As outdoor sipping and supping season ramps up, think Australia for a diverse and versatile range of go-to red and white wines.
Warmer weather brings an uptake in alfresco dining and (yum) barbecuing. You’ll need wines with the oomph to stand up to your meatier grilled creations but also options that will bring an easy elegance to your summery relaxation. Australia has big, powerful reds and full-bodied Chardonnays, but there are also sophisticated, elegant offerings, many from grapes and places you might not expect. Here’s a snapshot of some old (and soon to be) favourites to help kick-start summer.
Historically, Australian Chardonnay was characterized by a heavily oaked style. Today, alongside the successful emergence of unoaked expressions, producers are striking an elegant middle ground. While still delivering their classic richness and complex, bold ripe fruit, vanilla and buttery oak, modern oaked Aussie Chards have a crisp, fresh character, with melon, citrus and tropical fruit. Variations in climate and soil fashion distinctive regional takes on Cabernet Sauvignon’s famous dark fruit, structure and ageability. Those from Langhorne Creek reflect a supple disposition, while the Clare Valley conveys Cabernet’s big and powerful side.
Australian Shiraz is a varied and wonderful thing. The most famous examples come from the Barossa Valley, home to many of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world. The earthy, spicy roasted fruit of Barossa Shiraz is a flagship Aussie expression. McLaren Vale Shiraz is intensely flavoured, with notable black fruit and elegant tannins. Margaret River produces floral, perfumed, fruity Shiraz, with hints of mulberry and plum alongside the varietal’s characteristic pepper spice. The famous Rhône blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre (Mataro in Australia) takes on a particularly forceful, complex character here, where Shiraz is often the lead grape. These wines have generous red and dark fruit, earth, herbs and spice.
“Australia produces as wide a range of high-quality wines as any country in the world, from almost all imaginable varieties and in all styles, while quality has never been higher than it is today. Consumers who view these wines as all red, all big, all the time are missing out.” – Josh Raynolds, vinous.com, Oct. 5, 2017
GSM isn’t the only Rhône style making its mark in Australia. Though not as well-established as their red counterparts, white blends featuring Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne (and others) will be some of the most compelling, complex, luscious, food-friendly white wines you’ll ever encounter. Cool-climate regions like Tasmania, Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills are producing fragrant, sophisticated Pinot Noir, offering impressive alternatives to Australia’s celebrated big, bold, broad-shouldered reds. Many producers are also exploring varietals such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese. Made primarily in small batches for local consumption, these wines hint at an exciting future for fans of Australian wine.
Merlot is grown in nearly every region here and is most often found in blends, usually with Cabernet or Shiraz. In the Barossa, Merlot delivers generous plum and cassis notes, while examples from the famous cool-climate vineyards in Coonawarra have a sweet edge to the berry flavours. Though plantings are still fairly small, producers such as Coriole (page 25) have proven the viability of Australian versions of Italian varietals, and plantings of Tempranillo and others are on the rise.
Meet three Aussie producers with a penchant for progress and no qualms about straying from the beaten path.
Altus Rise Wines, Margaret River
Situated in the rugged Yallingup district of Margaret River in Western Australia, the vineyards of Altus Rise are some of the closest plantings to the ocean, anywhere. This proximity to the moderating influence of the Indian Ocean imparts notable freshness, lift and aromatic power to their wines.
Omrah Wines, Great Southern
Named for a passenger ship that ran from the UK to Great Southern in the early 1900s, Omrah encapsulates the sense of adventure that inspired those who made that long, challenging trek. Along with their expressive, innovative takes on many Australian favourites, they also produce a Tempranillo wine.
Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale
Founded in 1967, Coriole is a testament to both the history and diversity of Australian wine. They control 25 vineyards, including Shiraz plantings dating to 1919. In addition to Cabernet, Grenache and Mourvèdre, they’ve been working with Italian varieties such as Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Barbera, Montepulciano, Chenin and Fiano since 1985.
Australian wines are perfect for barbecue season (an assertion exemplified by the freshness, depth of flavour and versatility of the sparkling rosé below), whether you’re making steak, mushroom burgers, ribs, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, or veggie skewers. While you’re looking for fun, tasty ways to test just how adaptable these wines really are, check out “Fire it Up!” in the Early Summer edition of Food & Drink magazine for some grilling tips and hacks.
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