Australia's wine roadmap is vast, with regions dotted across the southern half of a continent taking in a wondrous range of scenery, grape varieties and climatic conditions. The more than 50 vineyard regions cover seven of the country's eight states and territories, and run from sun-kissed Western Australia to rugged Queensland.
There are world-famous wine-producing regions such Margaret River in Western Australia, the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Victoria's Yarra Valley and the Hunter as well as exciting emerging districts like Beechworth (Victoria), Orange (New South Wales) and the Granite Belt (Queensland). Most Australian wineries have cellar doors offering tastings; some free, some for a small fee that's refundable after a purchase. It's during these tastings that people also discover a variety of characters; from science boffins to salt-of-the-earth farmers.
While Australia remains best known for its shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, some new varieties such as sangiovese, tempranillo and vermentino are making an impact. So if you're planning a tour of the country, where should the starting point be? A good place is Margaret River where wineries such as Cullen, Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle and Leeuwin Estate produce world-class cabernets and dry white wines made from blending s?millon and sauvignon blanc. Stay at Cape Lodge or Windmills Break and make sure to enjoy a meal at the Must winebar.
After a side-trip to small wineries of the Great Southern region, cross the Nullarbor Plain to the state of South Australia - home to many of the greatest names in Australian wine - including Henschke, Yalumba and Penfolds. There are several well-known wine districts within a couple of hours of the state capital of Adelaide, including the Clare Valley, the neighbouring Barossa and Eden Valleys, the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale - all with their distinctive character.
The Barossa has German heritage and produces dark, inky and powerful wines made from shiraz and grenache. Stay at the ultra-luxe The Louise resort, dine at the Appellation restaurant and sample wines from John Duval, Elderton, Glaetzer and Kalleske as well as big names such as Penfolds, Peter Lehmann and Jacob's Creek.
In McLaren Vale, to the south of Adelaide, Coriole, d'Arenberg, Chapel Hill and Wirra Wirra are among the stars, while Fino at Willunga is a great restaurant.
In the cooler Adelaide Hills -just a short drive out of Adelaide- producers such as Shaw and Smith, Nepenthe and Ashton Hills are regarded among the best in the country, with pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc the stars.
If you get to flat-as-a-pancake Coonawarra, midway between Adelaide and Melbourne, you'll discover rich terra rossa soils producing cabernets that many critics say rival those of Bordeaux. Names to look out for include Wynns, Coonawarra Estate, Balnaves and Majella, while Pipers at Penola and Upstairs at Hollick are top-notch restaurants with fine wine lists.
Crossing into the state of Victoria, the Grampians and Pyrenees, Bellarine Peninsula, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Heathcote and the Macedon Ranges all produce top quality wines in a range of styles. It is essential to visit the Mornington Peninsula, where Stonier, Kooyong, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Paradigm Hill, Paringa Estate, Tuck's Ridge and Yabby Lake all produce wines worth seeking out, and in the Yarra Valley, Oakridge, De Bortoli, Coldstream Hills, Domaine Chandon and TarraWarra Estate should all be on your list.
The Yarra is home to the beautiful Relais & Chateaux property Chateau Yering and its upmarket Eleonores restaurant, while the ultra-modern Port Phillip Estate is the place to stay and eat on the Mornington Peninsula, although a meal at Ten Minutes by Tractor is also de rigueur.
After a side trip to the lovely state of Tasmania, known for its fabulous fresh produce and splendid pinots noirs and chardonnays, and a brief stop in North-East Victoria to sample the fortified wines of Rutherglen, head into the most populous state of New South Wales. An ideal itinerary would take in wineries around the nation's capital, Canberra, up through Cowra, cool-climate Orange and rustic Mudgee and into the Hunter Valley, where stops at Tyrrell's, McWilliams Mount Pleasant and Brokenwood are essential.
It is then possible to head up through the New England region to the Granite Belt in southern Queensland - hot in summer and downright chilly in winter. A place of contrasts; just like the entire country.
WHAT: A family-owned and run winery in South Australia's Barossa Valley with great red wines.
WOW: Hill of Grace shiraz is regarded as one of the top two reds, along with Penfolds Grange.
WHAT: Australia's leading biodynamic wine producer, it recently celebrated its 40th birthday.
WOW: Enjoy wines on the deck overlooking the vines.
PORT PHILLIP ESTATE (portphillipestate.com.au)
WHAT: A spectacular new architect-designed winery/tasting facility/restaurant in Victoria with fabulous vineyard views.
WOW: Taste the wines of Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong, recently named wineries of the year.
DOMAINE CHANDON (chandon.com.au)
WHAT: A high-tech cellar door, tasting facility and restaurant in lovely grounds in the Yarra Valley.
WOW: Arguably some of Australia's best sparkling wines.
WHAT: The Tyrrell family has been growing grapes and making wine in the Hunter Valley since 1858.
WOW: Hunter s?millon is a uniquely Australian wine style - and no one does it better.
WHAT: Established in 1844 and regarded as one of the world's leading wine labels.
WOW: Create your own blend in the laboratory at its Barossa winery - and take it home.