Australia's Best Red Wine Varieties
There is no mistaking the quality and enormous variety of red wine on offer in Australia. But what is the most popular red wine? And which red wine type is best, especially when it comes to pairing it with food and different seasons? While it’s often the go-to wine choice during colder months, red wine is a popular choice in the warmer months as well, with some varieties particularly lovely to drink slightly chilled.
How many red wines are there?
With dozens of different types of red wine available for us to enjoy in Australia, some varieties that are all-time Aussie favourites include Shiraz and other classics like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Grenache. Today there's also a growing appreciation for alternative red wine styles, particularly Mediterranean varieties such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera and Montepulciano. And you can’t forget Australia’s famous red blends.
With something for every taste, you’re sure to find a variety you’ll love – whether you’re curious about which red wine is best for beginners, or you’re looking for something different to the big, bold types Australia is so well known for and want to know which red wine is the lightest?
Here are Australia’s most popular red wine varieties for you to discover, or fall in love with all over again!
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Our red wines are regularly considered as some of the best in the world for their varietal and regional character and quality.
This may come as no surprise; Shiraz is Australia's most popular wine style. Why? Because it can grow just about anywhere in the country and is enjoyed everywhere, from a day at the races to a quiet dinner for two. We may have borrowed this deep, dark varietal from the French, but it has truly become part of Australia’s identity.
Shiraz is grown in every wine region in Australia and produced by four out of five wineries, with differences in regional climates and soils resulting in a range of different styles. Indeed, Australia is home to the greatest diversity of Shiraz styles in the world and we’re the second-largest producer, coming in just behind France who benefits from the hometown advantage.
One of the most sensational aspects of Australian Shiraz is that there are expressions for every taste. The essential distinction between warm and cool climate Shiraz manifests in their differing textures, weight, and flavour profiles.
Since Shiraz grown in warmer climates ripens more readily, they tend to feature fuller, riper dark fruit flavours and be more full-bodied and luscious. Such styles are considered the ‘classic’ expression of Australian Shiraz, made famous by Barossa Valley Shiraz – big-flavoured, plush, and fruit-forward.
Cool climate Shiraz ripens more gently, leading to wines that are more medium-bodied and savoury. Due to the grapes being exposed to less heat, their skins are thinner, reducing or softening the tannins in the wine. While sharing a similar flavour profile to their warm climate cousins, different varietal characters emerge – white pepper instead of black pepper, and red fruits rather than black – with more subdued herbaceous characters, resulting in wines are considered more restrained and even elegant in texture.
A Shiraz in the style of the Barossa or Hunter Valley are probably what most people think of when trying to think of a suitable food match. In such cases the rule of thumb is generally a wine with big flavours will match very well with a dish of similar strength. This usually leads Shiraz drinkers to pair it with beef and kangaroo, rich, spiced foods, and charred barbeque flavours. Great news for dessert lovers, Shiraz also pairs perfectly with rich, dark chocolate dishes.
Cool climate styles challenge the usual go-to food matches with their nuanced elegance has been known to partner well with the likes of a lamb stew, a chickpea curry, or even Singapore style chilli crab, vastly broadening the culinary creations Shiraz drinkers can enjoy.
Looking for a dish to pair with Shiraz? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Shiraz
It may not have the popularity of Shiraz, but Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape behind some of the world’s most noble wines. Big, brooding, and flavoursome, Australian Cabernet Sauvignon has come to be regarded as among the world’s best. Coonawarra and Margaret River Cabernets, which attracted acclaim for their intense fruit flavours and tight structure are generally considered the home of the country’s best Cabernet, though other regions – among them Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley in South Australia, Mount Barker in Western Australia and Victoria’s Yarra Valley – have also seen considerable success with the variety.
Cabernet Sauvignon is best known for having a rich palate of black fruits like blackcurrant, black cherry and plum, with varietal characters of liquorice, mint, cedar and even eucalyptus. The best Cabernets are capable of ageing for many years – even decades – softening over time, while retaining their fruit characters. A full-bodied red with fine yet firm tannins, it’s similar in weight to Merlot, Shiraz, and Tempranillo.
Cabernet’s rich body, balanced acidity and slightly herbaceous notes make it more than a match for all manner of indulgent dishes, from barbeques to slow cooked meats. Without doubt, however, the signature food to pair with Cabernet is lamb. Hard or cloth-aged cheeses are another classic pairing, as are dishes featuring warm, earthy spices such as Moroccan food. Avoid anything too spicy, however, as the heat of the dish will likely be accentuated by the Cabernet.
