Aussie reds – many great wines at competitive prices

Aussie for red, Kiwi for white – at least that’s what many people believe. It’s hard to argue with the logic of that statement, particularly in the under $25 price bracket although I can certainly think of many exceptions.

Why does Australia make such good value reds? Mass production and masses of sun are the answer. Most of the wines featured in my tasting are made from grapes grown in regions where sunny weather lets them ripen with ease. Ripening the same grape varieties in cooler Hawke’s Bay can be a nail-biting business by comparison. Australia’s largest producers operate on a scale that let them sell wine at rock-bottom prices and still make a profit.

Big does not always mean best. Some of the top wines in my tasting are made by fairly small wineries such as Cullen (tastings) and Leeuwin Estate (tastings) in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Others, like Jacobs Creek 2001 Johann Shiraz Cabernet (tastings) and Brown Brothers 2004 Patricia Merlot (tastings) are tiny production “trophy” wines made by large producers.

Medals matter in Australia. The country’s larger wineries battle it out at wine competitions and decorate their labels with lists of gold medal and trophy successes. Can’t decide between two wines at the same price? Buy the one with the most medals. At least that’s what the marketing people hope.

Australian Shiraz (known as Syrah in this country) has become such an iconic brand that it’s easy to overlook wines made from many different grape varieties and blends of varieties. The popular perception of Australian red wine is that it’s big, gutsy … and Shiraz. I’ve grouped the wines in my tasting into four categories; soft and seductively silky wines for current drinking, elegant, medium-bodied reds, big, gutsy, full-bodied reds and wines for the cellar.

Soft and seductively silky wines for current drinking

These are the sort of reds that are dangerously easy to drink and probably satisfy a wider range of tastes than any other. If I have to choose a red wine to suit the tastes of a crowd I’d pick one from this category. They’re also very food-friendly. You can match them with subtle dishes or square them up against hearty foods such as roast lamb or pepper steak.

Pinot Noir and Merlot are obvious examples in this category. Grant Burge 2005 Hillcot Merlot (tastings) is a perfect candidate as is the blended red Cumulus Wines 2005 Rolling Cabernet Merlot (tastings).

Australia’s great contribution to the world of soft, easy-drinking reds is the blending trio of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, often abbreviated to “GSM” on the label. These silken, peppery reds are an Aussie version of the southern Rhone reds of France. Cote du Rhone, Cote du Ventoux and the better known Chateauneuf-du-Pape are based on a similar blend of varieties. The Australian model tends to be richer, softer, more full-flavoured and less austere than the real thing. Grant Burge 2002 The Holy Trinity Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (tastings), Pikes 2004 Shiraz Mouvedre Grenache (tastings) and Hardys Oomoo Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre (tastings) are excellent examples.

Elegant, medium-bodied reds

This large category nets all the wines that are not soft and silky or big and gutsy. They account for more than half the wines reviewed in my list of winners. Just about every grape variety or combination of grape varieties is represented in this category. Shiraz and its new and fashionable off-shoot, Shiraz/Viognier dominate. Viognier is a white grape variety that can add perfume, a slipperier texture and, surprisingly, promote an even deeper colour when a small amount, usually around 5%, is fermented with Shiraz grapes. It brings out the feminine side of Shiraz. Yering Station 2005 Shiraz/Viognier (tastings) and Starve Dog Lane 2003 Shiraz Viognier (tastings) are good examples.

Blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, a quintessential Aussie style, are common as are the more conventional “Bordeaux” blends of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and/or Malbec.

Big, gutsy, full-bodied reds

These are the heavyweights of the red wine world. They are typically big, dense reds with masses of flavour and a solid tannic backbone. They should never be drunk too cold because chilling big reds tends to amplify potentially painful tannins. The difference between serving at 14 oC and 19 oC can be the difference between “yuk” and “great”. I warm them to 18-20oC in the microwave and like to decant them for at least 30 minutes before serving. Match with hearty red meat dishes such as lamb, beef or duck.

