Food & Drink

What's Your Wine Type?

By Alex Mitcheson
26th Mar 2016

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” Alexander Fleming was a wise man.

Landing on the moon, the Internet, and wine are surely some of Mankind’s greatest achievements? Most of us like to crack a bottle and pour ourselves a glass in many situations, whether it be a dinner with friends, a few drinks outside in the sun, or even just a cheeky glass with a good book and some quiet time. There are however times when we take a sip and think to ourselves, “Hmmm it’s ok I guess…” or “I… don’t think I like this?” and that, folks, is fair enough!

Most people actively look for and buy one wine type or grape, or from a particular country. There is however huge opportunity for differences in flavour and texture if you follow this rule. So, here we have a concise and informative run down of the main varieties in both red and white. Meaning you can walk into the bottle shop feeling confident or next time the waiter hands you the wine list you can smile and not feel your heart begin to race. ‘Cause we’re nice like that.

Pinot Noir

Pinor Noir is an incredibly fussy grape for vineyards to grow, being very particular in what conditions it likes to be grown! Put that diva behaviour aside though and what you have is a light and easy to drink red wine. Generally cherry and strawberries are the main fruit characters as well as light tannins, (remember, high tannins give wine more body). This drop is grown all over the world but most notably in Burgundy France, where it is light and complex, Central Otago New Zealand where the style is more intense, and Victoria and Tasmania where it can vary.

Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

Think Bonny and Clyde, Batman and Robin, and Beavis and Butthead. These two varieties love to be together. Cabernet Sauvignon on its own can be quite heavy and intense, with notably high tannins (high tannins also give that drying effect or “cotton mouth”). Merlot on the other hand is softer and less aromatic, but normally produces more alcohol, woohoo! Depending on where both these are grown will change its flavour; a hotter climate produces black fruit (black cherry, blackberry) while a cooler climate more red fruit flavour (strawberry, plum). Bordeaux France is the true home of these two, but they are grown worldwide. Here in Australia the best regions seem to be the Coonawarra and Margaret River. Cracking with steak or lamb.

Shiraz/Syrah and Grenache

Another power couple in the grape world, Shiraz is known the world over as Syrah but the name was changed when it was introduced to the Lucky Country (don’t ask us why, there’s a few theories). These two though are up a notch in their overall body and intensity compared with the previous pair. Shiraz is popular here in Australia, most particularly from the Barossa Valley. It loves to be in a hot climate and will produce those black fruit flavours but also chocolate/coffee notes. In a moderate climate like the Rhone Valley France, it will display herbaceous and spice characteristics. Grenache is a touch lighter and will naturally have spicy hints and liqourice flavours. It too is a grape that produces high alcoho, and so brings the guts to the party. Grenache however will tend to lighten the boldness of Shiraz; there are some superb examples of this blend out there.


Probably one of the world’s most widely drunk white wines, Chardonnay is grown in a large variety of conditions and therefore is available in a large variety of styles and flavours. Claiming you like Chardonnay therefore should kinda be backed up with a region or country where you like it from (sorry to say!). Cooler climates like the north of France produce apple and pear flavours, moderate climates found in the Yarra Valley bring on citrus and melon, while hot climates like California will produce more tropical fruit (yep, honest) like pineapple, mango, and fig. Chardonnay is often aged in oak barrels that can also add coconut, biscuit, and vanilla notes to the overall wine. Fancy that!

Sauvignon Blanc

Three words: Marlborough, New Zealand. There, we had to say it. Yes, Sauvignon Blanc has in recent times been a roaring success when grown there. The soil and the weather there are pretty perfect for these little white grapes. Producers in the region are experimenting but the classic form is dry, medium bodied, and with intense hits of passion fruit, gooseberry, and citrus. The Loire Valley and Bordeaux France has long been making fine Sauvignon in a more restrained style, with emphasis on aromatics and is often blended with Semillon. Unable to grow in a hot environment, some moderate climates like parts of California and South America produce Sauvignon Blanc but it often takes away the complex aromatics it is revered for.

Pinot Grigio/Gris

There are two names for this variety, the first being the Italian and the latter the French. Pinot Grigio is the wine you want to reach for when the sun is beginning to dip and you’re near a barbeque. In the “drink me now” style, it is dry, medium bodied, and has a good overall neutral fruit flavour; pair it with fish and you are laughing. Pinot Gris is produced mainly in Alsace (near Germany) and NZ. The French style is quite weighty and full bodied with tastes of tropical fruit and even sweetness or honey. The kiwi style is more varied and can be what’s called “bone dry”. Try one or two from our Tasman neighbours, they are easy drinking and could be your new favourite!


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