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems where New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia meet. Here the climate most definitely is hot and sunny, but irrigation has transformed near-desert into high-yielding, verdant vineyards producing low-cost grapes of utterly predictable quality. These make the wine that fills the wine-boxes and flagons that account for two-thirds of Australian domestic sales, and also the bulk wine - destined mainly for Scandinavia and parts of the EC - that formed one-third of total wine exports in 1993. In all, the area makes 60% of the wine, and will continue to play a leading role well into the 21st century.

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