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Non-French Grapes in Australia Part 1 – Spain, Portugal and Georgia

By Alex Russell on January 12, 2012 in Food

Australian wine is mostly made with grapes found in French regions. Reds from Bordeaux are (basically) Cabernet Merlots, while the whites are made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Burgundy is all about Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Riesling, Pinot Gris and other aromatics pop up in Alsace, while the Rhône Valley is the home of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre, and Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. These grapes also pop up in other regions – Sancerres from the Loire Valley are made from Sauvignon Blanc.

Some Aussie winemakers also use other grapes like Trebbiano (one of the most widely planted grapes in the world) because they produce high yields of ordinary but drinkable wine (great for casks), although you don’t often see it on the label.

Australian winemakers aren’t alone here. These French grapes are prominent in New Zealand, the USA, Chile and most other New World winemaking countries.

Many Aussie winemakers travel to gain experience. They do vintage here from February to April and then do another vintage in the Northern Hemisphere from August to October. We have a reputation for being particularly fastidious about hygiene and cleanliness in the winery, so our winemakers are often in demand.

During these travels, particularly in the last two decades or so, a lot of winemakers have been inspired by the wines made from non-French grapes.

This month I’ll take a look at Spanish, Portuguese and Georgian influences, and next month I’ll tackle Italy.


The most famous red grape from Spain is Tempranillo, notable for being the main grape in Rioja wines. Wines made from Tempranillo tend to have bright red colours and red berry flavours, along with darker, more complex flavours like tobacco, herb and leather. In the Priorat region, Garnacha (Grenache) is very popular. There are about 600 other varietals as well, but these are the two main reds.

In the whites, Albariño is a current favourite in wine bars and restaurants, with aromas of apricot and peach and relatively high acidity bringing some crispness. We thought we’d planted some Albariño in Australia, but it turned out to be another grape called Savagnin (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc). Efforts continue though, so keep an eye out.

Spain is also famous for Sherry (made mostly from the Palomino or Pedro Ximénez grapes). In Australia, we now call Sherry ‘Apera’, much like we now call Champagne ‘sparkling wine‘. It’s not a very popular style these days, so you won’t often see these grapes anymore.


Many consider the grape called Touriga Nacional to be Portugal’s finest red grape. It is mostly famous for being blended in ports but it pops up in table wines too. A few winemakers are making table wines from it, including First Drop Wines (a personal favourite).

In the whites, the big mover and shaker is Verdelho. You’ll see a few around, but Tulloch up in the Hunter is one of the most famous producers of this varietal, along with Moondah Brook.


Probably the only reference you’ll see to Georgian winemaking in Australia is a grape called Saperavi. It’s an acidic grape with red flesh (known as ‘teinturier’), usually lower in alcohol and it can be dry to semi-sweet. Massena in the Barossa makes a decent one, as does Symphonia in the King Valley.