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Wine Styles of Australia

Red Wine

Australia's red grapes are amongst its greatest assets: after all, who could imagine a world without classic Australian Shiraz? Australia is blessed with abundant sunshine which enables our grapes to ripen to perfection. Whatever the vagaries of a particular red grape variety, there will be a part of Australia that can give it everything it needs. Even toughies like rustic Malbec or black-as-pitch Petit Verdot turn out a treat. In general, the warmer the wine region, the more likely it will produce rich, full flavoured styles which many people come to associate with Australian red wine. However, Australia also has cool climatic conditions well suited to red varieties which produce lighter and more delicate red wine styles.

The world's classic premium red grape varieties are all found in abundance in Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon has several natural 'homes' amongst Australia's wine regions. The famous Coonawarra terra rossa soils have produced excellent Cabernet Sauvignon for over a century, while few regions can match Western Australia's Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon for sheer stylishness. In cooler regions the tricky grape Pinot Noir fits in nicely, while the versatile Shiraz, expresses itself wonderfully well in virtually all but the coolest regions. Several of the milder climate regions are also home to that eccentric and wonderful Australian speciality wine, sparkling red Shiraz. Whatever you're looking for in terms of red wine, the chances are Australia will be making that style somewhere.


Of the Italian varieties, Sangiovese and Barbera have had the most success in Australia. Barbera is perhaps the most suited to the country with its full-on plummy fruitiness and it is evidently at home in hot temperatures.

Cabernet France

Cabernet Franc is mostly included in blends with big brother Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. This is a shame, because in its own right it's full of wild-strawberry and cherry fruitiness, a tad lighter in style than Shiraz but no less of a wine and great for drinking in warmer weather!

Cabernet Sauvignon

Usually considered the noblest of red grapes, probably due to its pride of place in the history of old world classics. In Australia, look for it in the medium to cool regions and the wines will be as powerfully flavoured, blackcurranty and full-bodies as you'd expect from anywhere. It's at its minty best in Coonawarra and Margaret River, the latter region coming up with wonderfully good blends with Merlot. The Yarra Valley in Victoria is another Cabernet Sauvignon producer, making wines that are pure-fruited and elegant. McLaren Vale in South Australia and Mudgee in New South Wales also generate wines with black currant and berry characters with a hint of chocolate. All of these wines are rich and well structured to benefit from further age in bottle, so it's also well worth cellaring them for several years.


Another red grape variety from the Rhone, which is just as at home in Australia as Shiraz is. Like Shiraz it was taken for granted for a long while, prized principally for its juicy rose and fiery fortified wines. Today, with the discovery of some of the original old vines, first planted over 150 years ago, growers now realise that this grape makes just about the most luscious cherry and raspberry-filled wines possible. Renowned for their sweet ripeness, these grapes (which grow best in Australia's warmer regions) make wines which are high in alcohol and low in tannin. They'll warm you to your toes!


Merlot is not a grape variety which you'll often see on its own in Australia. When you do however, it will be full of attractive primary fruit flavours and velvety softness to make you wonder why. Merlot makes a perfect partner for Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot adds the suppleness to Cabernet's stern, serious structure. Fine examples of Merlot blended wines are available from the warmer inland regions, such as Riverina, Riverland and Murray Darling. Unblended Merlot is also being increasingly seen from these areas, where like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale it produces a soft dry red often described as plush plum like. In cooler climates such as the Yarra Valley or Margaret River, unblended Merlot tends to take on more savoury flavours with firmer tannins.


Mourvedre (or Mataro) was another grape used in Australia's bulk wines during the 1960s. Mourvedre has since been rediscovered for its fabulously rich, spicy old-vine/bush-vine wines. The Barossa Valley has some wonderful examples of this variety which should be treasured for their history and for their spice and liquorice concentration.

