Having been involved in the wine industry for over 20 years, I have met and learnt from some incredible individuals, well-versed in all aspects of the business. Wine always makes for great conversation and debate, especially if it’s a significant part of your everyday business.
Most wine drinkers know what style of wine they like. Some like lots of fruit, others prefer their drop dry. But if booze is your biz, the power of furthering your wine knowledge can not only improve the ability to buy wisely but can also significantly increase sales to your customers.
It’s never too late to start learning more about the wine you buy, sell and drink. So to make the learning process easier, I have put together a quick guide to the 14 most popular Australian wine varietals. You’ll find the best producing regions, expected characteristics and I have even made some suggestions from our range of wines at various price points. I hope you find the information both interesting and useful.
A tremendously versatile grape variety, Shiraz (also known as Syrah) has become Australia’s highest produced variety. Broadly speaking, Australian Shiraz is loved for its vibrant berry characters, hints of spice and oak. There is however subtle differences between Shiraz produced in different Australian wine regions.
Barossa Valley // Universally acclaimed as a premium region for producing Shiraz, the Barossa Valley in South Australia produces full-bodied Shiraz with jammy fruit and a hint of spice.
Our recommendations: $$ Stonefish Reserve Shiraz / $$$ Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz
Great Southern & Margaret River // More closely aligned with the traditional French style of Shiraz. Wine produced in the south-west of Western Australia often displays more prominent pepper and spice notes.
Our recommendations: $ Stonefish Shiraz
2. Cabernet Sauvignon
This tough-skinned grape is grown in many Australian wine regions but struggles in cooler climate (Tasmania) and loses definition in the warmer regions.
South Australia // With a climate particularly similar to Bordeaux, Coonawarra stands out as the most notable South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon producing region. These wines are often perfectly detailed and make for fantastic blends. Other South Australian regions including Langhorne Creek, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale and Eden Valley also produce quality Cabernet Sauvignon fruit.
Our recommendations: $ Scarpantoni Estate Cabernet Sauvignon | $$ DiGiorgio Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon | $$ McGuigan Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon | $$$ Tempus Two Pewter Cabernet Sauvignon
Margaret River // Usually very elegant with a tight texture and structure backed by powerful fruit and balance when given time to develop. In the cooler Great Southern region of WA, the varietal often displays a dark berry character with firm, fine tannins.
Our recommendations: $ Wicked Thorn Cabernet Sauvignon | $$ Knee Deep Cabernet Sauvignon
Chardonnay accounts for half of Australia’s white wine production. It is grown in all 63 wine regions of the country, from humble beginnings in Mudgee and the Hunter Valley regions of New South Wales.
Riverina & Hunter Valley NSW // Traditional, big chardonnay’s with a nice buttery palate and bold yellow colour with plenty of oak.
Our recommendations: $$ Leogate Brokenback Chardonnay
Margaret River & Yarra Valley // Chardonnay produced in the cooler regions tends to display a more refined structure and flavour, radically different to warmer climate chardonnays. As these ‘modern’ chardonnays are more subtle, they are more suited to food pairing and compliment a wider range of dishes.
Our recommendations: $ Stonefish White Label Chardonnay | $$ Tempus Two Wilde Chardonnay | $$$ Wignalls Unwooded Chardonnay
I love Merlot for it’s softness on the palate, which makes it especially good for enjoying with food as it doesn’t detract too much from the cuisine. This is in part due to a lower acidity than other reds. Merlot is a versatile variety and is grown right across Australia, although it doesn’t perform as well in the coldest regions of the country.
McLaren Vale & Orange // Fruit from warmer inland regions generally produces softly textured wines with ripe red berry flavours.
Yarra Valley & Margaret River // Merlot produced in the cooler, coastal climates of south-west Western Australia is generally more savoury with hints of vanilla and cocoa.
Our recommendations: $ Stonefish Merlot
5. Sauvignon Blanc
The most popular white wine in the Australian market is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but there are some amazing Sauv’s being produced in our own backyard. Australian-style Sauvignon Blancs have a beautiful structure which completely differentiate from their Kiwi counterparts. They are generally more refined and subtle in flavour and as a result are more versatile when pairing with food.
Adelaide Hills // The climate and soil combination in Adelaide Hills is ideal for producing quality Sauvignon Blanc. These wines typically exhibit a tropical aroma and flavour with great length.
Our recommendations: $$ Tempus Two Copper Series Sauvignon Blanc
Margaret River // While the straight SB do stand on their own merit, white blends, generally Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends are where the Margaret River dominates in the award stakes.
Our recommendations: $ Stonefish Sauvignon Blanc | $$ Knee Deep Sauvignon Blanc
6. Pinot Noir
Australian Pinot Noir has been on the rise in the last few couple of years, and if you’re looking to provide good variety on your wine list, then an Aussie Pinot should be featured. While Central Otago in New Zealand is widely acclaimed, there are a number of great Pinot Noirs coming out of Tasmania and Southern Victoria also.
