Australia's red grapes are amongst its greatest assets – after all, who could imagine a world without classic Australian Shiraz? In general, the warmer the wine region, the more likely it will produce rich, full-flavoured styles which many people come to associate with Australian red wine.
The world's classic premium red grape varieties are all found in abundance in the Hunter Valley where some of the oldest vines and most prominent names in Australian wine can be found. Here, the deep friable loam and red duplex soils of the Hunter Valley produce superb examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and the Mediterranean varieties that include Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo, to mention just a few.
Whatever you're looking for, the Hunter Valley provides a diversity of red wines just perfect for those looking for something different.
Shiraz – Australia's favourite red variety
Shiraz is the Hunter's premium 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 both varietal or blended.
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 most recognized red grape variety
Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's most loved red wine and is renowned 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.
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 infuses the wine with its flavours.
Pinot Noir – The most romantic of wines
Described as "the most romantic of wines'' due to its sensuous and gratifying perfume, and considered by many to be the next “wine fashion”, Pinot Noir 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.
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 for the purpose of making wine.
While widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, it is also highly reflective of its terroir (more so than other black grape varieties), with different wine growing regions often producing very different wines which makes vineyard site selection an important factor.
Merlot – The most pleasurable wine experience
In Australia Merlot is considered to be one of the most important red grape varieties - coming in 3rd after Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Originating from Bordeaux in France, 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 with a vibrant 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 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. It 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.
Petit Verdot – A majestic wine
Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, the bold-yet-floral expression of Petit Verdot is something that all red wine enthusiasts should have the opportunity to try.
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 deep, intense coloured wines with violet aromas, firm tannins and rich, vibrant flavours of blueberry - making it an excellent 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, and no unpleasant hybrid flavours. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant sweetness.
Because this variety is especially resistant to fungal diseases, Chambourcin is a variety that flourishes in the Hunter Valley climate. It is also most at home in the more humid regions of Coastal NSW and Queensland which 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 a reputation for being adaptable to many types of vineyard soils and as such is considered suitable for cultivation in a number of 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.
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! Fin our top picks here.