Pink or Rose

Rose style wines are made by pressing ripe, red grapes but leaving the juice in contact with the skins for just a short while so that the wines just acquire a pink blush. These wines are generally drunk young, while they are still fresh and vibrant. They tend to be drunk chilled, an increasingly popular option during warm Aussie days, particularly among red wine drinkers who just can't bear the transition to a true white wine despite the heat. As Australian winemakers are using their favourite grapes such as Shiraz and Grenache for the wine with their tendency to produce more complex flavours, Australian roses fall mid-way between whites and fuller bodied reds.

Pinot Noir

What's a delicate, pernickety grape like this doing in a sun-drenched robust country like Australia, you might ask. You'd be asking a good question. Pinot Noir is a challenge to grow in any part of the world. What's now emerged is a handful of Pinot Noir styles all Australia's own and a proud group they are too. Being a cool climate variety, growers in the coolest regions are seeing great success; that's in regions like the Adelaide Hills, Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, the Yarra Valley and Great Southern. In these regions the wines tend to come out strawberry / raspberry- fruited when young, then get progressively more mushroomy and savoury with age. The best styles of all come from vines with a little age, which haven't been harvested too heavily and from wines given a gentle maturation in oak barrels.


Of the Italian varieties, Sangiovese and Barbera have had the most success in Australia. Sangiovese's sour-cherry tones have proved more difficult to perfect but a few from the McLaren Vale region have shown good potential.


No other grape has such a uniquely Australian character. Try to copy they might but the rest of the world's winemakers will never capture that mulberry, spicy, slightly wild flavour that can only be Australia's own. Shiraz (the same grape as Syrah in France's Rhone Valley) was one of the first vine varieties to arrive in Australia in 1832. So at home was it on its new turf that plantings prospered and it wasn't long before the local population began to take it for granted. However, by the 1980s people had begun to realise how versatile it could be, its character changed depending on the region in which it was grown.

Every style emerged from elegant, peppery cool climate styles (Heathcote in Victoria) to more intensely flavoured spicy styles of Coonawarra and Margaret River to powerful and minty (Clare Valley), sweet and chocolaty (McLaren Vale), muscular, and ripe-fruited (Barossa), and leather and rich (Hunter Valley). Shiraz, which has traditionally been blended in both cool and warm climates with Cabernet Sauvignon is also blended with Grenache and Mourvedre in warm climates. In recent years, with the availability of increased plantings of Viognier in Australia, winemakers have increasingly blended Shiraz Viognier combinations. Typically, Shiraz Viognier blends have a perfumed aroma and softer tannins which make these wines suitable to enjoy while relatively young.


Tempranillo is known for its sweet, plumy berry flavours that are balanced by savoury, dry tannins. Originally from Spain this grape is adapting well to new homes in Australia. In cool regions Tempranillo can be 'spicy' while warmer regions bring out sweeter fruity flavours but stronger tannins too.


Zinfandel is a thin-skinned grape that performs best in warm, dry conditions. In Australia the Cape Mentelle winery in Western Australia's Margaret River region has played ambassador to the grape producing dense, high alcohol wines with intense flavours that have developed a cult status. However other Australians are now using the grape to produce lighter, spicy wines that can, in the Californian fashion, be savoured much younger.

White Wine

Don't assume that if you've tasted Australian Chardonnay, that you have experienced the extraordinary diversity and quality of all that Australian white wine has to offer. Australia's white wines have a story to tell that's all their own, and it won't surprise you to learn that the winemakers who create them have a unique approach that sets their wines apart from the rest of the world. When you look at it in the glass, a white Australian wine can be anything from opulent golden yellow, orange almost, to palest lemon yellow. The colour depends on the region it comes from (how cool or warm it is) and on the grape from which it was made; for example, Rieslings are paler than Chardonnays, and so on. Colour can be a clue to the taste (the deeper it is, the richer the flavour) but a better indication comes from taking a big sniff. Swirl the glass round and sniff again. One thing you'll be sure of from Australia is that you will be smelling the product of well grown and fully ripened grapes. Delicious, concentrated ripe fruit, harvested in perfect conditions is easier to obtain in Australia than almost anywhere else in the world. Beyond this it is difficult to generalise, so different are the aromas, flavours and taste sensations that come from each of the grapes, blends and regions.


