Discover these autumn wine styles

Written by
Vintage Cellars
May 13, 2019
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As the cooler season kicks into gear, embrace the chill factor and try these varieties that are perfect for the weather right now. Not sure where to start? Spin the flavour wheel to begin your varietal journey.

Read time: 10 minutes

 Autumn is the time for a change of colour. The white wines of summer — prosecco, sparklings and sauvignon blanc — are being replaced with the whites of the cooler autumn and winter months — wines with minerality and richer textures, savouriness and concentration. With the reds of autumn, the hues turn darker, the flavours become more robust and bold, and tannin and oak make their presence more conspicuous in the glass. It’s time for grenache, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and friends.

The autumnal style is generally medium-bodied rather than full-bodied. This style can also be higher in alcohol, which helps warm us in the cooler weather, and the winemaking process more complex. These changes in style not only reflect the turn in the weather but, more importantly, the change in food that arrives on the table once the weather turns colder. Foods become heavier and richer, red meat dishes assume a greater role as do sauces, herbs and spices. We eat seasonally and the wines we drink follow seasonal demand for richness and something warming.

Here, the old food and wine matching motto applies — match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food. A dish that's rich, complex and heavy deserves a similarly weighted wine. Your choices are varied, so autumn can also be a time for discovery and experimentation. Classic grape varieties are always in style, but don’t overlook the success of alternative grape varieties led by the Italians and the Spanish.

  

Grenache blends

In Australia and through much of the wine world where it's grown, this popular grape is known as grenache. In Spain, where it most likely originated, it’s known as garnacha. Whatever the varietal name, the grape’s ability to withstand heat and drought makes it a favourite among many winemakers. Its pleasant, sunny and hugely approachable disposition makes it a star performer with wine drinkers too.

That gives a hint as to why grenache is also in big demand as a blending partner. It is the generous one, the sexy one with the florals, confectionery, liquorice and plummy fruit characters, but it can also need structure and focus in the glass.

Enter GSM — grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre — a classic Aussie style that we've emulated from the Rhône Valley’s Côtes-du-Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, where grenache mixes alongside 14 other permitted grape varieties, including syrah (aka shiraz) and mourvèdre. What is it about the GSM style that drinkers love? The best examples have a seamless quality, so drinkers are automatically attracted to the floral charm of grenache, the strength and tannin of shiraz and mourvèdre’s gentle herbaceousness, pepper and spice. Oh, and GSM blends and their variations offer among the best value going. Not to mention food partners — osso buco, paella, steak and chips.

 

Shiraz

Shiraz encapsulates the essence of Australia, with its open, sunny nature and generous personality. It shines as a $10 everyday drink, but it can also confidently stride the world's wine stage representing the pinnacle of Australian winemaking, with Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace cases in point.

The two most pronounced Australian shiraz styles relate to where the grape is grown. In warmer regions, such as South Australia's Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, it reveals a boldness with concentrated black fruits, high spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg) accentuated by toasty, vanilla oak. The warm-climate shiraz style is generally full-bodied and delivers with power.

In cooler regions, such as Canberra, Yarra Valley, Geelong and the Adelaide Hills, the profile changes to highlight red fruits, herbs, stewed plums and pepper, matched more subtly with oak. Expect a more medium-bodied style from these cooler sites.

The grape came to France via the Mediterranean and settled in the Rhône Valley by the time the Roman Empire was established (about 750BC). The French call the shiraz grape “syrah,” pronounced cee-rah. Increasingly, more Australian winemakers are using syrah on their labels.

Shiraz has the ability to match many different foods, from pâté, sausage rolls and fancy pies through to red and white meats, venison, hamburgers and parmesan cheeses.

 

Cabernet sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is one of the most planted red grapes in the world. Its reputation as a wine of great richness and longevity is founded and based largely on the wines of Bordeaux, its spiritual home.

As a young, still immature red wine, it can appear leafy or herbal on the nose and is often tannic and mouth-puckering on the palate with a definite berry taste, mostly blackberry or blackcurrant. Oak plays a role in enhancing the wine’s appeal, imparting an attractive spiciness and toasty char. Australian cabernet sauvignon, depending on the region, can also sport an eucalypt or minty smell that relates to the proximity of eucalyptus trees to the vineyards.

Cabernet sauvignon, according to DNA profiling, is the offspring of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, which explains cabernet sauvignon’s often herbal, grassy intensity (thanks to the sauvignon blanc ancestry). Merlot is also the progeny of cabernet franc, making cabernet sauvignon and merlot half-siblings! This explains why all three grapes make easy blending partners in a union, referred to as a “Bordeaux blend.”

In Australia, cabernet is grown right across the country, including Tasmania, but its premier regions remain Coonawarra and Margaret River. Food and wine matching guidance? Pair it with roast lamb and beef, casseroles, hamburgers, vintage Cheddar, Stilton and Brie.

 

International reds

Our national palate has been growing in its taste preferences, and this tight-knit bunch of “international reds” is largely responsible for it. Often these wines hail from Italy. Piedmont, in the north, brings us nebbiolo, the grape behind barolo, which is famous for its ability to age and just a little infamous for its aggressive tannins. Tuscany’s sangiovese is the crowd-pleaser, a grape that brings luscious blackberry, black cherries, raspberry, liquorice and spice, all in the one glass.

