Australian wine has come a long way since landing here in 1788, an evolution that has seen the local industry nurturing old-school styles with global success. We take a look at the old-world grape varietals that Australian winemakers are mastering today.
The journey taken by the grape vine since it arrived in Australia with the first fleet is a winding one, complete with twists, turns, and dead ends, as well as soaring success.
Though our earliest white settlers were from Britain, the vines they brought came from mainland Europe, with France to the fore, and those earliest forays into winemaking were focused on replicating the likes of Champagne, chablis, burgundy and claret. Trial and error has played a key role in tackling the wines of the forefathers, but we’re nothing if not fast learners. Australian winemakers are innovative and resilient, and today our iterations of the classics stand alongside the world’s best, with the widespread use of screwcaps sealing that success.
Baby boomers kickstarted Australia’s rosé renaissance in the 1960s with many enticed by Mateus Rosé. The unique flask-shaped bottles were repurposed as romantic candle holders – and there really were plenty of empties – for Mateus Rosé was the world’s biggest selling wine at the time, only challenged by Blue Nun Liebfraumilch from Germany. That Mateus Rosé came from Portugal made it more glamorous, and that it was sweet and often oxidised of little consequence. Local heroes emerged with Houghton Cabernet Rosé and stalwart rosé campaigner Geoff Merrill using the plentiful grenache as his base.
The bubble burst in the 1970s with simple sweet offerings like Crackling Rosé sinking the pink-drink ship. Rosé’s revival came in the new millennium, as Barossa winemakers refocused on their wonderful old vine grenache, echoing the rosés of Provence, the region of France that has driven the worldwide love affair. Today, Australian makers have shown their innovative flair using pinot noir, sangiovese, nebbiolo and tempranillo to craft fresh, crisp, dry rosés that are being lapped up by an eager audience.
A medium-bodied wine displaying raspberry and strawberry fruit flavours with a satisfying and persistent finish.
Finely aromatic and perfumed with high notes of fresh and dried rose petals, chervil and pink grapefruit over base notes of orange oil.
A Margaret River rosé in the Provençal style, embracing the delicate fruit perfume and succulence of its shiraz base.
The first serious Australian sparkling wines were made in the late 19th century by migrant winemakers from Champagne, such as Charles Perlot and Edmund Mazure, at a time when they were permitted to call these antipodean wines ‘Champagne’. The key grapes of Champagne – chardonnay and pinot noir – were almost unknown in Australia at the time, forcing them to use everyday varieties like (the now obscure) ondenc and later sultana grapes. However, the fact these were made using the classic méthode traditionelle certainly helped their quality.
In 1985, Moët & Chandon created Chandon,an outpost in the Yarra Valley, and that same year Brian Croser released his eponymous bubbles. As chardonnay and pinot noir became more accessible, quality leaped forward, and fruit sourcing moved to cooler regions that mirrored the growing conditions of Champagne. As such, Tasmania has emerged as our ‘sparkling isle’ with top drops like Clover Hill and Pirie standing proud against their benchmarks from Champagne.
A popular bubbly around the country due to its easy- drinking style, it shows some intriguing straw characters and clean flavours.
Predominantly three-year-old shiraz, aged in old French oak barrels showing wonderful smooth integrated fruit and a rich, weighty texture.
Crafted from fruit grown in Pipers Brook, this sparkling is made with the classic secondary fermentation method.
Biscuity notes are balanced by crisp apples and citrus lift. Vibrant lemony acidity adds drive to a rich mid-palate and vigorous mousse.
Until quite recently, grenache was seen as a humble workhorse, very rarely mentioned on wine labels even when it played a part. However, grenache was the backbone of our historic ‘claret’ and ‘burgundy’ styles, and also at the heart of the ‘ports’ that dominated the Australian market until the middle of the 20th century. Though its origins are Spanish, Australian winemakers took their inspiration for grenache from the southern Rhône’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape and its more-humble sidekick, Côtes du Rhône. Grenache loves warmth, thriving in regions like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, where the majority of our ancient grenache vines remain.
In the 1980s a new generation of Barossa winemakers were horrified to witness wonderful old grenache vines being grubbed out, and set to champion a new style of GSM, based on grenache with shiraz and mourvèdre (or mataro, as it has been historically known) in support. These GSMs now form an integral part of the Australian wine scene. The lush raspberry and red plum flavours of grenache coupled with its modest tannins happily fly solo too. Grenache and GSM blends perfectly partnered with barbecued lamb chops or a meat pie with a generous squirt of ketchup.
An open, fruit-driven bouquet displays an abundance of red and black fruits, mixed with deft touches of spice and earthiness. Fantastic value.
A defined wine showing the richness and concentration of the vintage. The palate is textured, fleshy, round and supple with juiciness.
A wine that captures all that is good about grenache. Aromatic, deceptively light but with beautiful wild fruit, and slurpy, supple tannins.
Fresh and fragrant, with cranberry, raspberry and hints of savoury spice on the nose. The palate has a long, soft and juicy finish.
A relatively new variety in these parts, tempranillo only arrived from Spain in the 1990s, but quickly found favour with winemakers and consumers alike. Medium-bodied, with a savoury profile and fine-yet-firm tannin frame, its signature flavour is buoyant red fruit, along with liquorice and sarsaparilla. Think a lithe, tight shiraz with lots of umami flavours.
Tempranillo comes from the revered Rioja region that sits on a plateau in northern Spain, more than 1000m above sea level. Rioja’s claim to fame is being challenged by Ribera del Duero, the cult winemaking region that shares a similar climate, both noted for their barren, windswept, hot summer days, cooler nights and icy winters.
Following that lead, Australian grape-growers have planted tempranillo in comparable sites and it now thrives in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills, Heathcote, the Hilltops and Orange. While the volumes are still modest, the signs are good, with some wine commentators seeing tempranillo as a rival to shiraz. That’s a big call but given tempranilo’s well-known synergy with lamb, the potential is certainly there.
Full of honest fruit in the dark cherry and plum spectrum, along with hints of soft spice and dark chocolate. The palate is medium-bodied and sweetly fruited.
An exciting alternate red varietal that is medium-bodied, offering a complex array of spice, black cherry and plum fruit with a savoury edge.
Lashings of raspberry, plum and stewed rhubarb fruit, with spicy clove, liquorice and leather. Well-built and smashing quality.
Vibrant aromas of violets and red summer berries plus generous dark cherry, pomegranate and blackcurrant on the palate.