Looking for a dish to pair with Cabernet? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon
Pinot Noir is one of the most revered, collected, and celebrated red varietals in the world of wine! Top examples from its home in Burgundy sell for outrageous sums of money, but Australia has proven it can craft Pinot to compare with the world’s best with some of the finest examples coming from Tasmania, the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Great Southern, Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba.
Australian Pinot Noir is typically low in colour pigmentation, has a perfumed nose and shows red fruit such as cherry, red berry, and blood plum flavours. Great Aussie Pinot Noir should age well and develop complex truffle, game, and earthy characters, hinting at its origins or the soil it came from. Its fruit flavours are balanced by tannins that are typically fine and soft, expanding at the back of the palate – referred to as a peacock’s tail finish.
Its bright acidity, fruit flavours and textural tannins make it a good match for everything from salmon to charcuterie, and of course duck, with fuller-bodied examples pairing quite well with chargrilled steak and lamb. Generally, though, its elegance and nuance mean it can be overwhelmed by bigger flavours like spices or rich red meats, so be mindful of that when thinking of matching it with heavier dishes.
Looking for a dish to pair with Pinot Noir? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Pinot Noir
Having claims to its origins in both France and Spain, Grenache is most famously known in Australia as part of a blended trio with Shiraz and Mourvèdre – the so-called GSM blend. As times and tastes have evolved however, Grenache has started to break out and go solo with some superb single varietal wines, particularly from South Australia.
Grenache is unique in Australia in that it is almost exclusively grown in South Australia in regions including the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Langhorne Creek, though regions like the Hunter Valley are also seeing some success with the variety.
With a similar weight and tannin structure to light to medium bodied Shiraz, Grenache is light on the palate and is all about purity of fruit. It displays aromas like pomegranate, wild strawberries, violets, and red fruits and offers a palate that’s restrained and fine in texture. Older Grenache vines produce soft, warm, intensely flavoured red wines that are approachable on release. When treated with oak the fruit develops a natural spice that sits well with the other Grenache characters of red fruits, bright, mocha tinged cherries, and natural forest floor layers.
The heightened alcohol, medium tannin and low acidity that characterise Grenache means it will work well with a range of dishes from duck through to lighter dishes, and crowd-pleasing pizza. The notes of red plum, black cherry and raspberry also mean that Grenache is a great match for many Asian-style dishes if they aren’t too spicy. Lemongrass, soy, and coriander all work wonderfully with Grenache.
Looking for a dish to pair with Grenache? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Grenache
Australia's Best Alternative Red Wine Varieties
Regarded as Spain’s noble grape, Tempranillo is mostly commonly known throughout the world as the main grape variety used to make Rioja. Australian plantings of Tempranillo are increasing in regions like the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Margaret River, and thanks to its attractive colour, juicy, rustic fruit profile and food-friendly nature, it’s popular with those keen to expand their vinous horizons.
While Tempranillo is full of red fruit flavours, it certainly isn’t a sweet wine. Tempranillo gets flavour at lower baumé than some other varieties, so is perfect for a savoury, mid-weighted, moderate alcohol style. Enjoy its delectable blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, and cloves characters.
So, what do you eat with Tempranillo? With its spicy, berry-fruit muskiness and mouth-filling tannins, and of course, its origins, it’s no surprise that Tempranillo is a perfect match with tapas. Aussie Tempranillo is also super-delicious served with spicy seafood and Mexican dishes.
Looking for a dish to pair with Tempranillo? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Tempranillo
It’s Italy’s most widely planted red grape variety, but Sangiovese is also turning heads among Australian winemakers and wine-lovers. It was one of Australia’s original alternative varieties and has taken its time to shine, but with better clones selected and winemakers and growers more confident in handling the variety, we are seeing exciting examples produced across regions such as Barossa and McLaren Vale, as well as Victoria’s King Valley, Beechworth, and Heathcote.
Quality Sangiovese is prized for its high acid, firm tannins, and balance. Dark cherries and blackberry are characteristic and may be backed by secondary notes of tomato leaf and dried herbs.
Sangiovese comes into its own when matched with food. Its tangy acidity goes well with tomato-based dishes and its savoury nature suits barbequed and grilled meats.
Looking for a dish to pair with Sangiovese? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Sangiovese
Originally from the Piedmont region of Italy and the country’s third most planted grape, Barbera is known for its medium bodied nature, black fruit flavours and a high acidity that makes it appear juicy. It’s the perfect red wine for the Australian summer as it is soft and approachable with an abundance of mid-weight fruit flavours such as cherries, plums, anise, spice, and liquorice on the palate to pepper, plums, cherries, smoke, and violets on the nose.
