Australian red wine is revered the world over for its quality (and, usually, fair price point). Whether it’s a summertime Pinot by the sea, or breaking out the roasting pan (or slow cooker) with a big, peppery Shiraz when the mercury drops, there’s little denying that red wine in Australia is more than just a passing fad. One of the advantages of living down under is that you don’t have to look very far to find the best Australian red wine, as there is an abundance of top-rated growers, producers, and Australian wine brands dedicated to making some seriously outstanding red wine varieties that are truly vin rouge.
Whether you’re spending a relaxing night at a wine bar in Melbourne, or enjoying a glorious summer day in the Yarra Valley, there are amazing offerings for everyone who’s interested. So what is it about Australian red wine that makes it so bloody tasty? Our sunny climate and varied terrain are perfect for making lip-smacking reds, from the rivers and hills of Tasmania to the coastline of Western Australia. Sure, the Europeans do a fantastic job and have a few thousand years’ experience on us, but in terms of quality and bang for your buck, Australian red wine is where it’s at. From easy-drinking, fruity red wines to inspiring regional blends from locations throughout the country, you can’t go wrong with Australian reds. While it may be a somewhat futile attempt to definitively answer the all-important question “what is the best red wine in Australia”, it is fun to try. So without further ado, here are some of our favourite varieties that will knock your socks off and keep you toasty on these cooler nights. Our Australian red wine ratings are in…
Australian Pinot Noir
There are many good red wine brands making ripping Pinots in Australia, and they can be made in so many marvellous ways. They can be complex and spicy, elegant and floral or even just juicy and smashable; their versatility makes them one of the best Australian red wines you can buy.
Today, we lean towards an Australian red wine that is a bit more muscular than your typical Pinot. More tannins, more mouthfeel, and a longer finish; something more complex and powerful. I was recently in Tasmania and here I found my perfect breed of Pinot — Gutsy Pinots with more depth, something I could tuck into with my steak. Pinot is a great alternative when you don’t want to eat your wine. The tannins, alcohol content and body of some of our classic bigger wines can be too much of a mouthful if you don’t want that crusty, drunk-uncle-stained-teeth look.
The Pinot Noir grape needs a cool climate, like Burgundy, so you’re making a safe bet with producers from Victoria (specifically Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula) and Tasmania.
A few good eggs to try are:
- Mac Forbes Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2017 ($30) – A brilliant Yarra Valley producer who has blended the delicious fruit from 6 vineyards to achieve a vibrant drop with great acid, and easily one of the best Australian red wines for the price.
- Dexter Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2016 ($55) – Perfumed, dark berries, silky tannins with a sprinkle of sassy spice.
- Ocean 8 Pinot Noir Mornington Peninsula 2016 ($55) – Absolutely scrummy. Bright and fresh red fruits, a tickle of spice and cured meats but beware, one drop of this and you’ll want the whole bottle to yourself, so grab a cab.
- By Farr Pinot Noir Geelong 2015 ($75) – Man oh man this is a muscled-up and savvy Pinot. Earthy and savoury with uplifting red and black fruit. Delicious now or pop a bottle away for something special. James Halliday is a big fan.
- Sinapius Clariet 2016 Tasmania ($68) – this is the pièce de résistance of YUM. Luscious red fruits, pretty floral notes, and a subtle undertone of game and minerals. It hung out in French oak for 15 months and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. Delicious!
Mmmm spicy, sexy, sultry Shiraz, aka Syrah (its French name). When wine connoisseurs around the world think about Australian red wine, more often than not, they will think of Shiraz. Shiraz is Australia’s stable red grape variety – making it an incredibly popular Australian red wine. It continues to dominate the Australian wine scene and is equally as popular abroad – featuring at the core of Australia’s tremendous export success.
Expect intense and earthy flavours with spice and dark fruits. It’s definitely a winner in my books and a general crowd-pleaser. I’m yet to meet a red lover who’s not a fan of Shiraz. It’s a quality wine, everytime.
The best Australian Shiraz can range from medium and spicy to big and ballsy. What will make a big difference in your fine drop is where it’s grown, and the climate. Here are some regions that won’t let you down.
Barossa and McLaren Vale – the big guns of South Australia, from the heart of Aussie wine country. Their vines are old and they have won many international awards. Expect colossal, intense wines with jumbo-yumbo tannins.
Canberra and Hunter Valley – these are my favourites. You will find lots of sassy pepper and spice with great acid and a complex flavour profile. A little more dialed-back than the big guns of SA; elegant with a youthful vibrancy.
Heathcote – velvety with chocolate notes and smooth tannins. This smooth red wine has spent plenty of time on oak, to balance out the bucket loads of fruit in the taste.
Stick these in your pie hole:
- Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz Canberra 2016 ($36) – Rich, intense dark berries, it’s potent, spicy and smooth; an unreal bottle of plonk.
- Ruggabellus Archeaus (Shiraz dominant) ($58) – earthy, approachable and spicy, with lovely black fruit. BUY THIS WINE. It’s all kinds of goodness, like a beautiful mystery in a glass vase.
