Wine Lists

Alternative varieties to try

By Halliday Promotion

23 Nov, 2023

From lesser-known grapes to Spanish and Italian reds – here are 11 alternative varietals to try.

Below are 11 wines that have each been awarded gold or silver medals at the recent Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

You'll find white wines including crisp expressions of fiano, which came to Australia byway of Italy, and viognier (a grape with French origins). When it comes to red (and rosé) wines, there's a saperavi (a grape native to Georgia), Italian varietals: sangiovese, barbera, montepulciano, and nebbiolo, Spain's famed tempranillo, and French grapes cabernet franc and gamay.

Add these wines to your list.

2022 Arila Gardens Moppa Saperavi

2022 Arila Gardens Moppa Saperavi

Distinctive and intriguing, the aromatics captivate with varietal rustic charm of fresh beetroot juice, fragrant lemon thyme and violets. A rich core of dark savoury fruit provides depth and intensity. Blood plum and purple fig is complex with earthy warm spice and subtle savoury oak. The tannins provide a robust frame and depth to the palate that finishes light and ethereal.

Winemaker Adam Clay says: Our saperavi is sourced from a single vineyard on Moppa Road in the Northern Barossa Valley. Naturally high in tannin and colour, we're very gentle with extraction and mature the wine in old French oak hogsheads. Our aim is to showcase saperavi's uniqueness and potential to produce outstanding wines. 

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
AC. Saperavi shows enormous potential in the Barossa Valley as it holds natural acidity, ripens late in the season which protects the ripe fruit from major heat spikes, and develops flavour at moderately low sugar levels. The resulting wine has moderate alcohol content. Most red grapes are only able to extract colour from their skins but saperavi is one of the rare grapes that also has red pulp – meaning the wines are high in anthocyanins and colour.

Best enjoyed: Keeping with the Georgian theme, pair the 2022 with chakapuli (a lamb and tarragon stew) or khinkali, which is a dumpling filled with minced meat, herb and garlic.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $45 | Drink to 2030 | Shop this wine

2022 Shining Rock Sangiovese

2022 Berrigan Wines Shining Rock Sangiovese

This sangiovese is deliciously soft, complex and fruit driven. Typical of sangiovese, it's very complex yet easy to understand with its blend of herbs and spices intertwined with red fruits and sour cherries. Bright and fresh raspberry, tart cherry, oregano and roast tomato flavours with hints of dark chocolate.

Winemaker Dan Berrigan says: What I love about this wine is that a lot of people haven’t heard of, or tried, sangiovese but as soon as they do they absolutely love it. Its versatility with a wide range of foods makes it really approachable.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
DB. Sangiovese has a great energy to it, which comes from the natural high acidity of the variety. It's delicious and already has great complexity when young, so someone who is new to the wine can enjoy it, but the depth is there for the experienced connoisseur. We believe it will age wonderfully in the next five years and beyond. 

Best enjoyed: The 2022 is great to just crack open and pour. If you have the time, at least an hour beforehand, decanting would help develop even more flavours. Serve the sangiovese at room temperature (between 18–20 degrees), or slightly chilled at approximately 15 degrees. 

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $34.95 | Drink to 2028 | Shop this wine

Berton Vineyards Alfresco Range 2022

2022 Berton Vineyards Alfresco Range Fiano

Light straw in colour with a green hue. Our fiano displays lifted aromatics of freshly squeezed lime and passionfruit juice leading to a generous, fruit forward palate of tropical fruits and lemon zest. This wine is textural and wonderfully fruity with fresh bright acidity.

Winemaker James Ceccato says: Mild summer conditions along with idyllic rainfall enabled an extended ripening period, producing wines with optimum acid and fruit flavour retention. The fruit was harvested from a single vineyard in the cool of the night and immediately crushed, destemmed, and chilled to our bag press to preserve freshness and minimise phenolics. The free run juice portion was fermented at a low temperature, using a selective aromatic yeast that promotes thiols and varietal expression. Post fermentation the parcel receives a short time on yeast lees to enhance palate weight and retain brightness, before being blended, filtered and bottled.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
JC. Fiano is among the best Italian grape varietals and produces a white wine with great complexity. Fiano has an appetising nose and ageing potential.

Best enjoyed: Serve at 8–10 degrees in a RIEDEL Ouverture White Wine Glass with a side of fresh seafood. Enjoy the 2022 as an aperitif or pair with fresh fish dishes.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $20 | Drink now | Shop this wine

2023 The Sun Surfer Fiano

2023 d'Arenberg The Sun Surfer Fiano

A wine that you can never get enough of. Light golden yellow colour. Fantastic bouquet with pineapple, melon, hints of mandarin and passionfruit. The palate is an ocean of tropical flavours. Guava, honeydew melon, lychee and nectarine will hit you like a giant wave. An underlying layer of ripe pineapple, honeysuckle blossom and lemon curd gives you a fresh and natural sweet fruit taste. The finish is exceptionally long and pleasant.

