A Guide to Australia’s Best Red Wine Blends
Once the backbone of the Australian wine industry (along with Fortified styles), red blends have been behind some of the most famous red wines this country has produced – think Penfolds Bin 389 or the iconic Cabernet Shiraz blend – but they fell out of favour for a time as wine lovers embraced single variety styles. That’s all changed however, and red blends are back in a big way – as you’ll discover in this exploration of Australia’s best red wine blends and their key regions!
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What grape varieties are used in these wines, and what are the most popular red blends? What do red blends taste like? How do you tell if a wine is a blend? Are red blends dry or sweet? Let’s jump in and find out!
Red blends are as they sound – red wine grapes of different varieties, blended together through the winemaker’s art, to produce a rounded, flavoursome and distinctive wine. Indeed, many of the most famous red wines in history have been blended wines, including the great Bordeaux and Rhône red blends of France.
What are red wine blends?
Why do winemakers make red wine blends?
The simple answer is, because some wines really are greater than the sum of their parts. Some grape varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, share a great synergy and delight the palate. Sometimes, other unlikely combinations of grape varieties may simply complement each other beautifully. Such blends may be exclusive to a single region, or even a single producer. Other times, grapes are blended with other fruit from different regions to produce a wine of greater balance and complexity.
What grape varieties are red blends made from?
In Australia, there are two main red grape varieties that form the base of most red blends – Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – and these are actually often blended together. Indeed, it is this combination that drove the thirst of wine lovers for classic dry red table wines in this country from the middle of the 20th century onwards and created legends.
To be able to identify what varieties are used in a particular red blend, simply have a look at the label, as the name of the various grape varieties used in that wine will often appear there. The brand’s website is another great place to get this information.
What are popular Australian Red wine belnds?
Australian Shiraz makes a great red blending partner, as its ripe, open nature has many flavour and texture options that are multiplied exponentially by the variety of regions and blending possibilities.
There are numerous Shiraz Grenache blends now available and many feature Mourvèdre. These Rhône varieties work well to make medium to full-bodied wines that are spicy, complex and with enough structure to age well into the medium term. Grenache has low tannins and fleshy, juicy fruits that tend to meld well with and lift the aromas of Shiraz, which adds power, spice and mid-palate richness, while Mourvèdre adds firm tannins and savoury characters. McLaren Vale in particular has become famed for its GSM (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre) blends.
The Cube at d'Arenberg, McLaren Vale.
In recent times, Australian winemakers have been co-fermenting small amounts of the white Viognier variety with Shiraz to make a Shiraz Viognier blend. This brightens the colour of the wine, lifts and adds fragrance to the aroma and texture to the palate, and provides a roundness that makes the wine more approachable – particularly in the case of some of the bigger wines that come out of the Barossa Valley. One region that has made this style its own is the Canberra District.
Sangiovese is another wine that is sometimes blended with Shiraz. The savoury nature of the former grape is enriched by the robust nature of Shiraz, combining to create wines that are complex, spicy and rich.
Cabernet Sauvignon as a Shiraz partner is also popular, and some of the greatest Australian wines ever made are a blend of these two varieties. These wines are complex and robust with incredible ageing potential. Often, the two varieties are taken from different regions, to create extra levels of ripeness and layers of complexity.
Is cabernet Sauvignon a red belnd?
Don’t be confused by the fact that it has two words in its name – Cabernet Sauvignon is not a red blend, it’s a single varietal that originated through a chance crossbreeding of varieties (Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc) in 17th century France. It also happens to produce some of the world’s most noble wines and is a fantastic red blending partner. Let’s find out more.
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Blends
Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late, and that’s the principal reason it’s planted with the earlier ripening Merlot in Bordeaux; as an insurance policy for growers, with the added bonus that the two make great blending partners. Cabernet Sauvignon’s firm tannin structure ensures that it’s capable of producing wines with good potential to improve with cellaring.
Cabernet Sauvignon is more often than not blended with one or several other grapes, since its firm structure and blocky tannins can see it unapproachable in its youth. The tannins push the flavour load towards the back of the palate, leaving a flat middle that can easily be filled in by other blending partners.