- Savaterre Shiraz Beechworth 2013 ($72.99) – If you ever get a chance, visit this place. Its owner and winemaker, Keppell Smith, is a top-notch human, and you really get a sense of him and the sunburnt, bushranger landscape in this wine. Bushranger wine … how could you say no to that? A good red wine, exhibiting smoky, meaty, clove, and dark fruit flavours … goddamn delicious.
- Rockford Basket Press or Henschke Hill of Grace – Let’s not beat around the bush, if you’re going in hard then let me direct you to some of our top Australian heritage Shiraz – South Australia’s stallions; the Rockford Basket Press, and Henschke Hill of Grace. Any year will do. They will knock your socks off and flatten your wallet all at the same time.
- Penfolds Grange – Arguably our most famous and best red wine brands, Grange has been in continuous production since 1951, and has proved to be both a great wine to crack for special occasions, and a wise investment. No list of the best Australian red wines could exclude Penfolds Grange.
Known as the ‘King of Red Wine’, which will make sense after you crack that bottle! Think steak in a glass. It’s decadent and luxurious with big velvety tannins. I feel like Cabernet is what the Vikings were drinking (if they were drinking Australian red wine, that is). A big, bold glass of cab-sav is arguably the best red wine to drink with a premium cut of juicy red meat.
The worlds’ oldest productive Cabernet Sauvignon vines are thought to be located in the northern Barossa at Penfolds and were planted in 1886. This is because the Europeans had theirs ruined by a rather nasty bug called Phylloxera in the 19th century, poor buggers.
Australian Cabernet is our best-kept secret, and are easily on par with the quality from the Northern Hemisphere. For this reason, you probably won’t pay through the nose for a really good drop. It will have firm tannins so expect that crusty-red-wine-stained-drunk-uncle look if you are tucking into more than a glass, which I hope you will.
In Australia, some of our best examples are the Megawatt Cabs that come out of Margaret River and the Coonawarra classics that are finer and a little more reserved. But to throw tradition into the wind I’ve thrown in a couple of other best Australian cabernet producing curveballs below. A couple might satisfy your budget for best wines under $100, but the more expensive ones are definitely worth a look, and are considered amongst the best red wines in Australia.
- Redman Cab Coonawarra SA 2015 ($30) – Quintessentially Coonawarra, drink it now or, even better, keep it. If you’re going to keep it, buy a case so you can have half now and half later. At $30 it’s good value and popular red wine. Rich fruit, thick tannins, and a slightly gritty Straya’n finish.
- Peterson’s 2015 ($50) – Dark as the night; spicy and rich. You will get sweet black fruits on the nose with herbs like eucalyptus and mint, chocolate and game on the palate. Another good drop to keep or drink.
- Deep Woods Cabernet 2014 Western Australia ($116) – winner of many awards including the coveted Jimmy Watson. A really good red wine, and a beautiful representation of a WA Cabernet; fruit-forward, complex, intense.
- Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($210) – Coal River Tasmania. Tassie is not known for it’s Cabernet but this drop will blow your brains out. Mega famous woman of wine Jancis Robertson will tell you. Some say this top red wine is Australia’s best Cabernet, you make up your mind.
- St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon – One of Adelaide’s best reds, minty on the nose and some red fruits up front (though this softens with age), this is a wine to have with roast meat, or on its own after a few years in the cellar.
There is so much fun we Aussies can have with blended red wines, we aren’t restricted by the many rules and regulations of Europe, we are ‘New World’ and it’s party time – often, producing some of the best red wine Australia has to offer.
Think bright, fun fruits, smashable breakfast vino or perhaps a little nod to our old-school authorities with some great backyard Bordeaux blends that could easily rival some of France’s best tasting red wines.
Here are some mouth waterers:
- Tom Shobbrock Tommy Ruff Barossa ($25) – according to Tom this little gem can be enjoyed morning, noon or night. Ripe, plump and fresh for the picking. 50% Shiraz 50% Mourvedre.
- Ruggabellus Efferus Barossa ($45) – Ruggabellus can SRSLY do no wrong. Efferus is a delightful blend of Mataro, Syrah and Grenache, with a sprinkle of Cinsault. Think rustic, meaty and earthy, with dark brooding fruit and powdery tannins.
- Yarra Yering No.1 2015 Yarra Valley ($90) – One of the best red wines coming out of the Yarra Valley. A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon dominant with Merlot, Malbec, and a little Petit Verdot. It’s a steamroller of intense fruit, finesse and bright acid with stunning oak handling and husky tannins. Their award-winning winemaker, Sarah Crowe, will have you wrapped around her little finger.
And here’s a little something fun, while not too common right now, you may soon see a few more Pinot Shiraz blends popping up.
- Usher Tinkler Nose to Tail 2017 Shiraz Pinot blend ($25) – Slurpable and juicy, expect some nice dark fruit and spices.
About the Author: Meet Kate Peck. Starting from humble beginnings at MTV, she is now a reporter for RPM, Network Ten’s Motorsport program and contributes her musings about wine to Man Of Many. A maniac for the grape, Kate has completed her WSET3 qualification and brings her vibrant passion and her infectious energy to the exciting world of wine.