Mount Langi Ghiran 2003 Langi Shiraz and Taylors 2004 Jaraman Shiraz (tastings) are classic examples of seriously big reds. If you want to maximise the bang for your buck try Hardys 2006 Oomoo Shiraz (tastings), at $16.99 it’s a truly great buy that will put a smile on the face of anyone who worships big Aussie reds.

Wines for the cellar

Included in my list of winners are three great wines that need to be aged in bottle for a few more years before they’re at their best. Many other wines will respond to cellaring but this tannic trio are positively begging for it. They are Cullen 2004 Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (tastings), Leeuwin Estate 2002 Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon (tastings) and Howard Park 2003 Leston Cabernet Sauvignon (tastings). If you want a seriously good red that will last for a decade or more they’re a perfect choice.

Drink Red Wine – it’s good for you!

Forget the gym, give up the vitamins drink a couple of glasses of red wine a day and you’ll live longer, according to a growing mountain of evidence (on the other hand it might be better to stick to the gym and vitamins as well as drinking a couple of glasses).

I’ve just finished reading a book called “The Wine Diet” by Roger Corder. The book’s cover features the compelling statement, “Drink red wine every day. Eat fruit and berries, nuts and chocolate. Enjoy a longer, healthier life”.

Corder, states, “Apart from the increased risk of breast cancer in women, moderate wine drinking – by which I mean one to three glasses of wine a day, to accompany food – is generally associate with better than average health.” He bases that statement on a wide range of observations and studies including the study of various population groups that have a higher than normal life expectancy.

Corder believes that certain molecules in red wine have a beneficial effect in our blood vessels. The widely reported “French Paradox” where a population with a high fat consumption showed lower than expected death by heart disease credited a component in red wine, resveratrol, as the component in red wine that helps us live longer. Corder is convinced that it’s procyanidins, not resveratrol, that are beneficial.

Different red wines have different levels of procyanidins, according to Corder. He tested many wines and predictably rated full-bodied, tannic reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec as having high levels of procyanidins.

When Corder looked at the wines of a region in the south of France called Madiran, he hit the jackpot. Madiran wines are based on the Tannat grape. They are dark, almost black, tannic wines. He also discovered that the region had double the national average of men over the age of 90.

Corder has become a big fan of the wines of Madiran which he believes offer more beneficial effect than any other wines he’s tested. He also recommends foods, including chocolate, that contain good levels of procyanidins. It’s worth reading the book to design a healthy, tasty and wine inclusive diet for a better and longer life.

A large range of Madiran wines are imported by Lifestylewines. You can order the wines as well as the book on the website which contains a lot more information about the beneficial effect of Madiran wines.

Aussie Red Shopping List

I tasted, rated and described 126 wines to compile the shopping list below. The top wines (all are of silver or gold medal standard) are shown in style categories and then in order of score. Where two or more wines have the same score I’ve put the least expensive wines first because they represent better value. Wines that score 85 to 92 points are of silver medal standard while those with 93 points or more earn a gold medal.

Blended Wines

  • 95 Cullen 2004 Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot $91.00 (4)
  • 94 Cullen 2003 Mangan Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot $50.00 (4)
  • 91 Jacobs Creek 2001 Johann Shiraz Cabernet $56 (7)
  • 90 Grant Burge 2002 The Holy Trinity Grenache shiraz Mourvedre $41.00 (3)
  • 90 Primo Estate 2004 Moda Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot $55.00 (2)
  • 89 Thorn Clarke 2005 Shotfire Barossa Quartage $25.50 (2)
  • 88 Tim Gramp 2004 Mt Lofty Ranges Gilbert Valley Shiraz Cabernet $28.00 (4)
  • 88 Pikes 2004 Premio Clare Valley Sangiovese Merlot $35.00 (4)
  • 87 Wirra Wirra 2005 Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot $25.00 (3)
  • 86 Wyndham Estate 2001 Show Reserve Cabernet Malbec $24.95 (7)
  • 85 Hardys Oomoo Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre $17.00 (6)
  • 85 Cumulus Wines 2005 RollingCabernet Merlot $18.00 (3)
  • 85 Wirra Wirra 2005 Scrubby Rise Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot $19.00 (3)
  • 85 Pikes 2004 Shiraz Mouvedre Grenache $30.00 (4)

