Although it’s safe to say that Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the mainstays of the Australian wine industry, and that won’t change anytime soon, there are now plenty of alternative varieties that have found their way onto the shelves over the last few years and whilst the volumes aren’t huge they offer something different, and because many wine drinkers are reluctant to change in case they find they have wasted their money we shall explain the alternatives and what to expect should you want to have a change. With the effect of climate change and the increase in temperature, we have to consider planting grape varieties that can thrive in higher temperatures.

Assyrtiko- this is a white wine grape variety associated with the Greek island of Santorini where it produces everything from vibrant, fresh-tasting dry wines to syrupy dessert styles. Jim Barry from the Clare Valley found this variety whilst holidaying in Greece in 2006 and it is possible to buy the wine online for around $32 a bottle. Nero d’Avola-a red wine with its origins in either Sicily or Calabria this southern Italian classic has seen a resurgence of interest around the wine-growing regions of the world and is an ideal grape variety for the Australian climate. Nero d’Avola can make anything from a heady, cherry and berry red that’s capable of cellaring through to a fresh strawberry and raspberry tinted rose. The Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu Peninsular are two regions that currently grow this grape variety, look for Kirrihill Wines $27, The Ethereal One $16 at Dan Murphy’s, La Bise $29 and Chalmers Rose direct from the winery.

Gruner Vetliner-is a white wine staple of Austria but is now finding favour in Australia and at a recent tasting in the cooler region of the Adelaide Hills, there were several examples which combined freshness and minerality with generous fruit character. Wineries to look out for are Hahndorf Hill, Aramis, Geoff Hardy all from the Adelaide Hills and Stefano Lubiano in Tasmania.

Tempranillo-is a red wine grape variety well suited to Australia and is mainly associated with the great wines of Spain and in Australia partners very well with Grenache. There are now over 200 wineries making Tempranillo including such names as Tim Adams, Gemtree, Brown Bros, Brooklands and Nepenthe and can be found in just about every liquor outlet. It is a variety that can produce powerful wines and can be grown in every wine-growing area around Australia although in the Adelaide Hills it produces a more elegant fresher style that is very foodfriendly.

Vermentino- is not new to the Australian market but has never reached the heights expected as wine drinkers stuck to their preferred white wine styles. Now that new varieties are flooding the market there is a chance more wine drinkers will experiment and find this very appealing white wine grape variety. When we resided in Perth I organised the wines for a wine club called the “Twist Club” which met once a month on a Friday afternoon for lunch at a premium Perth restaurant to improve the member’s knowledge of wine and I invited various personalities from the industry to present their products. One of the most respected winemakers in Australia, Louisa Rose who is a senior winemaker with Yalumba Family Winemakers, came along several times and among the varieties she presented was Vermentino which she was very passionate about. I have to be honest in that senior winemakers can make very good wine but find it hard to put up a good show when talking in public but Louisa could hold the attention of everyone for several hours and the orders at the end of the evening were a testament to her lively presentations. I suggest that if you have taken to enjoying Pinot Grigio you should give Vermentino a go because they have very similar qualities with tones that range from pears and melons to tropical fruits. Yalumba makes excellent Vermentino but also look out for Chalmers and Oliver’s Taranga.

Touriga Nacional- is a red wine variety that was made for the Australian climate and thrives when the heat is on and is up there with Grenache. It has found a home in South Australia, Victoria (Bendigo, Goulburn Valley and Rutherglen) and New South Wales (Hunter Valley, Mudgee) and the Canberra district. The wines produced are typically well coloured rich and powerful with good balance. The future for this variety in Australia looks very promising and Steven Pannell makes a superb Tempranillo/ Touriga McLaren Vale blend worth seeking out. Steven comes from the famous Western Australian Pannell family who had Mosswood wines in Margaret River some year ago.

Fiano-is another Italian white wine variety which is finding favour with Australian wine drinkers and has a reputation for producing fullflavoured aromatic wines with aromas of honey, nuts and spices. Because it comes from small berries with low yields it has a natural tendency towards quality and premium quality. It has found a home in McLaren vale where Coriole and Angove make very good styles of this variety.

Nebbiolo-is a red wine variety that is very hard to understand why it has taken so long for this magnificent winemaking grape to be embraced by our nation’s winemakers. Although it has a reputation of being one of the hardest grape varieties to work with and is picky as to where it wants to be planted getting it right will repay the winemaker with outstanding wine. Success has already come from a range of regions including The Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren vale and The Clare valley. Aromas of ‘tar and roses’ is a common theme as are high tannins and acidity. If you enjoy your red wines with a bit of difference and with a bit of structure look for wineries such as Coriole, who enjoy using Italian grape varieties, Bent Road, Ballendean Estate, Thorn Clarke and Grant Burge.

Next month we will carry on with unusual varieties which may improve your choices when staring at the shelves.

Cheers, Philip Arlidge arlidge@bigpond.com.au