This classic grape variety first came to Australia in the late 1920s but it wasn't until the 1970s that it become the most widely planted variety in the country. The peak of its fame came in the 1980s and looking back, the critics now classify some of those wines for being 'oaky' and unsubtle, but to tell the truth, people loved them. Pick up a bottle today and you will discover Australian Chardonnay to be consistently well made, often with a hint of vanilla/oak flavours and plenty of ripe, melon/grapefruit to ripe peach fruit. From warmer inland regions (Murray Darling, Riverland, Riverina) they will often exhibit tropical fruit flavours. Whilst from the coolest regions, such as Tasmania, Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula the characters will be much more subtle with citrus (grapefruit and lime characters) predominating. The Yarra Valley, Margaret River and Coonawarra all produce wonderful Chardonnay examples that show fruit richness and complexity. In truth, Chardonnay is Australia's most versatile white wine grape, as evidenced by outstanding examples from the coolest to the warmest regions.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is a favourite with growers over in Western Australia with the Swan Valley and the Peel regions particularly well suited. It's appley flavours and crisp acidity can fare well in hands of the right winemaker, or after a few years in the right cellar.


Although often blended with Chardonnay and sometimes Sauvignon Blanc, on its own Colombard produces a full-bodied wine with good acidity. Regionally examples to seek out include Adelaide Plains and Murray Darling. It is a grape variety that generally does better in warmer climates.


Growers are in two minds about Gewurztraminer, do we or don't we? Try out some of the versions from Clare Valley, Great Southern or Tasmania and you'll agree they definitely should. Spicy lychee, Turkish delight and floral flavour predominate; add to this Gewurztraminer's distinctive rich mouth texture, and you have the ideal wine compliment for the spicy flavours of Thai, Chinese and even Indian cuisine.


Although much-admired in the Rhone wines of southern France, Marsanne is a variety that only really received its fully due praise in Australia. It is particularly good in the Goulburn and Yarra Valleys (Victoria). Basically, it's like Chardonnay and Semillon but more so. More honeyed, more peachy, more spicy and there's just a little more lemony acidity, too, which saves this grape from luscious overkill. As with its cousins from the Rhone, you won't see too many of these wines around but if you spot a bottle, grab it, it'll be worth trying.


In Australia, as elsewhere, this variety's greatest triumph is with its sweet wines. Grown in the Rutherglen district of Victoria, fully ripened grapes are harvested, then are partially fermented and (traditionally) left to mature in barrels. The result? Heaven! Dessert wine of almost ambrosial concentration and never without a tingling tang of acidity to balance it. The Muscats from north-east Victoria are truly one of Australia's 'gifts' to the word of wine.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio

Australian Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is another fairly recent arrival that is starting to develop a strong following worldwide. This should be no surprise, as its Alsace cousin, Riesling, has been an Aussie star for several decades. It comes in two main styles, each equally fashionable: fresh, crisp, unwooded and simple (ideal for hot summer day drinking), and later-picked spicier, richer wine (delicately buttery) which keeps a treat in the cellar. Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and Great Western regions and the State of Tasmania all produce stunning examples of this now popular variety.


Unlike their European counterparts, Australian Rieslings are generally made in dry styles. The result is another international gem, which due to their crisp fruit and acid balance are a perfect food accompaniment. Riesling also has an ability to mature with age as well as delight with its youthful freshness. Look out for examples from the Clare or Eden Valleys of South Australia which develop this grape's classic honey and citrus characters. There are more fine examples of Rieslings from Western Australia's Great Southern region (great complexity), from Tasmania (crisp and perfumed) and the Barossa Valley (more rounded and full-flavoured). Riesling is also responsible for some of Australia's greatest sticky sweet dessert wines. They're either made with a touch of that benevolent mould botrytis or harvested when all the berries have dried and shrivelled on the vines in late autumn. In either case, the perfumed rich intensity of these wines, still with their racy acidity, is little short of magnificent.

