Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache and more …
Big, fruity, heavy, jammy, tannic… these are some of the words that may spring to mind when someone offers you a glass of red. But “it ain’t necessarily so”. Light-bodied reds – with their translucent colour, delicate aroma and mouth feel, and often a slightly lower alcohol content – are the perfect way to adjust to the changing seasons.
The list of lighter reds starts with pinot noir, its supple frame offering swathes of red fruit flavours and just the right amount of tannin. Although the historic home of pinot noir is the Burgundy region of France, Victoria is where some of Australia’s best examples hail, ably supported by Tasmania with its gentle maritime climate, and regions across the Tasman such as Martinborough and Central Otago. Pinot noir is a classic case of intensity rather than density, which makes it very food friendly. It works across a range of cuisines from spicy Asian to lamb and game, to flavourful ocean fish.
Up until quite recently, gamay was better known as Beaujolais, the French wine made from the gamay grape. Gamay shares a lot of characteristics with pinot noir – it’s a light-bodied red with a fruit-filled aroma and a delicate palate. Here in Australia, in the past few years it’s gone from being a small-time variety grown almost exclusively in Victoria, to a vin du jour that’s been cropping up in Tasmania, the Canberra District and the Adelaide Hills. The top spots are (arguably) still the cooler regions around Melbourne, with Hawke’s Bay in NZ snapping at their heels. Gamay is a winner with charcuterie plates and white-rind cheeses.
At one end of the spectrum, grenache can be complex and rich. At the other, it can be light to medium bodied with lots of juicy red fruit and understated tannin. Australian winegrowers are increasingly moving towards the latter style, picking earlier, pressing gently, and avoiding new oak. Few of these wines are 100 per cent grenache. Shiraz/syrah is used to add depth; mourvèdre is blended in to build complexity. They often appear on shelves as GSM (grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre), but are occasionally labelled SGM, or even MSG. Try one with barbecued meats, char-grilled chicken or a mushroom pizza.
Regular readers will know syrah is another name for shiraz, but here in the southern hemisphere, it’s being used to indicate an expression of wine made in the cooler regions. It’s a style considered featherweight when compared to the more intense and muscular versions of Aussie shiraz. Look to the Adelaide Hills, Orange, the Canberra district and Hawke’s Bay NZ, where the term ‘syrah’ is used to describe a bright, buoyant, floral style. It’s good with red meat and game, but also vegetarian and vegan dishes with earthy or savoury elements.