Riesling is the only prominent variety to have not originated in France. Germany is the traditional home of Riesling where it is usually made into a sweet wine. In Australia it is generally made to a dry wine. Riesling is an aromatic variety and boasts a powerful fruit driven nose. When affected by botrytis Riesling can produce luscious dessert wines.
Young Rieslings will often have a green tinge to the usual light yellow and straw. Aged Rieslings will present as deeper yellows and slightly golden.
Riesling is often described as steely or flinty which is associated with this variety's firm crisp acid finish and the often strongly defined flavours. The wines are normally light to medium bodied and display its primary fruit characters well. Riesling is made dry to semi sweet and blends well with the floral variety Traminer.
Gewürtztraminer is this variety's full name but it is more commonly called traminer in Australia. Traminer is an aromatic wine and one of the more memorable varieties with its pungent floral fragrances. Traminer is an early drinking wine with a crisp acid finish.
Traminer has some pinkish and purple colour in the grapes, however the wines are white. Traminer is straw to light gold in colour with a sparkle finish.
Intense floral scents of violets, rose, lavender and perfume are common and may well be overpowering to some. Lychee, lime, passionfruit and tropical notes will show through in warmer climates. This variety has a crisp acid finish and presents very clean to the palate.
"Muscat a petit grains" is this variety's official name and it means Muscat with little berries. Frontignan is the common European name for this floral variety producing intensely perfumed wines. Frontignac is a red grape of low colour intensity that produces white wines in sweet or dry styles. Frontignac is similar to Traminer and is an aromatic wine.
The colour of this wine may vary from light gold to deeper yellows and golds due to this varieties genetic instability. Mutations are common. Similar to Traminer, these wines are strongly perfumed and fragrant wines and deliver intense floral, perfume, rose water, and spice. The mouth feel will vary with the style produced (sweet or dry) however the overwhelming sensations will be those of the perfume and florals.
Sauvignon Blanc (so-vin-yon blonk)
Of French origin and is grown extensively in the Bordeaux region where it is blended with semillon and the upper Loire valley where it is made as a varietal wine. New Zealand produces some excellent sauvignon blancs. Wines labeled fumé blanc are sauvignon blanc wines that have seen some oak contact to impart smoky flavours. Quality unoaked sauvignon blancs will display smoky qualities without any oak treatment. Sauvignon blancs require a strong acid finish and are best grown in cool to cold climates. Some Australian sauvignon blanc, grown in warmer areas, tends to be flat and lack fruit qualities.
Often near-colourless wines with colours of light straw to light yellow. Young wines may have green tinge and aged wines can present deep yellow and golden. Sauvignon blanc can present a huge range of flavours from sour green fruits of apples, pears and gooseberries through to exotics tropical fruits of melon, mango and blackcurrant. They may also, in very cool climates, produce somewhat more disagreeable notes of cat's pee, human sweat.
Verdelho is a Portuguese variety, grown extensively on the Island of Madeira and in the Douro Valley where it is known as Gouveio and is mainly made into fortified wine (Douro Port). There are only small plantings in Australia with as little as 40ha in each of Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales. Verdelho is made into dry white table wines in Australia and has been incorrectly called Madeira at times.
From cool to warm climates the varietal character will change from herbaceous, grassy and spice through to more tropical notes of pineapple, melon, tropical fruits, guava, honeysuckle and fruit salad. A very refreshing wine well suited to the Australian outdoor lifestyle.
Semillon has been seen as somewhat dimensionless to most parts of the world and is usually blended. In Australia it is made as a varietal dry white table wine with fabulous success producing fine wines with aging potential. The Hunter Valley, where it was incorrectly called riesling for many years, produces some of our country's best semillons. These wines are rarely oaked and display the distinctive notes of toast and honey with age.
Lemon, limes and honey are common in dry styles. Semillon will display wood character of toast without being oaked and as they age this toasty character will grow. Some will show a mineral or steely character with tight acid structure. Botrytis-affected fruits will produce exotic luscious wines of ripe peach, apricot and honey. With barrel ageing vanilla, caramel, spicy bacon, coconut, cedar and spice.
Pinot Noir (pee-no nwah)
Pinot noir is a French variety predominantly from Burgundy and is used in the making of fine sparkling wine and light dry red table wine. Pinot noir is difficult to grow, ripen and produce wine from as it is extremely sensitive to variations in environmental factors, from those that are considered to be ideal. Pinot noir could be considered to be "temperamental".
As a sparkling wine, it is clear to slightly pinkish. Pinot noir will also produce rosés and dry wines of light to medium depth reds. Red fruits, strawberry, raspberry, plum and cherry are typical. Medium-bodied wines will show soft tannins and give a generous mouth feel.
