Australia’s thirst for wine from lesser-known grape varieties is on the rise. Entries in the iconic Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show have grown exponentially in recent years, and according to Wine Australia, when we’re talking wine, Australians prefer to pour a white wine. So, what are some good white wines to try beyond the usual suspects of chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and riesling?
The coasts of Galicia, Spain and northern Portugal are home to albariño. In Australia, the origins of this white wine were somewhat obscured until DNA testing confirmed that early albariño plantings were, in fact, the French grape savagnin. Mystery solved, albariño can now be found producing a dry white wine, usually unoaked with refreshing acidity and often with a light spritz on the palate. Bursting with white blossoms, ripe green apple, stone and citrus fruit flavours, albariño, like sauvignon blanc, works well with seafood, especially oysters, octopus, fish tacos and seafood risottos.
Top pick: Marieta Albariño
Vermentino grapes are grown throughout Italy and thought to have been imported from Spain during the Middle Ages. Areas such as Liguria, Tuscany and the island of Sardinia are known for vermentino, as is the south of France and the island of Corsica. A 1970s arrival to Australia, vermentino has flavours of ripe green apple, lemon and fresh herbs, with a nutty almond finish. Like sauvignon blanc or semillon, this white wine makes a great aperitif and pairs well with salads and grilled fish. Richer styles of vermentino partner perfectly with lobster and tomato-based pasta dishes.
Top pick: Amore Bello Vermentino
Viognier is originally from Northern Rhône, France and dates from the 1970s in Australia. It can produce several types of white wine, including dessert wine. Dry white wine styles range from light and fresh to rich and full-bodied. Filled with jasmine and honeysuckle, juicy stone fruit, quince and tropical fruit, viognier can be similar to chardonnay but more aromatic, and fresh like a sauvignon blanc but with lower acidity. It has excellent food-matching capacity and options include crab, lobster, fish, chicken and pork. It also goes well with lightly spiced foods like chicken korma.
Top pick: Yalumba Y Series Viognier
An Austrian native, grüner veltliner brings a spicy twist to dry white wines. Grüner, as it is often shortened to, produces a range of styles from light and crisp such as pinot grigio, to full-flavoured wines with the rich generosity of pinot gris. Expect juicy grapefruit and lemon citrus alongside peach and nectarine stone fruit, topped off with moreish peppery spice and maybe even a hint of tropical fruit. Grüner pairs just as well with sushi, sashimi and fresh Asian salads as it does with chicken, pork or lentil stews.
Top pick: Tempus Two Graphite Grüner Veltliner
Verdelho is a stalwart of wines from the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores. Arriving on Australian shores in 1825, most of the world’s verdelho vines can now be found in Australia. Verdelho produces refreshing white wine packed with lemons and limes, ripe tropical fruit such as passionfruit and pineapple, and a dash of ginger. Crisp and dry like an unoaked chardonnay, verdelho is at home with oysters and prawns fresh from the ocean, grilled fish or roasted vegetables and chicken. It does equally well with spicy dishes, especially a zingy Vietnamese salad or soup.
Top pick: Tyrrell’s Old Winery Verdelho