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 94 Leeuwin Estate 2002 Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon $63.00 (9)
  • 93 Howard Park 2003 Leston Cabernet Sauvignon $38.00 (5)
  • 90 Jacobs Creek 2002 St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon $39.95 (7)
  • 89 Jacobs Creek 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $18.95 (7)
  • 89 Plantagenet 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon $32.95 (7)
  • 89 Parker Estate 2003 Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon $38.00 (5)
  • 87 Grant Burge 2004 Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon $27.00 (3)
  • 87 Bowen Estate 2005 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon $33.90 (8)
  • 87 Sandalford 2004 Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon $35.00 (2)
  • 86 Taylors 2004 Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon $29.99 (6)
  • 86 The Willows 2004 Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $32.00 (4)
  • 85 Cumulus Wines 2005 Climbing Cabernet Sauvignon $19.00 (3)
  • 85 Rosenvale 2003 Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $19.95 (8)
  • 85 Pirramimma 2004 McLaren Vale Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00 (4)
  • 85 Howard Park 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon $84.00 (5)


  • 94 Mount Langhi Ghiran 2003 Langi Shiraz $50.00 (5)
  • 93 Taylors 2004 Jaraman Shiraz $37.00 (6)
  • 93 Leeuwin Estate 2004 Art Series Shiraz $42.00 (9)
  • 93 Eppalock Ridge 2003 Kylix Shiraz $55.00 (5)
  • 91 Jacobs Creek 2003 Centenary Hill Shiraz $39.95 (7)
  • 90 Plantagenet 2004 Shiraz $39.95 (7)
  • 90 Grant Burge Balthasar Shiraz Viognier Shiraz $42.00 (3)
  • 89 Yering Station 2005 Shiraz Viognier Shiraz $30.00 (5)
  • 89 Wirra Wirra 2005 Woodhenge Shiraz $32.00 (3)
  • 88 Taylors 2004 Jaraman Shiraz $29.99 (6)
  • 88 Coriole 2005 Shiraz $32.00 (9)
  • 88 Wyndham Estate 2003 Black Cluster Hunter Valley Shiraz $69.95 (7)
  • 87 Brown Brothers 2004 Heathcote Shiraz $16.99 (1)
  • 87 Grant Burge 2005 Miamba Shiraz $28.00 (3)
  • 86 Barossa Vines {Grant Burge} 2004 Shiraz $19.00 (3)
  • 86 Richmond Grove 2002 Barossa Shiraz $21.95 (7)
  • 86 Mount Langhi Ghiran 2002 Cliff Edge Shiraz $30.00 (5)
  • 86 Xanadu 2004 Frankland River Shiraz $30.00 (5)
  • 86 Pirramimma 2004 McLaren Vale Shiraz $30.00 (4)
  • 85 Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz $16.95 (7)
  • 85 Hardys 2006 Oomoo Shiraz $16.99 (6)
  • 85 Cumulus Wines 2005 Climbing Shiraz $19.00 (3)
  • 85 Montrose 2003 Black Shiraz $19.95 (7)
  • 85 Starve Dog Lane 2003 Shiraz Viognier Shiraz $25.99 (6)
  • 85 Howard Park 2003 Leston Shiraz $38.00 (5)

Other Grape Varieties

  • 94 Brown Brothers 2004 Patricia Merlot $50.00 (1)
  • 85 Grant Burge 2005 Hillcot Merlot $25.00 (3)
  • 85 Rosenvale 2004 Grenache $19.95 (8)


  1. Botica Butler Roudon, ph. 09-303 3610
  2. Burleigh Trading, ph. 09-480 0789
  3. Eurowine, ph. 021-660 064
  4. Lace, ph. 09-828 4725
  5. Macvine, ph. 09-579 7451
  6. Nobilo Group, ph. 09-412 6865
  7. Pernod Ricard, ph. 09-336 8369
  8. Scenic Cellars, ph. 07-378 5704
  9. Vintners NZ Ltd, ph. 09-621 0220

First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Sep 2007.

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