Australia

Grape Types

Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay is one of the most widely-grown and versatile of all white grape varieties. As a relatively neutral grape, it offers a near transparent map of winemaking style, climate and terroir. It is the ideal grape variety for Burgundy, where it serves to mirror the complex nuances of the myriad of terroirs found in this hallowed land. Chardonnay produces a variety of wines from the minerally and unoaked styles found in Chablis, the fatter nuttier examples in Meursault, to the tropical fruit-driven versions found in the New World. It is also the major grape variety in Champagne, where it produces lively floral wines, namely in the Côte de Blancs. It can be found throughout Europe and the New World thanks to its versatility. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American.
Now widely planted across the world (notably in South Africa), Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety native to the Loire Valley where it produces a range of wine styles; sweet, dry and sparkling with complexity, depth and often longevity. In the middle Loire, Chenin Blanc is used for Anjou, Montlouis, Saumur, Savennieres, Vouvray, and Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume wines.
One of the world's most widely planted grapes, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety which does best as a low yielding bush vine. It produces warm spicy sloe fruit-dominated wines whose ultimate expression is in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding southern villages. Excellent results can also be found in the Roussillon, parts of the Languedoc, the Vales near Adelaide, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha.
The supple, alluring plummy characteristics of Merlot have made it hugely popular the world over. It is often blended with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon, though on its own there are some very serious, long-lived examples in Pomerol and Saint Emilion, where it is planted on both cool clay and hotter gravely soils. It is grown more extensively throughout France and the rest of the world to produce soft, approachable, uncomplicated wines, namely in the Languedoc, Chile, California, Italy and Australia.
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, California’s Carneros, Oregon and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.
One of the world’s noblest grape varieties, Riesling produces scented, refreshing, mineral wines from dry to lusciously sweet. Its bad reputation, tarnished by the cloying and completely unrelated Liebfraumilch, is one of the wine world’s great injustices. Its heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces floral spritzy off-dry to medium wines packed with lime and apple fruit or, when affected by botrytis, honeyed apricot characteristics. In Alsace, Austria’s Wachau and Germany’s Franken there are some exhilarating, complex dry versions that work very well with Oriental fusion foods, as well as some stunning sweet versions. Some superb lively fruit-forward styles are cropping up in New Zealand, Constantia in South Africa and the cooler parts of Australia and California.
There are various styles of Sauvignon Blanc from the fragrant, fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, to the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is also a vital component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. As a dry wine it has sprung to particular fame in New Zealand where it is made in a very pungent, expressive style with notes of kiwi passion fruit and mango. While South Africa has also had great success with the variety. Generally considered for youthful consumption, age-worthy examples can be found in Bordeaux, and the Loire from the likes of Didier Dagueneau and François Cotat.
Semillon is generally blended with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux to produce the fine dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves, which are often barrel-fermented. It is at its most illustrious in the humid atmosphere of Sauternes and Barsac, where it is susceptible to Botrytis rot, which helps concentrate the fruit sugars, acids and flavours, producing some of the most luscious and long-lived sweet wines in the world. The most renowned example is Château d'Yquem, although there are a plethora of estates throughout the region whose wines come close in quality. On its own, it is responsible for some of Australia's most individual full-bodied dry whites from the hot Hunter Valley.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.