Red wine has been making in-roads in Australia for many years, and today, there are more varieties of red wine available than ever before. Australia's red wine makers are some of the world's finest, and leading wine regions, such as the Barossa and Clare Valleys in South Australia, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, the Margaret River region in Western Australia, and the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania, are producing wine from a growing number of grape varieties.
Red wine grape varieties
Red wines are produced using the juice of black grapes, which, along with their skins and tannins, vary a great deal in terms of colour and flavour. Following is a list of some of the most popular red wine grape varieties available in Australia and where they hail from.
Australia is known the world over for both its still and sparkling Shiraz wines. The origin of this grape is thought to be Iran, but more recent genealogy has traced its origins back to France. Wherever the origin, Australian winemakers have done extremely well with this grape variety.
Shiraz is well suited to the Australian climate, being able to produce large quantities of grapes on a single vine, even in low fertile soils. Shiraz is perhaps most well known for its deep plum colour and peppery flavour, but it is also a versatile grape. Left to ripen more deeply, the peppery qualities develop into notes of stewed plums and dark cherry, after which it develops even further into flavours of port, chocolate and coffee when very ripe.
In many parts of the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is the monarch of all grapes. It has been used in the Bordeaux area of France for centuries as a foundation for Claret wines. It is said to have first appeared in Australia at the beginning of the 1830s, when James Busby planted it along with other varieties. Today, it enjoys much success in many regions across the country, particularly in the Yarra Valley and Margaret River, where it has reached world renown.
Cabernet Sauvignon has four stages of ripeness, each with their own distinctiveness. Unripe, it is herbaceous, with notes of capsicum and tea. Just before ripeness, it develops an earthy nose, with hints of truffle, pepper and mint. When ripe, it has a bouquet of blackberry, plum and cherry, and finally, when ripe it has a deep flavour of port, caraway, aniseed and coffee.
Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent cellaring wine.
One of the rising stars of the Australian wine market, Merlot is part of the Cabernet family of grapes. Because it ripens a week before others in its clan, the Merlot grape has proved a good investment for many wine growers by providing a backup for other crops that may not develop high yields in certain weather conditions.
In its early, unripe stage, Merlot is earthy, with notes of truffle and black olive. It develops a more distinctive berry palate as it ripens, moving into a bouquet of plum, liquorice and chocolate as it becomes very ripe. Many winemakers blend Merlot with other grape varieties in order to create their own distinctive wines.
Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult varieties of grape to grow, and its flavour is mostly a result of its growing environment (terrior). This means it can range quite dramatically from one growing region to the next. Pinot Noir is not as heavy as other red wines, but don't let its lighter colour fool you. When the balance between acid and tannin is just right, a Pinot Noir can be meaty and herbaceous. Keep a lookout for Pinot Noirs from the Yarra Valley and Geelong in particular, as the Victorian environment seems to have struck the right balance of temperature for this grape variety, which doesn't like things too hot or cold. A Pinot Noir can be served both chilled and at room temperature.
Grenache was one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Australia before making way for Shiraz, but in recent years this robust and versatile grape has been making a comeback. Grenache holds its own very well, and is also a wonderful partner with other varieties. In fact, in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions, where it has been planted most widely, it is often blended with Shiraz and Mourvedre to make what is fast becoming the regions' signature 'GSM Blend'. Like Pinot Noir, the flavour of Grenache is the product of its terrior, and the older the vine, the more complex the wine. This is one grape variety worth keeping an eye out for.
Other red grape varieties to look out for
Grape varieties can come and go as they slip in and out of favour. Some of the most popular reds from around the world, including Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec and Zinfadel, are now either firmly established or up and coming wines in Australia.