Australia’s Best Red Wine Blends And Their Regions
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, a Cabernet Shiraz blend – but 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 Are Red Blend Wines?
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.
Why do winemakers make them? 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.
In Australia, there are two main red grape varieties that form the base of most red blends – Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon – and these are 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.
Most Popular Australian Red Wine Blends
Australian Shiraz Blends
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.
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.
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon Blends
Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late, and that is the principal reason it is 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.
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.
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.
Barossa Valley Red Blends
Home to many of the best Shiraz and 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.
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 here with elegant Shiraz and perfectly ripened Viognier that has the potential to make fine examples of this Côte Rôtie classic blend.
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.
The Blend Is Your Friend
As you can see, blended red wines occupy a special place at the heart of this country’s ongoing love affair with wine, and can offer delights distinctively different to single variety wines. So next time you’re placing a red wine order, remember – the blend is your friend!
Interested in experiencing Australian red blends at their best? Wine Selectors has an extensive range of Shiraz Cabernet and other red blends that are sure to hit the spot – view our selections and place your order today.