Australian wines are experiencing a surge in demand worldwide, with local tastes changing in favour of red wine; its sales exceeded that of white wine for the first time in 2019, according to Wine Australia’s latest Production Sales and Inventory.
The rise of the “big reds” comes as no surprise in the country where Shiraz is its most popular and most widely planted grape variety for winemaking. This wine variety has become synonymous to Australia, holding the position of the nation’s top wine export since 2016. Meanwhile, domestic white wine consumption declined from 80% in 1986 to 60% in 2019.
Leading Red Grapes Varieties
Let’s take a look at the major type of grapes that go into Australia’s best red wines:
Used for half of all Australian red wine production, the Shiraz has different textures and flavours depending on where it’s grown in Australia as climate affects these qualities in a grape.
The spicy, full-bodied variety comes from the warmer regions of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale of South Australia. These places are home to some of the world’s oldest grape vines and are the major producers of these grapes in Australia.
Eden Valley, Langhorne Creek, and Clare Valley make up other warm regions with Shiraz vineyards.
Meanwhile, medium-bodied wines with a peppery twist are made from grapes grown in the cool regions of Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley, Nagambie Lakes, Heathcoate, Canberra District, and Grampians.
Often referred to as the king of red wine grapes, this full-bodied wine has notes of black cherries, currants, and spices.
It is Australia’s third most planted grape variety next to Shiraz and Chardonnay.
This dark grape variety is a late-ripening vine that usually needs plenty of water. The best of these grapes grow in the cool climates of Coonawara, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, and the Pyrenees.
Cabs from vineyards near the coastline made into wine have a medium-bodied taste with hints of eucalyptus, currants, and even sea mist.
The Grenache has long been mixed with other red grapes before establishing itself as a variety on its own in the last decade.
This grape gives the Australia’s GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre) blend its cherry and raspberry flavours. The older vines are said to produce Grenache with a rich blackberry and spicy taste while output from younger vines leans toward strawberry and raspberry flavours.
It also offers a bit of a sandy texture that’s akin to the soil in the warm regions of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale where they are mostly planted.
Merlot, which is mainly used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, used to be the third most planted grape variety.
These grapes thrive best in warmer, inland regions that receive a lot of irrigation such as the Riverina and Murray Darling areas. You can also find them in Wrattonbully and Riverland and the cooler regions of Coonawara and the Margaret River.
Fleshier and ripening earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Merlot is less tannic than the Cab. It exudes aromas of plum, mulberries, chocolate, mints, and herbs.
Pinot Noir are the main grapes used in champagne along with Chardonnay due to their highly acidic and fruity properties.
Pinot Noir is considered Yarra Valley’s premier wine. This cool-climate wine grape is one of the toughest varieties to grow, but it doesn’t take decades for their flavours to develop, allowing for early drinking.
Light-bodied Pinot Noir wines are generally silky with strawberry and cherry flavours. However, those from Tasmania also taste of mushrooms, truffles, and herbs.
Best of Australia’s Inexpensive Red Wines
They say life is too short for bad wine. The overview of grape varieties isn’t enough to give you the best value for your money when it comes to buying a good bottle of red wine, so we list six highly recommended brands under $20 for you to explore.
This bottle of Merlot uses grapes from an ultra-boutique vineyard in Margaret River that were matured in 30% new French oak barrels for 10 months. The aging process results in a silky tannin taste with flavours of chocolate, cassis, and dried herbs.
It’s predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (77%), with Merlot (18%) and Cabernet Franc (five per cent). The Wine Collective supports Australia-based wineries by selling new vintage under the brand “Mystery Wineries.” By keeping the original label a secret, the Wine Collective can offer the wine at a lower price, raising the chances of making quicker sales to help winemakers.
Famous second-generation Barossa winemaker Rolf Binder crafted this Shiraz from grapes harvested from five family estates in Marananga and Vine Vale (hence, MVV).
A small percentage of Grenache provides the red cherry aroma while the earthy taste comes from the Mataro blend. Its velvety tannins and subtle oak flavours come from being cellared for a year in American oak and shaved French barrels.
This is Barossa’s GSM blend at its finest, combining the raspberry fragrance of Grenache, the plummy aroma of Shiraz, and the earthiness of Mataro.
It gives off an oaky vanilla aroma and a smoky finish. Carignan, also a South Australia-growing black-red grape, is a very tannic wine that is deep purple on its own with burnt smoky, brown sugar notes and a peppery finish.
Australia’s French and Spanish Connection
The oldest grapevines in Australia feature cuttings from France and Spain brought into the country by James Busby, the father of local viticulture in the 1830s. It’s only natural that local wine drinkers love to sample reds from these two nations, which are currently also part of the world’s top three wine producers.
Here are a few brands to try for a great introduction to Spanish and French wine.
This wine is made from Garnacha, Merlot, and Tempranillo grapes grown in the productive but often overlooked wine-making region of Navarra in northern Spain. Navarra belongs to the Denominación de Origen Protegida or protected denomination of origin that refers to Spain’s mainstream quality wine regions.
The hardy Tempranillo grows mostly in the warm Spanish countryside. These grapes are aged in oak barrels so that the generally flat-tasting juice will transform into medium-to full-bodied wines high in tannins. The grapes used for this silky, spicy, and fruity full-bodied red are separately fermented and macerated for over 15 days, then held in American oak barrels for about six months each.
The thin-skinned and low-tannin Gamay grapes are used to make Beaujolais. It’s also the name of the east-central French province where the grapes are harvested and processed usually through full or semi-carbonic maceration.
In carbonic maceration, grapes are placed in steel tanks or vats then filled with carbon dioxide to remove the oxygen, causing the juice to flow. In the semi-carbonic method, whole bunches of grapes— instead of CO2—are allowed to crush whole clusters below them so that their juice is released. For this Philippe Bouchard product, the Gamay grapes stay in the vats for three to six months. The method results in sweet, fruity aromas, particularly of the banana and candied kind.
This medium-bodied wine from the Jaffelin winery, considered the smallest of the wine houses in the Burgundy region, has dark cherry flavours and a refreshing acidity. The winery’s cellars are based in the Notre Dame collegiate church in the Burgundy wine capital of Beaune. In 2004, the vat room was equipped with modern, high-precision equipment that brings out more of the best of these “handcrafted” wines.
Good Red Wine under $10
Could you buy a good value red wine for less than $10? The Wine Collective answers yes with the 2014 Bodegas Castano Molino Loco. Molino Loco, or “crazy windmill” in English, refers to the windmill found at the edge of the Castano vineyards. It is known for going around even on calm days when there’s no wind.
This red, made from Monastrell or Mataro grapes, is from one of the most prominent southeast Spanish wine producers, Bodegas Castano. It has a combination of floral, fruity, and leathery aromas, a silky texture, and drying tannin.
Smoothest Red Wine
Smooth wines have lower tannin, the characteristic of grapes that make them taste bitter and astringent. Tannic wines make your mouth dry after taking them.
Several factors contribute to a wine’s tannin level: the grapes’ skin, pips or seeds, stems, and the wooden barrels where they were kept before they were bottled. Oak barrel aging adds to the tannic quality of wine.
The maceration period, or length of time spent with its skins, also has an effect, with less “skin contact” reducing the tannin of wine.
Of the wines featured above, the 2018 Philippe Bouchard Beaujolais is the smoothest due to its fruity and spritely taste, making it very easy to drink. Its non-smoky after taste can be attributed to its non-oak and short fermentation process.
Searching for more red wine options? Let the Wine Collective broaden your horizon. Check other cheap but delightful reds today.