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Wine appreciation for beginners – Part 2: Categories and varieties

In Part 1 of this series we covered how to asses wine. In Part 2 we will cover wine categories, grape varieties and wine labelling laws in Australia.

Wine categories

Wine categories reflect the grape variety and the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine. There are five common categories of wine in Australia:

Red wine. Any wine made from a red grape variety such as Shiraz where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine would be considered typical i.e. does not result in a sparkling wine, a dessert wine or a fortified wine.

White wine. Any wine made from a white grape variety such as Chardonnay where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine would be considered typical. i.e. does not result in a sparkling wine, a dessert wine or a fortified wine.

Sparkling wine. Wine made from various grape varieties but where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine includes carbonation and results in gas bubbles being trapped within the wine. Note Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France – no other sparkling wines can use the label Champagne.

Dessert wine. Wine made from various grape varieties but where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine results in higher sugar levels within the wine and therefore a sweeter wine. The name dessert wine is in reference to the fact that typically these wines are enjoyed after a main meal and often they are enjoyed with dessert.

Fortified wine. Wine made from various grape varieties but where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine includes the addition of a distilled spirit – usually Brandy – to arrest fermentation or to increase alcohol content. Fortified wines include Sherry, Port and Muscat.

Grape varieties

Common grape varieties in Australia:

Shiraz (or Syrah). Red grape variety that is suitable for a warm humid climate and is Australia’s leading red grape variety. Typically makes a medium to full-bodied red wine. Shiraz is grown in most regions of Australia but Barossa Valley Shiraz’ is most renowned – full-bodied mouth-filling berry fruit, typically blackberry; spice, tannic and heavily oaked.

Grenache. Red grape variety that is suitable for a warm climate and is drought resistant. Typically makes a light to medium-bodied red wine. Grenache is grown in many regions of Australia but McLaren Vale Grenache is well renowned – medium-bodied juicy sweet red berry fruit and spice. Grenache is often used in blends e.g. GSM (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre (or Mataro)).

Cabernet Sauvignon. Red grape variety that is suitable for a mild climate. Typically makes a medium to full-bodied red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in many regions of Australia but Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is well renowned – medium-bodied flavoursome ripe berry and stone fruit, typically blackberry and plum.

Merlot. Red grape variety that is not particularly easy to grow but is suitable for most climates. Typically makes a medium to full-bodied red wine. Merlot is grown in many regions of Australia – berry and stone fruit, typically cherry and plum; and spice. Merlot is often used in blends e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. Merlot is an unwitting villain in Sideways (I mentioned the movie in Part 1 of this series so I thought I’d throw it in again) with Miles often outcrying “No f!@#ing Merlot!” I can only assume that this is due to its tendency to lack length.

Pinot Noir. Red grape variety that is not easy to grow at all and is suitable for a cold climate. Typically makes a light to medium-bodied red wine. Always complex, considered the very best red grape variety, absolutely amazing when the winemaker gets it just right. Pinot Noir is not grown in many regions of Australia (Southern Tasmania is one) but it is suited to New Zealand’s colder climate – berry fruit, typically raspberry; and sweet when young and mushroom and leather when aged.

Chardonnay. White grape variety suitable for most climates. Typically makes a rich white wine – tropical and stone fruit. When aged in oak, takes on nutty and smoked qualities. Chardonnay is grown in many regions of Australia but Yarra Valley Chardonnay is well renowned.

Riesling. White grape variety suitable for a cool climate. It is never aged in oak and makes a sweet white wine – citrus fruit, typically lime and grapefruit with floral and mineral qualities. Riesling is grown in many regions of Australia but Clare Valley Riesling is well renowned. Australia makes world class Riesling.

Semillon. White grape variety suitable for a warm climate. It is rarely aged in oak and makes a rich white wine – citrus fruit, typically lemon and apple with floral and mineral qualities. With bottle age, Semillon takes on honey and nutty qualities. Semillon is not grown in many regions of Australia but Hunter Valley Semillon is well renowned.

Sauvignon Blanc. White grape variety suitable for a cool climate. It is very rarely aged in oak and makes a crisp fresh white wine. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in many regions of Australia but New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is well renowned – tropical fruit, typically passionfruit and pineapple. Sauvignon Blanc is often used in blends e.g. SSB (Semillon Sauvignon Blanc).

Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio). White grape variety suitable for a cool climate. Unusual in that it has a pinkish skin – it’s thought to have mutated from Pinot Noir. It is never aged in oak and makes a crisp fresh white wine. Pinot Gris is not grown in many regions of Australia (Northern Tasmania is one) but it is gaining interest. It is suited to New Zealand’s colder climate – berry and stone fruit, typically raspberry and pear.

Wine labelling laws in Australia

Fortunately there are wine labelling laws in Australia that ensure you know exactly what you are buying. Certain information must be on labels and even the wines name must adhere to wine labelling laws. Always read the label on the front and back of the bottle. Here’s some key things to look out for:

Brand name – must not mislead as to vintage, variety or region

Vintage – must be the harvest year.

Variety – must be listed in descending order e.g. a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc indicates that there is a higher percentage of Semillon than Sauvignon Blanc.

Region – must be listed in descending order. Region names are fixed.

Country of origin

Allergens – Sulphur dioxide above 10ppm must be declared. Other common allergens that must be declared are fish and milk.

Volume – typically 750mL

Alcohol content

Standard drinks

Note certified organic or biodynamic wine will always indicate the certifier e.g. Australian Certified Organic

That’s it for Part 2 in this series! Now you can go back to your tasting.

Cheers

References

Wine Australia 2015, ‘Labelling’ <http://www.wineaustralia.com/en/Production%20and%20Exporting/Labelling.aspx>, viewed 17 December 2015.

First published 20/1/2015

 

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