Shiraz is probably the most famous Australian wine variety, originally from the Rhône region of France (Syrah) and introduced to Australia in 1832. The grape has been used by wine makers around the world for centuries, but the Australian climate of cool winters and warm springs has seemed to particularly suit the Shiraz variety. No other grape has such a uniquely Australian character creating a full-bodied wine with a dark crimson colour and with rich, pepper and plum flavours. Most Shiraz wines are matured in oak and many can be cellared for decades. Australian Shiraz has built a reputation for rich flavours in an imposing peppery wine. The Shiraz is also the main grape used for Australia's unique style of wine – The Sparkling Red.
Cabernet Sauvignon (or 'Cab Sav' as it is often referred to) is another classic French wine which has taken off in Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon varieties are medium to full-bodied and are usually well structured and elegant. In the medium to cool regions the wines will be as powerfully flavoured, blackcurranty and full-bodied as you’d expect from anywhere. Many Australian wine makers blend Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with excellent results.
Merlot is not a grape variety which you’ll often see on its own in Australia, but when you do, it will be full of attractive primary fruit flavours and velvety softness to make you wonder why. Merlot is softer on the palate than Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and has the advantage of being rich, but only moderately tannic so you can drink it soon after vintage without offending your tongue. Merlot makes a perfect partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, where the Merlot adds the suppleness to Cabernet’s stern, serious structure.
Pinot Noir grapes have thick skins and produce wines which are light in colour, body and tannins. For this reason Pinot Noir make fantastic sparkling wines and elegant dry reds. Pinot Noir produces some of Australia’s greatest sparkling wines when mixed with Chardonnay.
The Grenache is another red grape variety from the Rhône, which is just as at home in Australia as the Shiraz. The grapes grow best in the warmer regions, and has been principally prized for its juicy rosé and fiery fortified wines. Of the Italian varieties, Sangiovese and Barbera have had the most success in Australia, while the Spanish grape Tempranillo also seems to adapt well to new homes in Australia.
Rosé style wines are made by pressing ripe, red grapes but leaving the juice in contact with the skins for just a short while so that the wines just acquire a pink blush. These wines are generally drunk young, while they are still fresh and vibrant. They tend to be drunk chilled, an increasingly popular option during warm days, particularly among red wine drinkers who just can’t bear the transition to a true white wine. As Australian winemakers are using their favourite grapes such as Shiraz, Grenache and Chambourcin for the wine with a tendency to produce more complex flavours, Australian rosés fall mid-way between whites and fuller bodied reds.