The further south you roam in Italy, the more rustic and bold the wines become, a result of the increased and intensive sunlight hours. Primitivo is the notable grape of Apulia, but it is known as zinfandel outside Italy and crafted into rich and luscious reds in California. On the island of Sicily, nero d’Avola beautifully exhibits the warmth and generosity of its sun-drenched island.

Portuguese winemakers are embracing their indigenous grape varieties, creating dry reds that make magic with food. The great red grape of rioja in Spain is tempranillo and, it’s rightly lauded for its striking perfume and generosity of black fruits, spice, fleshy texture and tannin.

Carménère, a grape believed to have its origins in Bordeaux, is now one of Chile's signature grapes. Was it planted in the belief it was merlot? The jury is out, but the grape shares the aromatic, leafy, red berry charm of merlot and it brings structure, too.

 

Rosé

Despite the name, rosé is not colour specific. Shades range from the merest suggestion of a blush to a strong purple tint. Whether cerise, cranberry, fuchsia, magenta or maroon, through to peach, damask or
tea rose, half the pleasure in pouring a rosé is its hue.

Rosé is a style of wine and not decided by the grape. Merlot is just as welcome as grenache, shiraz or pinot noir. In recent years, Italian grapes have become popular conduits for the style, with nebbiolo and sangiovese making deliciously savoury examples.

Some rosés are made saignée-style, which employs the lighter-coloured juice run-off during the making of a dry red. More complex methods involve greater attention to detail, such as using multiple grape varieties, the blending of different parcels of fruit that have undergone different winemaking techniques and other tricky winemaking techniques.

Rosé can be seen as a summer style, but it doesn’t have to be. It is also seen as a wine that doesn’t age, but that's not necessarily the case, either. Good rosé tends to be producer-driven rather than region-based, the exception being the rosés of France's Provence and the Bandol area, which are considered benchmarks for the style.

And what a match rosé can make with food, offering a contrast to dishes such as roast duck or roast turkey, and a brilliant foil to the spice of Spanish or Chinese dishes.

 

Pinot gris and grigio

Pinot gris, the grape with the multiple and fascinating personalities is so hot right now. The fact that drinkers can enjoy two distinct styles from the one grape works in its favour. When the winemaker chooses the grape, that’s when the style is decided. Pick the grape early during harvest when acidity is still lip-smackingly taut, and you get the Italian-style pinot grigio, which is lean and tight and almost always unwooded. Expect apple, citrus and hay at the fore of aroma and palate and don’t worry about bottle ageing.

Pick later, when sugar levels in the grapes are higher, and you get Alsatian-style pinot gris — textural, luscious with spiced apples, ripe pears, honey and apricot. Many gris producers opt for a winemaking mixture of stainless steel for freshness and old oak with lees stirring for texture. The result is a complex wine with a broad range of flavours, which makes the grape a master of food matching. Richer styles can easily manage complex foods and spices, such as paella, roast pork, cassoulet, game, washed rind cheeses and desserts such as tarte tatin, playing to the grape’s apple and pear flavours.

The cooler the site, the more the grape loves it, whether it’s Lombardy and Alto Adige in Italy or Alsace in France. In Australia, cool regions, such as Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Canberra, are producing star turns.

 

Chardonnay

Is there a grape more perfectly suited to every major Australian region than chardonnay? Since its first commercial appearance in Australia in the 1970s, it has proven to be the perfect all-rounder. Picked early to retain high natural acidity, chardonnay brings a touch of finesse to the intensity of its pinot noir partner in some of this country’s best sparkling wines. In blanc de blancs sparkling, it plays a strictly solo role, providing a chance for the grape to truly sing. Think of smoked fish, chicken pâté and shellfish for a perfect food match.

The chardonnay grape comes into its own as a table wine. Styles vary dramatically depending on winemaking. Some winemakers favour a wine with a firm minerally acid backbone that tunes into the grape’s more delicate citrus — lemon, lime, grapefruit — characters. Others prefer the subtle influence of oak, usually French-sourced, which ties in beautifully with the riper, tropical fruit qualities of the grape and brings texture to the palate.

This richer, fuller example comes into its own as a match with roast pork, chicken or pasta, especially when spicy or creamy sauces are involved. And, almost always, seafood. The benchmark by which winemakers everywhere judge their ability with the grape is Burgundy.

 

Riesling

A classic grape variety, riesling is most suited to regions high in altitude and cool in climate; both are elements that promote the grape’s high acidity and floral intensity.

Picked early, riesling is all about a fragrant floral and spring blossom bouquet supported by citrus, grapefruit and crunchy green apple on the palate. The longer the fruit is left on the vine, the riper the fruit characters. Australian wine regions suited to the grape highlight different parts of its personality.

The Clare Valley style is concentrated lime cordial with a firm backbone, while the Eden Valley offers high florals. In Canberra, the cooler, higher sites produce great delicacy with an apple, citrusy freshness and fine acidity. Western Australia’s Great Southern region offers signature floral, lavender intensity and complex flavours. And don’t forget Tasmania, where the grape features thrillingly crisp acidity, and Victoria’s south west around Drumborg with its age-worthy mineral-edged rieslings. Outside Australia, Germany and Austria define the standard.

Riesling can be dry, off-dry or semi-sweet and makes glorious dessert wines. Winemakers are now venturing into interesting territory, with wild yeast fermentation (for creamy layers of complex flavours) and time on grape skins (for savoury softness and unconventional aromas). Food matching ranges from calamari and oysters, to pasta and cheeses, like Gouda and feta.