The mofo guide to white wine varieties
With exciting wines such as albariño, gewürztraminer and vermentino making their mark and the weather heating up, there’s no better time to explore the wonderful world of white wine than right now. Here's a quick 101 on the big hitters.
Originating from Rías Baixas in north-western Spain, albariño has been on our radar for a while now, with impressive local examples coming out of the Alpine Valley, Barossa, Hunter Valley and Nagambie. Expect a zippy acidity with flavours of citrus, to apple and even tropical fruit. Can also come with more texture due to some time spent on lees.
Ah, good ol’ chardy, the cool kid everyone wants a piece of – it can be found in every Australian wine region. In the 1980s, some people ran for the hills with the rich, robust and over-oaked styles of chardonnay, but as that tsunami came and went, elegance has returned in its place. Well-structured wines highlighted by things like white stone fruit, citrusy goodness and grapefruit-like acidity have chardy lovers screaming for more. Add jersey caramel and vanilla if oak’s used and the wins keep coming. Winemakers are tinkering with wild ferments and the use of lees too. Hunt down beautiful examples from the Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Margaret River. But that’s not to discount a host of producers outside these boundaries delivering smashing wines; when looking in New Zealand, the Auckland region has some excellent producers, as does Hawke’s Bay and the Waipara Valley.
Mediterranean varieties are really striking a chord in the Australian landscape due to similarities in climate. Later ripening, expressive aromas here hit the mark - think white and yellow blossom with a citrusy vibe. Poached pear peers through sometimes too. Weight and texture from fiano's thick skins deliver a generous and moreish drop. Found throughout a host of regions in Australia, fiano is making some noise in the Alpine Valley, Hunter Valley, Granite Belt and King Valley but the central dance floor appears to be McLaren Vale.
Gewürz sits atop the aromatic variety throne; such an expressive variety, with whiffs of rose petals, Turkish Delight, lychee, citrus and spices such as ginger and cinnamon. Lower acidity is a feature, although it carries higher alcohol and a bigger frame than some other whites. It can be bone- dry but is often made with some residual sugar. Good gewürz is an ideal match for spicy Asian dishes. Check in and around the New England region for particularly excellent examples. It’s scattered throughout New Zealand, too, with its greatest concentration in Marlborough.
Hailing from Austria where it’s the most common white variety in the ground, on these shores it's set up home in the Adelaide Hills. A wine that exudes fresh fruit and finishes crisp, a fine spicy edge is not uncommon. Expect to find an abundance of green apples, pears and stone fruit spilling from your glass.
A French native which can be best described as oily and rich but generous all at the same time. Often blended with roussanne and viognier, it can also fly solo where it shows honeyed characters with touches of citrus and peach. Aged marsanne shows honeyed tones and some nuttiness. There are a few pockets of it around Australia but one of the best and most consistent labels comes from the Nagambie Lakes region in Victoria.
Same same but different. Pinot gris is pinot grigio - the difference is all in the making. Pinot gris styles originate from France where they ooze texture from the use of skin contact and partial or full barrel fermentation. Pinot grigio is Italian inspired to be clean and crisp due to slightly earlier harvesting. This style possesses aromatic energy with a little spice for good measure, with the Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania producing some of Australia’s best. Commonly planted throughout New Zealand, where Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne are two regions worth gravitating to.
I could say glera but you’d say, “what the?” So, let’s run with prosecco – as it’s commonly known. A sparkling wine which originates from Italy and made from the glera grape, prosecco is continuing to gain traction among wine lovers. In recent years, the surge in interest has seen Australian production treble. The King Valley hits the bullseye for Aussie prosecco but there’s bits and pieces of it sprouting all over this vast land. Expect to find pretty scents of cut green apple, little white flowers and pear skin.
Riesling… there’s so much to the variety. Riesling can be an aperitif, or match food beautifully. It can be aged for years, which will change its structure, appearance and of course, taste. Or, you can just indulge and drink it fresh with a bucketload of seafood! In cricketing terms, think of rizza as your classic middle order batter. Cool under pressure with always something simmering away to add value, yet there’s a cheeky side, revealed when you least expect it. And when all seems lost, there it is to be relied upon to do the job. Australia produces some of the world’s great rieslings and these mainly come from South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys, but don't sleep on riesling from Canberra District, Victoria, southern Western Australia and Tasmania either.
More aromatic and leaner through the body than its fat friend marsanne, roussanne is more closely related to viognier. It’s not a variety that likes a lot of heat, yet there are plenty of warm region roussannes being produced in Australia. Look for beautiful florals and pear with nutty characters building with age. Chase down cool climate producers from Beechworth, Canberra and the Yarra Valley with riper, warmer climate examples from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and McLaren Vale.
The green-skinned wonder grape originating from France, 'savvy b' is wonderfully versatile, making just about every kind of style. From the 'cheap and cheerful' to the 'expensive and chic' wines of France's Loire Valley, Bordeaux and famously, New Zealand's Marlborough. Known for its pungent aromas, its bursting with fresh, fruity and often powerful 'grassy' flavours, boasting a high natural acidity. A highly distinctive and often elegant wine, you always know sauv when you see it.
Previously, many sems were made for bottle age only but winemakers have reinvented themselves stylistically and are now producing crisp and fresh semillon dripping in citrusy goodness. No other place on the planet makes semillon as good as the Hunter Valley, and the evolution of Hunter Valley semillon now enables these wines to be consumed within months of being picked. What to look for? In younger sem, lemons and limes are the classic go-to, with the occasional appearance of lemon sherbet. Aged sem starts to show lemon balm, citrus zest and lemon juice aromas. Honeyed tones schmooze on in too. But it’s the texture that really makes the difference in aged semillon; it develops a distinctive hug of almond croissant-like toasty goodness that nowhere else in the world seems able to replicate. Semillon is a unique and wonderful beast you should befriend.
This Italian variety has found a happy home in Australia away from its roots in Sardinia, and our Australian outdoor lifestyle screams for refreshing white wines like vermentino. It’s a fabulous alternative to savvy b, delivering clean, crisp and refreshing fruit. Drenched in lemony goodness, reach out to regions such as the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, Heathcote and Riverland with worthy contenders coming from cool climate regions such as the Granite Belt, King Valley and Clare Valley.
Phew, thirsty after all of that? Check out our killer white wine line-ups.