|Here's a tasty line-up for you. Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, semillon. Shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir. Eight great grapes. Eight of the most popular wine varietals in Australia. An array of white and red wines that go down a treat at parties or at the dinner table. Chances are, you know these wines well - but read on and you'll get to know them even better. |
Marlborough. If you were playing a word association game, this is the one word that would come to mind whenever sauvignon blanc was mentioned. Many people believe sauvignon blanc is the only wine made in New Zealand. Of course, there's more to New Zealand wine than one varietal, and more to 'savvy' than Marlborough. Broaden your horizons by trying a sauvignon blanc from France, or even southern Australia. They're are a little less over the top than the Marlborough variety but still have that spritz-like zestiness sauvignon blanc is famous for. When it comes to food pairing, think fish, shellfish, chicken or pasta with creamy sauces. For something out of left field, go with cheese. The crisp acidity of sauvignon blanc cuts through the fattiness of most cheeses to give you a surprisingly good food/wine match.
Despite the growing stature of white wines like sauvignon blanc and riesling, chardonnay remains the world's most popular white wine, both as an aperitif and as a food wine. A young chardonnay is crisp and reasonably light, so it won't assault your senses like a feisty sauvignon blanc. Cellar a chardonnay for a few years and moreish buttery flavours will develop along with a creamier texture. The current trend among winemakers is to reduce the amount of oak in their chardonnay, which allows the fruit to stand out a little more - but that oaky taste is a sensational match with flame-grilled or barbecued white meats and vegetables, and creamy pasta dishes. The smooth butter flavours of an aged chardonnay complement stuffed roast chicken and new potatoes, while unoaked chardonnay pairs well with seafood, steamed vegetables and quiche.
Riesling is the comeback grape. After years of being thought of as little more than a sickly sweet white wine, riesling is finally being seen for what it really is - a crisp, tangy and versatile drop. Sometimes sweet, sometimes dry but always interesting, riesling makes a perfect pre-dinner drink or an accompaniment to a wide variety of foods, depending on the region and style you choose. Australia produces world-class rieslings with the most-awarded being produced in South Australia, especially the Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley and Eden Valley - these Australian rieslings are usually off-dry with an appealing flintiness to them. Looking for a nice match with spicy food? Riesling is ideal, a wise choice when you're eating Mexican, Indian or Thai.
Semillon is a fantastic fish and chip wine! The lemony and grassy characters you'll taste in a young Hunter Valley semillon go beautifully with fish or most types of seafood. Think of it as a slice of lemon in a glass (but much more palatable, of course) While semillon is crisp and refreshing when young, it also ages very well and, similar to chardonnay, becomes more rounded and creamier after a few years in the bottle. Well worth trying at any age. The key to serving semillon is to not over chill it. Those distinctive citrus flavours will be 'frozen out' if you pour a really cold semillon, straight out of the fridge. Let it warm up a little to maximise the flavour, and your enjoyment.
If Australian shiraz was a party guest, it would be the loud, extroverted one! A typical shiraz is as subtle as a Final Demand letter from the Tax Office - a bold red wine that is not scared to show off its full-bodied texture and rich plum and pepper characters. Because shiraz is a big wine, it is at its best when served with food, especially red meat and game, both of which are heavy enough to handle this weighty varietal. It's the hot climate that makes Australian shiraz so ripe and flavoursome. In New Zealand, shiraz is called syrah and is quite different to its Australian cousin, even though the grapes are the same. The cooler climate over the Tasman means syrah grapes lack full-on ripeness giving it a more subtle flavour and texture. Do a taste test by comparing an Australian shiraz with a New Zealand syrah and you should easily pick the difference.
Cabernet sauvignon is a full-bodied red wine, but the body might not be the first thing you notice when you taste it. It's the tannins that will attract your initial attention and cause your mouth to pucker. A cabernet sauvignon, especially when young, can be quite tannic which makes this noble grape more of a food wine than one you'd drink on its own. While you taste that young cabernet sauvignon, you might also encounter hints of mint. Yes, that mintiness means cabernet sauvignon is fabulous with roast lamb. After cellaring, the tannins become mellow and the wine takes on leathery, 'cigar box' characters - still great with lamb or any red meat dish, where the proteins of the meat will dilute the tannins. When you match food with cabernet sauvignon it's important to remember that delicate flavours might be overpowered by this big wine, so it’s possibly not the best choice if you've devised a lighter menu.
Merlot is not the most complex red wine you'll ever taste, but its straightforward fruit-driven character makes it easy to drink; ideal when you want to enjoy a glass of red wine without having to think about it too much. This approachability is making merlot an increasingly popular varietal all over the world but there's more to this grape than you might think. Many world-famous Bordeaux blends are merlot dominant; merlot’s clean fruit profile provides a balance to more tannic grapes like cabernet sauvignon. Merlot is medium-bodied, soft enough to drink on its own and a good match for most foods, thanks to its understated flavour and texture. Enjoy it with casserole and any red meat dishes served with sauce, pizza, pasta, roasted vegetables, a wide variety of traditional Italian dishes... in fact, there's very little merlot doesn't go with.
Pinot noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, a temperamental berry that produces the world’s most fragrant red wines. Pinot noir grapes bunch tightly together on the vine, so if one grape becomes diseased it doesn't take long for the rest to follow suit. This is why pinot noir requires more attention than hardier types like merlot or cabernet sauvignon. All that extra care is worth it though; pinot noir is a highly perfumed wine with a light body and a variety of delicious flavours depending on where it's grown. Central Otago pinot noirs are ripe, with full-on cherry characters while something from Burgundy - the spiritual home of pinot noir - might be more savoury on the palate with a hint of mushroom or truffle. Because pinot noir has a lighter body and less tannin than most red grapes, it matches well many dishes including duck, goose, pork and beef cuts. A savoury pinot noir is delicious alongside a mushroom-based dish, while it also lends itself to shellfish, pasta, risotto and creamy cheeses. When it comes to pinot noir food pairing, the only limit is your imagination!
These eight wines might be commonplace at social gatherings all round the country but there's nothing common about the wines themselves. Each grape variety offers many different taste profiles depending on where the grape is grown, or how the wine is made. For example, oaked chardonnay is a totally different wine to unoaked chardonnay. A shiraz made in the warm Barossa Valley will differ quite markedly to one made in the cooler Clare Valley. A cabernet sauvignon from the Margaret River region is not the same as a cabernet sauvignon from the Limestone Coast in South Australia. It's certainly true that these eight great grapes will offer you a multitude of tasting and food matching experiences.