Tasmania, Mornington & Yarra Valley // Air conditioned by the southern ocean and Tasman Sea make Tasmanian vineyards the ideal location for the production of Pinot Noir.
Our recommendations: $$ Bellvale Pinot Noir | $$$ Wignalls Pinot Noir
Semillon is a fairly resilient wine, produces a high yield and ages well. As a result, it is often used in the production of dessert style wines. Semillon is also often used in white wine blends, in which it is commonly paired with Sauvignon Blanc, adding some weight to the finished product,
Hunter Valley // The humid, warm climate and sandy soil suits produces wine which displays a hint of grass, herb and mineral. After five to ten years however, they display rich characters of grass and citrus supported by toast and honey notes. Grapes are picked early, cold fermented in steel and bottled early.
Our recommendation: $$ Stonefish Limited Release Semillon
Adelaide Hills & Margaret River // More structured and weighty with higher alcohol content than their warmer climate counterpart.
Barossa & Eden Valley // Not particularly known for Semillon production, Hunter Valley techniques are starting to be more prevalently used in South Australia using local fruit. Industry icon Peter Lehmann has led the way and Semillon’s SA development is showing great promise.
Riesling is another booming varietal which will only continue to increase in popularity over the next few years. There is an increasing demand for quality, premium riesling and if you’re appealing to a connoisseur then having a quality riesling is imperative. Riesling, being an aromatic varietal, is particularly well suited to a range of Asian cuisines.
Eden Valley & Clare Valley // Both regions produce a similar style of Riesling with hints of lime, apple, talc and mineral and develop toasty notes with age.
Our recommendations: $$ Stonefish Riesling | $$ Hartz Barn Riesling | $$$ Penna Lane Skilly Valley Riesling
Great Southern // Finely structured with elegant length. Best after five years of ageing.
Viognier is a white wine grape variety introduced to Australia only recently. Similar to Chardonnay, Viognier has the ability to produce full-bodied white wines with a lush, soft character. The grape is naturally low-yielding which makes it less economically viable than other grapes. Yalumba is the largest producer of the grape and uses the grape extensively in its Shiraz blends.
Viognier wines are characterised by their floral aromas and stone fruit characters, and are predominantly dry with low acidity, making them well suited to spicy foods.
South Australia // Most of Australia’s plantings of Viognier can be found in the South Australian regions of Eden Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Adelaide Hills.
River Regions of SE Australia // There are also substantial plantings in the Riverina, Riverland and Murray Valley.
10. Pinot Gris / Grigio
Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris are both made from the same grape but differentiate considerably in style. Pinot Gris has become the most widely consumed dry white wine in the US after Chardonnay, and it’s popularity is soaring in Australia too. Pinot Gris are made with fruit which is picked later in the season, producing riper, more full-bodied wines suited to roast meats like veal, pork and chicken. Pinot Grigio on the other hand is lighter and crisper, following the traditional Italian style and pairs well with salads, seafood and Asian cuisine.
Adelaide Hills // The main producing regions are South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and Victoria’s Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.
Our recommendations: $ Garfish Pinot Grigio | $$ Jones Road Pinot Gris
Grenache has a long history in Australia but has only recently begun to receive much recognition. It is grown most widely in South Australia, particularly the Barossa and McLaren Vale regions. It is another versatile variety, which can be used as a straight varietal or in the production of particularly good rose. Blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre, GSM blends are becoming a signature of South Australian wine.
Straight Grenache wines can be rich and complex with flavours of roasted nuts, blackberries, spice and a strong earthy character. Typically, Grenache is an easy-drinking wine, with soft tannin structure and relatively high alcohol content.
Originally from the Madeira region in Portugal, Verdelho has a classic European style with its high acidity and alcohol content. A fruity style wine, it has intense flavours with hints of lime and honeysuckle and and oily texture that develops in with age.
13. Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s major black grape varieties, predominantly grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Bordeaux style.
Genetically, Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other being Sauvignon Blanc. The grape thrives in slightly cooler climates than Cabernet Sauvignon producing wines of a similar intensity and richness but with less tannins and a smoother mouthfeel. Cabernet Franc is a medium-weight wine that displays aromas of spearmint and wild berries, and integrates wood very well. It is a classic food wine, and is in high-demand in the Melbourne restaurant trade.
Tempranillo is a Spanish grape variety from the Rioja region of Spain. It’s Australian popularity is gaining significantly however, with plantings of the variety in many major wine regions including McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Geographe and Margaret River.
Tempranillo wines have a good colour and fruit flavour with low acid and soft tannins. These characters make it an easy drinking style of wine which matches well with a range of foods.