Saturday, 5 August 2017

A beginner's guide to alternative grape varieties

There is a world of new grape varieties out there just waiting to be discovered. 

It used to be quite simple when you popped into a bottle shop to buy a bottle of wine. If you wanted white you'd probably go for chardonnay, semillon or New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

If it was red you were looking for then shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or maybe pinot noir were what you zeroed in on.

Nowadays, the choices are endless. In addition to natural wine, biodynamic wine, organic wine and gluten-free wine there are hundreds of imports to choose from. Even more confusingly there are wines made right here in Australia made from grape varieties ranging from aglianico to zweigelt.

It is estimated that there are now close to 150 different wine grape varieties grown in Australia. Here is an A-Z guide of some worth keeping an eye out for.


Arneis: Originally from northern Italy, particularly Piedmont, arneis is a white grape that was often blended with nebbiolo in Italy. Known as “little rascal” because it is difficult to grow, in Australia it produces floral dry table wines for early enjoyment. Holm Oak Arneis from Tasmania is a benchmark.

Assyrtiko: A crisp, white grape variety from Greece that has just debuted in Australia, made by Jim Barry in the Clare Valley.

Aglianico: A red variety believed to originate in Greece that's now largely grown in southern Italy, it is tannic and tough in its youth. Used in a rose by Sam Scott for his La Prova label, it thrives in warm regions.


Barbera: The third-most planted grape in Italy, barbera is a red variety most found in Piedmont. It has been planted in Australia for half a century but has yet to find a real home despite being grown in the Barossa, McLaren Vale and warm regions of New South Wales like the Hunter, where Margan make an outstanding example.


Carignan: One of the mainstays of France's Languedoc region, carignan is found through the Mediterranean regions of Europe and is a high-yielding red grape often found in French bulk wines, along with cinsault. Often used in blends by wineries like Yangarra in McLaren Vale.


Fiano: Originating from Campania in southern Italy, fiano was imported to Australia in 1978 and has found favour with both younger producers and drinkers. A lively white variety that stars at Oliver's Taranga in McLaren Vale and Pike's in the Clare Valley.


Gamay: The classic light-red variety from Beaujolais in France, gamay is a refreshing red grape that is often blended with pinot noir – and can be chilled in summer. Look for examples from Sorrenberg in Central Victoria and Eldridge Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.

Graciano: A Spanish red grape that is grown primarily in Rioja, graciano has thrived in warmer parts of Australia. Woods Crampton source some excellent fruit from the Barossa.

Gruner-Veltliner: A spicy, white wine grape from Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic that can be made in both sweet and dry style. The first Australian version was made by Lark Hill outside Canberra, but there is a movement being led by Hahndorf Hill and other Adelaide Hills wineries.


Lagrein: This red grape originates from the cooler Alto Adige/Trentino regions of northern Italy and produces intense wines with plenty of length. Look for Hand Crafted by Geoff Hardy.


Mencia: Many good wine judges are upbeat about the future of medium-bodied mencia in Australia and this northern Spanish variety from Galicia has enjoyed something of a boom at home over the past 20 years. Oliver's Taranga is the flag-bearer here.

Montepulciano: Widely planted in central Italy, this is a versatile, rich and expressive red variety that has shown great promise in several warmer regions of Australia. Try examples from di Giorgio in Coonawarra and Amato Vino in the Riverland.


Nero d'Avola: Known as Calabrese in its native Sicily, Nero d'Avola is one of the success stories of new varieties in Australia, red-fruit flavours to the fore and easy to drink. Try standouts from Brash Higgins, Hither & Yon and Mount Horrocks.


Pedro Ximenez: Used as a fruit source for the sweet sherry-style wines of Spain and Portugal, “PX” is sometimes used in Australian fortified wines for Campbells and Turkey Flat, and has also produced some excellent sweet wines for the likes of St Hallett in the Barossa Valley.

Pinot Blanc: Grown in Alsace, France, as well as Italy (Pinot Bianco), Germany and Austria (Weiss Burgunder), this neutral but easy drinking white offers stone-fruit flavours and thrives in the Yarra Valley (try Hoddles Creek or De Bortoli).


Saperavi: One of the most ancient grape varieties in the world, this inky red originally came from Georgia (the country, not the US state) and is also grown in Kazakhstan and Moldova. Several Australian producers, including Symphonia and Patritti, are hopeful about its future.


Touriga Nacional: This Portuguese grape is one to watch and has been planted by high-flyers including d'Arenberg and St Hallett. It is used extensively in the production of vintage port at home and for both fortified and table wines in Australia. Look for Three Dark Horses and St Hallett.


Vermentino: One of the most successful new varieties in Australia, vibrant and fresh white variety vermentino is the most important white in Sardinia and also thrives in southern France (where it is known as Rolle). Dozens of Australian wineries have planted it: check out Billy Button or Chalmers.


Zweigelt: A lighter Austrian variety that is a cross between blaufrankisch and St Laurent, it is the most widely planted red grape in its homeland and has shown potential for Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills.

Zibibbo: An alternative name for the Muscat of Alexandria grape, and is also sometimes known as lexia. It is often blended in sweeter wines, but has enjoyed success as both fresh and crisp white and rosé sparkling wine styles for Brown Brothers. 

# This story is an edited version of one that appeared in Nourish Magazine 

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