14 of the most delicious Australian wines you've never heard of

"I'm pulling out 47-year-old shiraz vines to plant Touriga Nacional," says Steve Pannell of SC Pannell as we chat about the wave of new grape varieties coming to Australian vineyards and wine labels.

His 2015 SC Pannell McLaren Vale Touriga Cabernet Mataro racked up a swag of trophies at wine shows last year. The lead wine in this blend, Touriga Nacional, is perhaps the most famed black variety of Portugal. He's currently making five wines with it.

"Touriga is exciting in whatever you put it in. I can't get enough of it."

Let's talk white grapes

Indeed Steve Webber, another winemaking guru at De Bortoli, has just come back from a research tour of Portugal. It seems to be the hot travel destination for Aussie winemakers right now.

And not surprisingly, Webber has a Touriga blend, too, from De Bortoli's King Valley vineyard, to be released under their Vinoque label. But after his recent trip, he's talking all about white grapes.

"We rely too much on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio in our warm climates. We're really interested in making white wine in Heathcote and King Valley, with varieties like Rabigato, Alvarinho, Gouveio, Fiano, Greco."

The Mediterranean influence

These grapes Webber mentions are again a mixture of origins. Whereas Australian wine was established on French classics, winemakers are increasingly looking to a collection of warm Iberian and Mediterranean regions for inspiration, such as Greece, Portugal and southern Italy.

Chalmers, who have been growing grapes since the 1970s, are Australia's leading importer of Italian grapevines. They started importing Italian varieties in the '90s, and have about 50 varieties at their Mildura nursery. The also have a vineyard in Heathcote where they release their own branded wines.

Matching the grape to the climate

Amongst other varieties, Chalmers introduced Nero D'Avola to Australia, a variety that is proving exceptionally well suited to our warm regions, right through to the hot Riverland in South Australia. The variety has certainly taken off these last few years.

Advertisement

Nero D'Avola, along with Fiano, are the two biggest hits of alternative varieties right now. Company director Kim Chalmers hints at a few new names on the horizon.

"We're really excited about Falanghina and Pecorino in the whites, and Piedirosso as a red grape. Falanghina and Piedirosso are both from Campania, just like Aglianico, Greco and Fiano, which we've had success with. Pecorino is from the Adriatic Coast: it's a bit fruitier and fun when compared to the taste of Fiano."

A new household name

Yes, the names of these alternative varieties can be seemingly unpronounceable at first. But, don't be afraid. They're really charming when you get to know them. Give them a try, because in a few years, they could be as household as Pinot Gris.

On the topic "alternative" wines, whilst the likes of Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Munier aren't exactly new kids on the black in Australia, the emergence of more varietal bottlings of these underrated grapes suggest they're on the rise.

Take a look at the gallery above to see some of the best new and emerging wines to wrap your lips around.