Have you found yourself lost in a bottle shop with so many options of wines to choose from, and no idea where to start to look? Have you ever bought a wine because someone recommended it to you, but then when you tried it you didn’t like it?
Welcome to the “I have no idea which wine to buy” club, the biggest wine club in the world! So many people feel like you when they go to a bottle shop, that’s why I decided to write this text to try to guide you next time you go to the bottle shop, to arm you with the necessary information to help you make your decision.
When I didn’t know anything about wine, I would make my choice based on recommendations from other people or by looking for wine scores, and I am so glad that time is over for me because my palate back then was nothing like those wine judges. I found many wines too strong, and too hard to drink at that time. I started studying about wines 10 years ago and I learnt very quickly that with the same grape it is possible to make very different styles of wines, and that the climate, different soils and even different winemaking techniques will influence the final wine.
Let me explain why …
Why do wines made of Shiraz, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and other grapes taste so different even when they come from the same country?
Australia has a warm climate compared to regions in Europe, however is it true all the wines made in Australia will be high in alcohol with very ripe fruit? Broadly speaking I would say yes, however Australia has so much freedom when they make wines compared to the rules and regulations in Europe. It is so much fun to discover the creative ways people to make wines in Australia.
The classics are Barossa and McLaren Vale red wines from the Shiraz grape which are most likely to be bold wines with ripe fruits, great concentration and fruit intensity with robust tannins, however you can find very elegant red wines in Australia as well.
Wine regions and vineyards are influenced by the ocean, by winds, by altitude, by aspect (the direction the vines face), etc. It means as well that you can find so many different grapes, such as Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, etc…
To give you a quick explanation, some regions will have cooler influences like Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, etc. These regions produce grapes with a short cycle, which means that the grapes planted in these regions will ripen before other grape varieties. Places with cooler conditions will make the grapes ripen more slowly than places with warm weather. Why? For the simple reason that in these regions the sun is stronger; the vines behave like us on a warm day, they transpire like us, and need more water like us after a very hot day. Light, warmth and water are the ingredients for photosynthesis, which produces sugar for the grapes, so when it is warmer, the sugar increases more rapidly in the grapes than the grapes in a cooler environment.
The process of fermentation turns sugar into alcohol, so more sugar in the grapes, means more sugar will be fermented, means more alcohol in the wine. Higher alcohol wines usually feel warmer and exhibit flavours of ripe fruits, and this combination of alcohol and fruit concentration contributes to the perception of the body of the wine, making these wines seem stronger than wines planted in cooler regions.
Pinot noir is a grape which is better planted in cooler climates because it has a short cycle and it increases sugar levels too quickly in a warm climate, losing acidity very quickly, before it even has the chance to develop good flavours and ripen the tannins. However, in a cooler climate that process of the increase the sugar content in the grape is more gradual, giving a finer balance between tannins, acidity and flavours. These wines are usually lower in alcohol and give the perception that the fruit is fresher and elegant and leading you to conclude the wine has a medium structure.
Now that you understand why some grapes grow better in some regions than the others. Let’s give you a simple guide to what regions, grapes and wine styles you will find, and I hope this will be useful to you when you buy your next wines.
Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale: Famous for stereotypical big, full-bodied Australian Shiraz. These regions are also famous for GSM, which is a medium-bodied blend of Grenache, Shiraz & Mourvèdre, and Grenache, which is usually picked earlier and made in a winemaking style that includes less extraction of tannins and colour with less oak influence, producing lighter wines from warmer climate.
At McLaren Vale you will find very exciting new varieties as well, such as Sagrantino, Fiano, Sangiovese, etc..
Eden Valley and Clare Valley: Famous for Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz, which is slightly lighter than Barossa & McLaren Vale with more vivacity and freshness.
Margaret River and Coonawarra: Famous for Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, usually Margaret River producers blend their Cabernet Sauvignon with other Bordeaux varieties such Merlot, while on the other hand Coonawarra producers have focused on powerful varietal wines using only Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are often fantastic for those who love to age their wines at home, however remember to store them correctly for aging!
As for white grapes from Margaret River, my recommendation is Chardonnay. I am passionate about the Chardonnay from this region, such full bodied wines are made here. Light whites such as Sauvignon Blanc (often blended with Semillon) are also well made here.
Tasmania: I confess that after my WSET Diploma I have become a bubbles drinker. Hahaha. This region is for sure my recommendation for a great example of sparkling wine from Australia. On my last trip to Tasmania, I also tasted very good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and even very elegant Shiraz.
Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Adelaide Hills: These regions have cooler climate influence, which is perfect for short cycle grapes, as we mentioned before. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the stars in these regions; however, some good sparkling is made here as well, plus Sauvignon Blanc in Adelaide Hills has become one of the most sensational wines from the region.
Rutherglen: Rutherglen is famous for fortified wines, and you will find the most iconic Australian wines in this category here. They also make wines from a specific grape called Durif, which are very powerful red wines with firm tannins, great concentration and intense fruit flavours.
Hunter Valley: Semillon is the king here, the preferred style is usually unoaked with long aging potential - that’s why Semillon from Hunter Valley is part of the dream for so many wine drinkers. Also, Shiraz is made here very successfully, however this region is hotter than the other regions, so wineries usually pick grapes earlier to retain the acidity, making more refreshing wines; that’s why a lot of Shiraz here will be slightly lower in alcohol than the Shiraz made in Barossa, for example.
Riverland and Riverina: These regions are great sources for wine drinkers who are looking for lower priced wines, providing a great range of grape varieties from Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc..
I hope this guide helps you to feel more confident next time you find yourself in a bottle shop, able to buy what exactly you are looking for, however you can always reach out to me to ask for extra help. Following us on social media, Podcast: Wine Soundtrack and Youtube Channel: Winederful will help too.