Sauvignon Blanc

Australian Sauvignon Blanc is a variety which is both fast-growing in popularity and increasing plantings. As elsewhere in the world, it is a variety which shows its best when grown in cooler wine regions. Australia's huge diverse landmass provides the perfect growing conditions for this classic variety in several of its regions. Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, Orange in New South Wales and Tasmania, are all regions which produce wonderfully expressive Sauvignon Blanc. In the coolest regions and vintages, these vines have 'grassy', gooseberry characters, whereas, in slightly warmer vintages the more passionfruit flavour with a zing of acidity, are more typical. In Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with Semillon which creates a perfect partnership and fuller palate style.


Semillon is one of the very best grapes for demonstrating the different characters emerging from Australia's varied wine regions. Start with Semillon from the Barossa Valley to get a glimpse of this grape at its most luscious. Deep yellow in the glass, aromas of peaches and mangoes fill the nose and in the glass the flavours will continue the theme, with added vanilla (Barossa Semillon is often wood-aged like Chardonnay). Semillon from the Hunter Valley is another matter altogether. It's a lean, rather pale-looking wine that seems to have little more than flintiness in its favour. Give it a few years in bottle, however, and as if from nowhere it turns into a honeyed, nutty, complex classic. Go west and Margaret River's versions are a fine balance between these two styles, and they age well too. Find a Semillon from anywhere in Australian and you'll almost certainly be able to distinguish it by its warm, peachy character, whether it be a simple regional blend, a sweet botrytised wine from the Riverina of New South Wales.


Verdelho as a varietal still wine is a success story the Aussies can claim as their own. It originally arrived in the country for the purpose of making intensely sweet fortified wines, just as it does on the island of Madeira. However, when bottled as a still table win (unfortified) the winemakers of Australia found they'd hit on something really special. Nutty/savoury in character it makes a striking contrast to the voluptuous style of, say, a Chardonnay or Semillon but yet isn't quite as tangy as Sauvignon Blanc. Look out for this variety in Western Australia, the Hunter Valley and increasingly in South Australia.


Acclaimed for the stunning whites it makes in the Rhone, this grape is set for more success in Australia than it's ever received so far. Truth is, it's tricky to grow, however, in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula and the Eden Valley and McLaren Vale of South Australia, several vineyards have certainly cracked it. Like Chardonnay, Australian Viognier is also great when matured or fermented in oak barrels.

Fortified Wine

Fortified wines hold a proud place in Australian wine history and continue to hold a special place in the hearts of aficionados of fine and dessert-style wines. These wines are sometimes described as 'liquid sunshine', as the grapes are generally left on the vine much longer than usual. This allows the berries to store more natural sugar while drying out slightly in the warmth of Australia's autumn days. Wine fortification, which generally involves the addition of a small amount of brandy spirit to the partly fermented red wine, ensures that colours and flavours are retained, regardless of the wines' storage or treatment. After fortification, the wine is generally left to mature in small oak barrels, sometimes for decades, maturing into complex, aromatic wines, with immense depth and concentration of flavour. In the 1850s, the infant Australian wine industry adopted the wine fortification process within a few years of white settlement as it overcame the tyranny of distance from the English markets and the challenge of getting wines safely across the equator. The technique was also suited Australia's relatively warm climate and the red grape varieties, which were brought by the pioneers, Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre.


In Australia, as elsewhere, this variety's greatest triumph is with its sweet wines. Grown in the Rutherglen district of Victoria, fully ripened grapes are harvested, then are partially fermented and (traditionally) left to mature in barrels. The result? Heaven! Dessert wine of almost ambrosial concentration and never without a tingling tang of acidity to balance it. The Muscats from north-east Victoria are truly one of Australia's 'gifts' to the word of wine.

