The world of red wines is an adventurous, rich and wonderful world filled with everything from the subtlety of a big Australian Shiraz or South African Pinotage to the softness of a French Merlot or the truly excellent Mediterranean varietals of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
Home to some of the oldest vines and biggest names in Australian wine, the Hunter Valley is a mecca for lovers of quality wines renown for their thoroughly unique and distinctive style and ageing ability and crafted in this region for over 180 years. Here you can find a diversity of red wines just perfect for those looking for something different.
Shiraz – Australia's favourite red variety
Shiraz is by far Australia's most important red variety and is tremendously flexible in its ability to adapt to virtually any combination of climate and soil. The Shiraz grape is said to originate from the Rhone wine-growing area of France but is now grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce powerful red wines which can be either varietal or blended.
Shiraz is the Hunters premium red variety and the most widely planted grape variety in Australia – representing 40% of the total red grape crush and constitutes one-fifth of all wine grape production in Australia.
The typical young Hunter Valley Shiraz is a medium-bodied wine showing red and dark berries, spices and a great deal of tannin. However, its real character is seen in wines with longevity. With age, the wines become a far more complex, full-bodied, yet smooth and richly flavoured wine with some earthy tones.
Cabernet Sauvignon – The world's most loved red wine
Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most recognised red grape variety famous for its ability to age for decades at a time. This classic red variety of Bordeaux is second only to Shiraz in importance in Australia.
Despite its prominence in the world of wine, the grape is a relatively new variety being the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc sometime during the 17th century in southwestern France.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be medium to full-bodied, typically leafy with ripe cassis like flavours, well-structured and elegant and powerfully aromatic. The bouquet can be rich with fruity notes of black cherries and currants, herby notes of peppers and olives and spicy notes of ginger. Typically, this wine features naturally high levels of tannin, but barrel ageing allows for slow oxidation to reduce these levels and infuse the wine with its flavours.
Pinot Noir – The most romantic of wines
Pinot Noir wines have been one of the strongest performing wines over the last four to five years and considered by some to be the next "wine fashion".
With its origins in France, the Pinot Noir grape is a light-skinned, aromatic grape and one of the oldest grape varieties to be cultivated to make wine.
While widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, it is just as well recognised for being a difficult variety to cultivate. Pinot Noir is very sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels and soil types and requires optimum growing conditions made up of warm days followed by cool evenings. Pinot Noir is also highly reflective of its terroir (more so than other black grape varieties), with different wine growing regions producing very different wines which makes vineyard site selection an important factor.
Described as "the most romantic of wines" due to its sensuous and gratifying perfume, the wine tends to be light to medium in body with a broad range of textures and flavours, including a variety of complex aromas reminiscent of black or red cherry, raspberry, currant and blackberry.
Merlot – The most pleasurable wine experience
Merlot originates from Bordeaux in France, where it is often used to produce some of the world's most famous and most expensive wines.
In Australia Merlot is considered to be one of the most important red grape varieties – coming in third after Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Merlot is renowned for its wonderfully fruity, well rounded, even fleshy character and is grown in just about every wine growing region of Australia. The summer heat of the Hunter is considered to provide the ideal growing conditions for this versatile grape variety. In recent years, Hunter Valley Merlot has experienced a surge in popularity and is often considered to be more robust than other well-regarded varieties with a rich bouquet providing one of the most pleasurable wine experiences.
Tempranillo Wine – One to watch
Tempranillo (from the Spanish Temprano, meaning early) is a premium grape variety originating in the Rioja region of Spain where it is considered the ''backbone'' of the wines of the Rioja and the Ribera del Duero regions in Northern and Central Spain. In these regions, it is often blended with varieties such as Graciano, Grenache and to a lesser extent Cabernet Sauvignon.
Tempranillo wine is now being made in many wine regions throughout Australia – including the Hunter Valley and is said to be challenging Sangiovese as the up and coming red wine varietal in Australia.
What makes this variety so exciting is that it is an easy-drinking, medium to full-bodied wine with lower acidity and full fruit flavour that matches well with a wide range of foods. The wine itself is ruby red in colour, while the aroma and flavours can have characteristic of plum, cherry, strawberry and herb mixed with an earthiness.
In Australia, Tempranillo is less frequently bottled as a single varietal and being low in both acidity and sugar content is most commonly blended with Grenache and Shiraz (Syrah).
Petit Verdot – A majestic wine
The bold-yet-floral expression of Petit Verdot is something that all red wine enthusiasts should have the opportunity to try.
Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, it is most often used in the region's famous red blends to add a dark violet colour, sturdier tannins and concentrated fruit flavours.
In Australia Petit Verdot is being planted in warmer climates such as the Hunter Valley where it produces full-bodied wines with concentrated flavours and integrated tannins. Here ripening on the vine is not such a problem and while still used in blends, it is increasingly bottled as a single varietal stand-alone wine.
As a stand-alone varietal, it produces deeply coloured wines with violet aromas blueberry fruit and firm, structural tannins.
The characters to look for in these exciting new wines are its intense colour, the wonderful fragrant nose, firm tannins and rich, vibrant flavours of blueberry – making it a good choice for true red wine drinkers.
Chambourcin – Unique in so many ways
Chambourcin is a relatively new purple-skinned French - American hybrid grape that produces deep-coloured light to medium-bodied wines with a full aromatic flavour. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant sweetness.
In Australia, the grape did not show up until the late 1970's and is now a widely used variety with an intense dark colour that has now also led winemakers to use it to improve the depth of blended red wines without sacrificing the fruit quality of the main variety (e.g., Shiraz). Some producers use the variety for sparkling reds, and it is also used successfully for Port-style wines.
Because this variety is especially resistant to fungal diseases, Chambourcin is a variety that succeeds wonderfully in the Hunter Valley climate and is also most at home in the more humid regions of Coastal NSW and Queensland who all experience wet summers.
Chambourcin wines have a lovely, deep red colour. Most are big and fruity with a lot of raspberries, plums, prunes and even cranberries on the palate. It is not as heavy or robust as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, which can make it quite attractive to people who generally don't like red wine.
Chambourcin wines also respond well to being oaked, a treatment which can produce vanilla or mocha flavours in the wine.
Sangiovese - The pride of Tuscany
Sangiovese is the most-planted red grape in Italy and is the most important grape variety used in the production of Tuscany's greatest red wines.
This star amongst Italian wine grape varieties is now making its mark in Australia where it has become increasingly popular over the last few decades. The variety also has a reputation for being adaptable to many types of vineyard soils and as such is considered suitable for cultivation in several Australian wine regions – such as the Hunter Valley where it is fast gaining popularity, although vineyard area remains small.
The variety produces elegant medium-bodied wines with powerful aromas and with moderate to high natural acidity. The characteristic flavours are cherries, tomatoes, herbs, spices and tea-like flavours. Australian Sangiovese wines tend to be a little fruitier, with riper flavours and higher alcohol.
Is there a variety you are yet to try? Explore the Hunter Valley and you're sure to find something to your taste. What are you waiting for!