Australian wine is not all shiraz and chardonnay: Richard Esling, May 11

Time was, when you mentioned Australian wine, thoughts went to big blockbuster wines with powerful flavours – oaky chardonnays or perhaps a semillon, and deep-flavoured reds from shiraz or cabernet sauvignon.

Three Australian wines to try that step away from popular varieties
Three Australian wines to try that step away from popular varieties

Fast forward a few decades to the present day and the Australian wine scene is markedly different. Winemaking and consumer expectations have changed and while there are many first-class wines made from all the above grape varieties, change and innovation are constantly moving along, with a host of other grape varieties now being grown commercially with resounding success.

There are more than 130 different wine grape varieties grown commercially in Australia and in recent years many winemakers have begun exploring the so-called ‘alternative’ varieties. Many of these are from the Mediterranean countries in Europe, particularly France, Spain and Italy, but also from Greece and Austria.

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Much of this is due to soil mapping and studies of terroirs, which are suited to different varieties, as well as the desire to increase the range of styles and flavours, in keeping with current international demand. Southern Mediterranean grape varieties are well-suited to the Australian climate, particularly in Victoria and parts of South Australia around Adelaide. They currently account for only four per cent of the wine-producing vineyards but are attracting world-wide attention.

Albarino, Assyrtico, Corvina, Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Verdelho and Zweigelt are but a few of the varieties now making interesting, modern, flavoursome wines in Australia, with more experiments taking place every year.

D’Arenberg The Hermit Crab 2021 is an unusually named wine coming from a top producer in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, made from viognier and marsanne, varieties more usually associated with the Rhône Valley. Small batches of grapes are fermented at low temperature, with a proportion fermented in French oak for eight months and blended back. This is McLaren Vales first-ever blend of these varieties and the resulting wine is generous, charming and aromatic, with stone-fruit and pineapple flavours, along with citrus notes (£11.50; The Wine Society).

Another unusual and highly appealing white is St Dune El Beyda Grenache Blanc 2020, also from the McLaren Vale. Grenache Blanc is seldom seen outside the Rhône Valley or north-east Spain, let alone in South Australia. Hand-picked and fermented in oak, this is a fresh but textured white with notes of peach, nougat and lemon zest (£12.95; The Wine Society).

Turning to an unusual Australian red, Pizzini Pietra Rossa 2018 is made from that most famous of all Italian red grapes – sangiovese. From the King Valley area in Victoria, the Pizzini family have been growing sangiovese for more than 25 years. A layered, elegant and seductive wine, with plum, cherry and earthy notes, with great concentration and vibrant freshness. Charming, complex, top end sangiovese, which is first-class value for money (£18; The Wine Society).

Three great wines to try, stepping away from the more often seen varieties of Australia. Look out for others, such as Verdelho, Chenin Blanc and Dolcetto.

Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society