Muscat (fortified)

One of Australia's most celebrated fortified wines is the renowned liqueur Muscat. Muscat Blanc Petits Grains grapes are left to ripen and even shrivel well beyond normal maturity before being harvested. The Rutherglen region in north-east Victoria is best known for these Muscat and other fortified styles of wine and has an international reputation for the rich, mellow flavours it captures. Rutherglen Muscats are classified as either 'classic', 'grand' or 'rare' (the richest of the lot). These are about the most intense, 'toffee-ish' pudding wines you're ever likely to experience.


One of Australia's best known fortified wines traces its genesis back to a barrel of fine fortified wine set aside by the Seppelt wine making family in the Barossa in 1878. Patriarch Benno Seppelt decreed that this barrel, the finest of that vintage, should remain untouched for one hundred years. In 1978 the family released the first of the precious Para Liqueurs. In succeeding years, the family and subsequent corporate owners have continued the tradition, releasing limited bottles of Para Liqueur Vintage tawny wines on the 100th anniversary of their creation.

White Fortifieds

Many Australian wineries also produce fine white fortified styles. These wines are fine lighter textured, aromatic fortifieds with varying levels of sweetness. They can be appreciated as either aperitif or dessert wines.

Dessert Wine

In typically Australian larrikin fashion, the custom of assigning nicknames to favoured friends has been extended to these wines which are affectionately known as 'stickies': a reference that captures the luscious 'sticky' texture of these wines which slide like runny honey over the palate. The majority of 'stickies' in Australia are made using another traditional technique that takes advantage of a naturally occurring fungus, botrytis cinerea. Commonly called 'noble rot', botrytis attacks the grape gradually drawing the moisture from the berry, intensifying the sugar concentration, acidity and fruit flavour. The Riverina region of New South Wales, where warm damp autumns encourage the development of noble rot, is particularly well known for these wines. 'Stickies' are intensely flavoured white wines, deep gold in colour with bouquets of dried apricots, rich sweet flavour and a sharp acid finish. Their intensity of flavour means they are often sold in half bottles and drunk to accompany or even replace desserts. These botryised sweet wines contain a delicate, acidic balance that creates a sensational accompaniment to fruit desserts. They are also the perfect accompaniment to blue or soft cheeses.

Australia's sticky wines fall into two groups:

1. Late-harvest wines: Semillon, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.

2. Botrytis affected styles: these wines are affected by botrytis cinerea, a fungus which shrivels the grape and makes them sweet and juicy. Look out for Semillon and Riesling examples.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling Australian wine comes in all shapes, sizes and hues. White versions vary from everyday fizz, full of fruit and fun, to top-notch traditionally made (fermented in the bottle) true classics. Not surprisingly, the cool regions of Australia are producing outstanding base material for these quality wines: Tasmania and the Yarra Valley being amongst the best.

The most common style of sparkling wine is a blend of several grape varieties and sometimes vintages in order to produce a consistent product from year to year, known as non-vintage sparkling. Sparkling wine made with grapes from one single year is known as vintage sparkling. You may also discover single varietal bottlings of Chardonnay, referred to as blanc de blancs and less commonly, single varietal bottlings of Pinot Noir are known as Blanc de Noirs. Some Rose (light pink coloured) styles of sparkling wine are made by allowing red grapes to stay in contact with the skins to pick up the colour, however Rose sparkling wines are mostly produced by including a red wine in the blending process to enable greater control.

Perhaps the most unusual sparkling wine style belongs to Australia where rich, full-bodied Shiraz is made into sparkling red wine - since the 1860's! It has a long tradition and is held in high regard as a festive drink and a favourite of many winemakers. These wines are loads of fun, with great fruit, slight tannin and sweetness to give great balance - just the wine to keep your taste buds tingling and a great match for a meal. This is the wine Aussie's have with the turkey at Christmas - join the Aussie tradition and give it a go!