Winemakers Chester Osborn and Ben Wilcox say: We love the 2023 for its remarkable versatility. It captivates on its own, while serving as the ideal companion for the perfect dish. Small batches of grapes are gently crushed, chilled and then basket pressed. Fermentation was long and moderately cool to retain fresh fruit characters, and was conducted in stainless steel tanks. Only free run juice was used for the final wine with no malolactic fermentation.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
CO & BW. Fiano distinguishes itself with elevated natural acidity, a rich texture and robust structure. In the vineyard, the southern Italian varietal’s capacity to retain its natural acids, even in hot conditions, grants the grape an extended period for flavour ripening on the vine. This unique attribute contributes to leaner styles acquiring a nuanced complexity, while fuller-bodied variations can be crafted and handle oak influences. In essence, fiano's inherent flexibility enables it to seamlessly integrate and complement any cellar door lineup. 

Best enjoyed: Serve the 2023 at 10–12 degrees (or 8–10 degrees in a warmer environment), and in a large glass to show the abundance of tropical aromatics. The crisp acidity pairs with seafood dishes such as Lobster Thermidor.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $30 | Drink to 2025 | Shop this wine

FIRST RIDGE 2021 Barbera

2021 First Ridge Barbera

Our signature wine has spicy berry fruit aromas with a brooding palate: rich dark plum and spiced vanillin oak. Silky tannins and bright acidity give layers and length.

Winemaker James Manners says: I love the opulence and generosity of flavour in this wine. It's laden with dark fruits but not heavy. Gentle extraction through fermentation allows the fruit to really sing and keep the tannins plush.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
JM. Barbera has a long history in Mudgee and has found a really suitable home here. Our warm days let the fruit ripen to its fullest potential and the cooler nights keep the canopy fresh and vibrant, which is important for this variety.

Best enjoyed: The 2021 is best enjoyed in a large, high-quality glass that allows the wine to breathe and open over the course of the meal. There’s something so nice about a delicate stemmed red wine glass! Barbera is a very versatile variety in terms of food pairing, but you can’t go wrong with an ossobuco. The rustic charm of the slow-cooked meat works so well with the rich and velvety weight of barbera.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $45 | Drink to 2030 | Shop this wine

2022 The Barossan Tempranillo

2022 Peter Lehmann The Barossan Tempranillo

Medium intensity, ruby-red core with a bright crimson hue. Aromas of lifted red cherry and delicious varietal notes of ripe strawberry and Turkish delight. The palate is medium bodied with a textural mid-palate possessing a firm grip, reminiscent of the varietal’s Spanish roots. The finish is vibrant and bright fruited with a length of lightly toasted cedar oak notes and savoury dried fruits.

Winemaker Nigel Westblade says: The Barossan wines are produced to be the quintessential examples of the region’s style. Crafted by the current generation of Peter Lehmann winemakers, The Barossan showcases our ability to source superb fruit from the fabled sub-regions across the Barossa Valley, from growers renowned for their quality.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
NW. A winemaker’s delight, tempranillo is incredible to work with. It ripens earlier than other grapes but is a wine, that when cellared well, will continue to age beautifully. Naturally low acid and an ability to get great tannin ripeness in the Barossa means this wine has a soft, silky mouthfeel allowing it to be paired with a wide range of food.

Best enjoyed: The 2022 is best served lightly chilled in the warmer spring and summer months. It's ideal to enjoy with spicy, rich food. Have a glass with chorizo sausages, nachos, or grilled vegetables. Tempranillo is one of the rare varieties that can be served with almost any cuisine (it's also suitable for consumption sans food)!

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $25 | Drink to 2032 | Shop this wine

2022 RedHeads Studio Bar Montepulciano

2022 RedHeads Studio Bar Montepulciano

Vibrant ruby red in colour with dark cherry and cranberry fruit flavours. A savoury palate with rich grippy tannins.

Winemaker Alex Trescowthick says: This is a single vineyard site we sourced from Pindarie – a small boutique producer on the western ridge of the Barossa. We ferment the montepulciano in small open top fermenters, before hand plunging, and final maturation in seasoned French and American oak for nine months.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
AT. It’s a medium-bodied wine with soft tannins that is intensely aromatic with juicy red plum, cranberry and sour cherry flavours, fruit-laden yet dry and pairs exceptionally well with Italian fare.

Best enjoyed: Montepulciano will reward decanting an hour before drinking, and is perfectly matched to roasted pork shoulder.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $25 | Drink to 2033 | Shop this wine

2022 RedHeads Studio Bar Viognier

2022 RedHeads Studio Bar Viognier

Lifted apricots and apricot nectar aromas with white blossom flower notes. A luscious palate with notes of apricot and apricot nectar and hints of lychee and spice from oak aging. 