Cabernet Franc (cab-er-nay fronk)
A French variety which has the same, if not greater, status as cabernet sauvignon and is grown extensively in Bordeaux and Northern Italy. Cabernet franc is grown in most viticultural areas in Australia and is often blended with cabernet sauvignon.
Whereas cabernet sauvignon will generally display a lack of middle palate, cabernet franc does not. The blend of earthy and generous fruit notes is complemented further by this wine's usual full soft tannin and overall soft mouth feel.
Chenin Blanc (shenin blonk)
French in origin and grown extensively in the Loire Valley, chenin blanc is used to produce both still and sparkling wines. The largest plantings of chenin blanc are in South Africa (30,000ha) followed by California. In Australia, chenin blanc was incorrectly called semillon in Western Australia and Albillo sherry in South Australia.
Young dry styles can show green tart apples and pears. General descriptors are herbaceous, herbal, and grassy through to more exotic tropicals of passionfruit with more developed notes of almonds and honey. A mineral metallic hardness can be produced on the palate with firm tight acidity while at the same time honey. This is often referred to as a paradox. Nuttiness is not uncommon. Semi-sweet and sweet styles will be more honeyed but still retain a tight acid structure.
Chardonnay is of French origin and is the principle white wine of Burgundy. In the Champagne area it is 100% of wines labelled blanc de blanc. Chardonnay is viticulturally and oenologically versatile and is grown with success in most viticultural areas under a variety of climatic conditions and can be made sparkling or still, with wood aging or without and is blended with semillon in Australia at times. Chardonnay was the most sought after white grape through the late 1980's and 1990's.
This versatile variety will produce wines from medium to full bodied. "Drink-now" styles will display peach, apricot, melon, fig, honey, lemon and limes. Barrel fermented wines will have a further dimension added of vanilla, toast, lanolin, coconut, caramel, smoky, caramel, cheesy, yeast, bread, vegemite, buttery and butterscotch.
Merlot is the principle red variety of Bordeaux. Historically, in Australia, merlot has not been widely planted as it has shown to have an unreliable fruit set in contrast to France, Italy and Eastern Europe. Merlot is increasing in popularity and this is attributed to this variety's ability to taste sweet even when fermented to dry. This attribute is also why merlot is a good blender and is often used to soften wines. Merlot is regularly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to fill its middle palate gap.
Merlot presents the palate with an abundance of fruit flavours. Moderate silky tannins further compliment this versatile variety that is often blended with cabernet sauvignon. Less ripe fruits may show vegetal flavours of green beans and asparagus. Merlot "oaks" well and is gaining popularity as a varietal wine that offers a fresh exciting mouth feel.
Shiraz is the highly regarded variety of the Hermitage and northern Rhône regions of France. In Australia it is the principle red variety used for the production of fortified and dry red table wines. Shiraz is one of the noblest varieties and will age majestically for many years. While shiraz is used to produce many average wines it can produce some of the world's finest deepest darkest reds with intense flavours and excellent longevity.
An intense black grape producing a variety wines from medium red through to rich black red. Young wines may exhibit a purplish colour that diminishes with ageing. Australian shiraz is usually medium to full-bodied wines that offer a great deal to the palate. The abundance of fruit sensations provides a perceived sweetness, which is balanced by often gripping tannins. The best shiraz produces full wines of deep dark colour, full of chocolate, licorice and fruit with hot spice and warm alcohol complimented by firm but fine tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon (cab-er-nay so-vin-yon)
Often regarded as the world's premium red variety as it is able to grow under a large variety of conditions and still retain its varietal characteristics. Grown extensively in Médoc, the heart of Bordeaux, and all winegrowing regions of the world. Cabernet sauvignon is often blended with cabernet franc and merlot. Ageing and oak treatment will generally see the primary fruit qualities change to that of preserved fruits. Tannins are firm and gripping when young and can provide a strong puckering sensation that diminishes with age to give a fine grain full mouth feel.
Widely grown in Spain, most likely the place of origin, and the Rhône Valley in France where it produces many excellent blends with shiraz. In the 1960's and early 70's there were more than 7000ha planted and this has decreased to approximately two thirds this level. Grenache is a variety that has been around in winemaking for a long time and produces rosé, dry reds and tawny ports and used in many blends but rarely receives any credit on the label.
Grenache is a variety that needs to be well balanced in the vineyard and will produce markedly different wines from district to district or even within a district. Nose and mouth feel will vary markedly depending on the style. Fruity rosé, light reds showing strawberry and raspberry, moderately tannic wines with well integrated oak notes and spice to quite large tannic wines of chocolate, tar, licorice and sweet fruits.