In Australia, the premier growing regions for Cabernet are Coonawarra and Margaret River, and the blends that emerge from these regions are consistently excellent. Apart from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon’s main blending partner is usually Merlot, as it is in Bordeaux, sometimes with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Each of these blending partners brings something unique to Cabernet-based blends: Merlot adds flesh and middle palate richness, along with plum and violet characters and a silky texture; Cabernet Franc gives an aromatic lift and tight pepper, spice and red berry characters; Malbec gives palate weight, dark fruit flavours and dusty tannins; and Petit Verdot adds fragrance and rich dark fruit flavours that stiffen up the middle palate.
What are Australian Cabernet Sauvignon blends?
What are Australia's top red blend regions?
MARGARET RIVER CABERNET BLENDS
This is home to Australia’s greatest Cabernet-based blends. These are masterfully crafted, full of ripe fruit, ripe tannins and ageing potential and should be on every serious collector’s list.
COONAWARRA CABERNET BLENDS
Here, where Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be finer and more reserved, both Merlot and Shiraz are used to make some of Coonawarra’s most reliable and consistent red wines that age superbly.
Margaret River Cabernet Blends
Coonawarra Cabernet Blends
YARRA VALLEY CABERNET BLENDS
Yarra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon reflects the region’s cool conditions, showing less ripeness and generosity in its youth. Merlot and other Bordelaise varieties are often used to add flesh to Cabernet Sauvignon’s bones.
GREAT SOUTHERN CABERNET BLENDS
This vast region, made up of five sub regions, is making a name for fine, high quality medium-bodied wines with a vast array of broad flavours.
Yarra Valley Cabernet Blends
Great Southern Cabernet Blends
BAROSSA VALLEY RED BLENDS
Home to many of the best Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre in the country, the Barossa Valley produces amazing blends. Barossa Shiraz blended with either Barossa or Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon are often superb, age-worthy wines that are worth seeking out.
MCLAREN VALE RED BLENDS
The high quality of McLaren Vale Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache means that the region’s fruit will always provide good blending material for regional, or multi-regional red blends.
Barossa Valley Red Blends
CLARE VALLEY RED BLENDS
The Clare Valley has some great red varietals and blends. More than most other regions, Clare’s intensely flavoured red blends include some Malbec.
Shiraz Viognier is making a name for itself in this region with elegant Shiraz and perfectly ripened Viognier that has the potential to make fine examples of this Côte Rôtie classic blend.
Canberra District Red Blends
MULTI REGIONAL RED BLENDS
Australia has a long tradition of blending red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from two regions, a practice that goes back to great winemakers like Colin Preece, Maurice O’Shea and Roger Warren.
Often the two varieties are taken from different regions to create extra levels of ripeness and layers of complexity, with blends of Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and Barossa Shiraz producing some of Australia’s most famous wines.
Grange is Australia’s finest example of a multi-regional blend, but there are many other commercially produced wines that benefit from the input of fruit many wine regions. Many of the large commercial brands may be multi-regional blends, which are made to a consistent style.
Multi Regional Red Blends
What do red blends taste like?
The flavour profile of the red blend you are drinking will be determined by the various grape varieties used in that blend. Wines that have a Cabernet or Shiraz base will generally be medium-full bodied, robust and deeply flavoured. Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre/Mataro (GSM) blends are generally light-to-medium bodied with a heightened element of spice and tannin, while blends with Euro varieties like Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Montepulciano will display the fruit-forward flavours and vibrancy of those varieties.
What are the best food pairings with red blends?
Considering that they are crafted using a range of different grape varieties, red blends are incredibly versatile. As a result, these wines pair with a variety of different dishes and what works well will really depend on the specific flavour profile and characters of that blend. From a selection of cheese and fruit or tapas, to Mediterranean-style favourites like pizza, paella and rich pastas, there are plenty of delicious food options to complement a red blend. Fuller-bodied blends also work well with comfort foods like osso bucco, moussaka or pork sausages with mash.
With a Cabernet Merlot, Shiraz Cabernet or Cabernet Shiraz:
With a GSM blend:
Blends with Euro varieties:
SILVIA COLLOCA’S RAINBOW CHARD AND RICOTTA CANNELLONI
See our range of red blends below and try one today!