Winemaker Alex Trescowthick says: Gently pressed, early cut, free-run juice only to obtain purity in fruit flavours. Fermented in seasoned French oak barrels. We love the texture and layers of the wine with pure fruit and subtle oak characters and mid-weight palate.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
AT. Viognier is deliciously aromatic. The 2022 has a distinctive perfume of stone fruit, most noticeably apricot, yet it is still quite dry on the palate.

Best enjoyed: Serve chilled. This is a luscious wine that pairs with rich flavours such as roast chicken, turkey or prawns. The 2022 pairs particularly well with curries and spicy dishes, or try it with a salad featuring apricots to match the apricot notes in the wine.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $25 | Drink to 2028 | Shop this wine

Rokkwell bottleshot

2023 rokkwell Nebbiolo Rosé

Crushed strawberries, white pepper and almond on the nose. The palate is crisp and fresh with raspberries, strawberries and notes of red apple, underpinned by a juicy acid line, subtle savouriness and fine grain tannins on the finish. 

Winemaker Dawn Walker says: The grapes were hand harvested and whole bunch pressed to stainless steel tank. Once fermentation was complete, the wine was left on lees for a period of time to add extra character and mouthfeel. What I love most about this wine is the juicy, refreshing acidity and fine grain tannins. 

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
DW. A native varietal from the Piedmont region in Italy, this unique variety is distinguished by its high tannins and high natural acidity, allowing for beautifully complex and ageworthy wines to be produced. These characteristics of the nebbiolo grape, along with the delicate red fruit, floral and savoury notes, allow for a fresh, crisp, and textural style of rosé.

Best enjoyed: The wine can be consumed on its own or paired with food – try it with soft cheeses, grilled salmon dishes, or Asian-style salads. It's best served chilled around 8-10 degrees.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $33 | Drink to 2025 | Shop this wine

2022 Skillogalee Small Batch Cabernet Franc

2022 Skillogalee Small Batch Cabernet Franc

Ruby red in the glass, this beautiful wine offers aromas of violets, blackcurrant, plum and cherry, with hints of cedar, tobacco, and green bell pepper. On the palate, it's medium bodied with dark fruit flavours, earthy and herbal undertones, balanced by good acidity and firm tannins, culminating in a lovely long finish.

Winemaker Kerri “KT” Thompson says: Made with hand-harvested grapes from old, low-yielding estate vines, our cabernet franc is praised for its elegance and refined sensory characteristics. The wine is complex, structured and vibrant, and celebrates the distinct attributes of cabernet franc. Only 100 cases were made from the 2022 vintage.

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
KT. Cabernet franc, with its unique flavour profile and versatility in winemaking, is gaining increased recognition in Australia. While celebrated as a single varietal for its lighter body and distinctive red fruit and herb aromas, it's also a critical component of Bordeaux wines. Its growing popularity reflects appreciation for diverse and distinctive grape varieties, and its role in many of the world’s most highly regarded Bordeaux wines highlights its importance globally.

Best enjoyed: The 2022 has been crafted in a ready-to-drink style and does not require decanting. For the optimal tasting experience, it should be served between 15–18 degrees, in glassware designed for red Bordeaux wines. It’s delicious with grilled or roasted red meats and dishes featuring earthy flavours – like mushroom risotto or roasted vegetables – enhance the wine's herbal notes. Matched with rich pasta dishes and aged cheeses, the wine's elegance balances the robust flavours of the food.

AAVWS medal: Gold.

RRP $55 | Drink to 2030 | Shop this wine

2023 XO Wine Co Gamay

2023 XO Wine Co Gamay

Fragrant, bright red fruits of cranberry, raspberry and strawberry, Campari lift with mezcal spice. Plush mid-palate with subtle talc like tannin backbone and lively acidity. 

Winemakers Greg Clack and Kate Horstmann say: We love that gamay is starting to find its feet in the Adelaide Hills, producing fresh, vibrant wines with crunch, mild tannins and red fruits. This gamay was hand-picked and put through semi-carbonic maceration with a small portion open fermented. Short term ageing in older puncheons gives extra structure and spice before bottling early for freshness. 

H. What is special about this alternative variety?
GC & KH. The inherent drinkability and suitability to matching our climate make this variety special. The casual nature of Australia, with its warm summers, calls for lighter reds with crunch and freshness. 

Best enjoyed: Best served with a slight chill in the summer months, at around 12–14 degrees (and serve a few degrees warmer in the winter). Serve from a Burgundy glass or a glass with a wide bowl. The 2023 is the ultimate match for a casual hangout that features hamburgers or hotdogs. It's also excellent paired with steak frites.

RRP $32 | Drink to 2026 | Shop this wine

AAVWS medal: Silver.

Image credit: Wine Australia.