Chardonnay is one of the most popular wines in the world, and is the main white grape variety grown for commercial white wine production in Australia. Australian Chardonnays tend to have ripe melon flavours if they are grown in warmer climates and cooler regions are famous for peach and citrus characteristics. Chardonnay is generally matured in oak barrels and consumed within three years of vintage, but you will also find great Australian examples of unwooded “Chablis” style Chardonnays. Many large wineries will often blend Chardonnay grapes from different regions to create a distinct style of wine and when blended with Pinot Noir grapes Chardonnay makes a great sparkling white. Chardonnay is certainly Australia’s most versatile white wine grape, as evidenced by outstanding examples from the coolest to the warmest regions.
Verdelho as a varietal still wine is a success story Australia can claim as its own. Originally from Portugal, Verdelho is often made into fortified wine (Douro Port) in its European homeland, but here in Australia it is mainly turned into a lovely dry, white table wine. The grape isn't grown widely in this country and there are only small plantings in Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. The varietal character of Verdelho changes from herbaceous, grassy and spice through to more tropical flavours of pineapple, melon, tropical fruits, guava, and honeysuckle.
Semillon is one of the very best grapes for demonstrating the different characters emerging from Australia’s varied wine regions. Semillon is a classic French wine grown right across Australia, but with very different characteristics. Semillon ripens early in the season and produces wines which are full-flavoured, rich and aromatic. Aged Semillon from the Hunter Valley has long been an International success, while blended with other varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay the grape has recently seen somewhat of a revival. The grape also makes for fantastic sweet botrytised wine, especially from Riverina in NSW.
Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio)
Australian Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris is another fairly recent arrival that is starting to develop a strong following worldwide. Pinot Gris is a white variety traditionally grown in Alsace in northeast France and in Italy, where it is called Pinot Grigio. In the same way Chardonnay is famous in Australia as a reliable full-flavoured white wine, in Europe Pinot Grigio from Italy and Pinot Gris from France are known for their reliability - wines made from this grape aren't as rich as Chardonnay but they are flavoursome nonetheless. Pinot Gris generally has a medium-bodied flavour with a tendency to be crisp, steely and refreshing, often with a spicy citrus aroma.
Unlike their European counterparts, Australian Rieslings are generally made in dry styles. The result is another international gem, which due to their crisp fruit and acid balance are a perfect food accompaniment, especially for Thai cuisine and other spicy dishes. Traditionally from Germany, the grape was mainly found in the German grape-growing areas in South Australia, although it is grown across the country with fine examples of Rieslings from Western Australia’s Great Southern region and from Tasmania.
Australian Sauvignon Blanc is a variety which is both fast-growing in popularity and increasing plantings. As elsewhere in the world, the Sauvignon Blanc suits colder climates such as Victoria and Tasmania, and the wine is generally consumed soon after vintage. Semillon is regularly mixed with Sauvignon Blanc, producing an easy-drinking but fuller palate style accompaniment to seafood.
Botrytis cinerea or ‘Noble Rot’ has combined with some Australian white wine varieties like Semillon and Riesling to produce luscious dessert wines. The Riverina region has become world renowned for its production of the Botrytis Semillon, where the Semillon fruit’s susceptibility to the botrytis infection ensures that flavour and juice concentration remains within the thick skin of the grape. Botrytis inoculation of the grapes starts during vintage, when warm days and moist mornings encourage the infection. Late in the season the grapes are delicately handled in their fragile state before being taken to the winery to be crushed and processed.