The Barbera grape normally prefers a cooler climate like the Adelaide Hills, King Valley, Alpine Valley, Orange, and Hilltops, where it produces richer, more complex wines. However, due to its high natural acidity, it also thrives in moderate and warmer regions including the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, Mudgee, and Gundagai.
With good natural acids and soft tannins, Barbera is perfect for the wide range of Mediterranean-style foods that are rich or high in fat. It’s an absolute crowd-pleaser served with dishes like pizza, mushroom pasta, spaghetti Bolognese, sausage, antipasto selections and slow cooked tomato-based dishes.
Looking for a dish to pair with Barbera? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Barbera
Montepulciano has really taken off in Australia over the past decade, perhaps due to its suitability to our climate and a drinking trend seeing the rise in popularity of Euro-style wines.
Monte has had success in our vast range of climates, possibly because it’s a relatively late ripening variety. Also, like Shiraz, it’s hardy, disease-resistant and can handle the heat and the cold. Look out for examples from Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley and Riverland.
Dark, rich, intense, and brooding, Monte’s appeal lies in its beautifully generous fruit, including red plum, sour cherry, and boysenberry, along with its moderate acidity, so if you love Australian Shiraz, you’ll probably love Monte too!
So, what foods pair well with Montepulciano? The general fruit intensity and richness of Monte means that it’s a natural match to an array of rich and intensely flavoured dishes – avoid anything too light or delicate. Natural pairings include ragu and other hearty, slow-cooked dishes, pasta, pizza, and barbequed food. Non-meat eaters can enjoy Monte with roasted vegetables, or anything mushroom, or tomato based. Perhaps surprisingly, it can also be paired with oily fish like tuna and salmon.
Looking for a dish to pair with Montepulciano? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Montepulciano
Australia's Best Red Wine Blends
In Australia, some of our most revered reds have also been Shiraz blends. In particular, Shiraz blended with Cabernet, a beguiling combination that has become known as the ‘Great Australian Red’ and is the secret to the global success of wines such as Penfold’s Grange and Bin 389, and Yalumba’s Signature.
The reason these two great wines work so well together is due to the firm, fruity body of Australian Shiraz perfectly filling out the mid-palate of Cabernet – these red wine varieties are a delectable duo indeed!
Looking for a dish to pair with a Shiraz Cabernet? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Shiraz Cabernet
Shiraz Viognier blends are perfumed, complex and elegant with an aromatic range that extends from strawberries and spice all the way through to herbed and spiced blueberries, blackberries and cherries. In the mouth, they are ethereal; beautifully concentrated but driven by discreet, restrained power. Texturally silky, they somehow carry generous intensity without the weight that usually goes with wines of such concentration and length.
Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier is considered amongst the best that Australia can produce. It is one of the most collected wines in Australia, with Master of Wine, Andrew Calliard believing the wine “represents the most important advances in the development of Australian Shiraz since the release of 1952 Penfolds Grange Hermitage.”
Looking for a dish to pair with a Shiraz Viognier? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Shiraz Viognier
Roast duck with roasted cherries
Shiraz Pinot Noir
Shiraz Pinot has become quite fashionable, particularly in the Hunter Valley where several local winemakers are utilising Pinot’s lifted aromatics and fresh acidity to add elegance and brightness to Shiraz. However, it is really of case of ‘everything old is new again’. Legendary winemaker Maurice O’Shea actually popularised the blend when he was establishing his Mount Pleasant label almost a century ago, and it seems the trend has come full circle.
Looking for a dish to pair with a Shiraz Pinot? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with Pinot Noir
GRENACHE SHIRAZ MOURVÉDRE (GSM)
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 blends.
Looking for a dish to pair with a GSM? Try these recipes from Selector magazine...
Best recipes to pair with GSM
Learn more about red wine
Learn more about different types of red wine, [https://www.wineselectors.com.au/wine-varieties] and discover everything there is to know about white wine varieties.
Or, check out Selector for some more great food and wine pairings, including our Food and Wine Matching 101 article – an excellent read over a glass of your favourite!
So, if you want to know which red wine type is best, it really is a personal choice. Wine Selectors carries an enormous range of world-class Australian red wines from across our great regions, ready for those interested in trying something new, or stocking their cellars with their favourites and some of the best red wines on offer.