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/News/How many wine varieties are there and how many does Australia have?

How many wine varieties are there and how many does Australia have?

Are you an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) drinker? Perhaps you’ll drink whatever is white – but only as long as it’s sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.

Or maybe you’re like my dear friend, and self-confessed wine lover, who obsesses over shiraz but will never touch pinot noir. Won’t go near the stuff, no matter how much I beg him!

Despite the enormous influence of terroir and winemaking techniqueon how a finished wine smells and tastes, there’s just no getting past our Australian obsession with wine varieties as the biggest identifier of whether we like a wine – or not.


In ‘Old World’ wine regions, like France and Italy, they are far less caught up in varietals than we are here in Australia. In fact, much of the time you won’t even find the variety on the label – only the geographic location where the wine was produced. One reason for this is because, culturally, they value terroir (how and where the wine is produced) over variety. To drinkers in these countries, it’s far more important where the wine comes from than which variety it’s made of.


But also, it’s because their wine growing history is so lengthy that they have already learned long ago about which wine grapes grow well in which locations. So, that’s ALL they grow there, and often it’s all they’re allowed togrow due to strict regulations.In New World regions like Australia, variety is far more important to us culturally because we have only more recently started to develop a deep understanding and appreciation of our own terroir and the strengths of each wine region.

According to leading wine guru Jancis Robinson MW, wine is commercially made around the world from over 1,300 different grape varieties. (Are you already thinking about how many of those you can actually name?!)

Here in Australia, our wine production is not quite so diverse. In fact, it’s dominated by the big five:

  1. Shiraz (30%)
  2. Cabernet sauvignon (18%)
  3. Chardonnay (16%)
  4. Merlot (6%)
  5. Sauvignon blanc (5%)

(Source: Wine Australia, 2017).

However, the number of wine grape varieties we produce each year is increasing fast, as more growers experiment with newer and more alternative grape types.

In 2017, there were a surprisingly large 155 wine grape varieties used by winemakers in commercial production here in Australia. (Source: The Australian & New Zealand Wine Industry Directory.)

So, if you’re still stuck sipping the big five, let’s just say that you’ve got a LOT of catching up to do!

Australia's Top 5 Wine Varieties

Straight Varietals versus Blends

The other thing about our strong focus on varietals here in Oz, is that we tend prefer wines made from one single variety, and scoff at or – at the very least – be a little wary of blends. That is, wines made from two or more varieties.

There’s a tendency to assume they’re some kind of lesser offering, slapped together by a winemaker because they had a bad year with their shiraz and had to mix it with a bit of grenache or merlot to make it sing. Or the semillon was a bit rough so they added sauvignon blanc to pull it into line.

The thing is, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Some of the world’s best and most sought-after wines are blends.

  • Bordeaux, for example fetches some of the highest prices in the world, and is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, and (sometimes) carménère.
  • Chianti, the famed red from Tuscany, is predominantly sangiovese which is then often combined with one or more of the local red or white grapes such as canaiolo nero or trebbiano.
  • And then, of course, there is champagne! The world’s favourite fizz is commonly made from a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier.
  • Plus, if you’re already an SSB or a Cab Shiraz lover, then I know you’re nodding in agreement about all this right now.
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Why blend wine varieties together?

It’s like putting together the perfect outfit.

Winemakers are always seeking to make a wine that is balanced, and creating a wine is a bit like putting together an outfit. Sometimes, you’re happy to just go with all black. (Yes, I’m looking at you Melbourne.)

Black is always stylish, and can be absolutely outstanding. Nothing else is needed, or it may detract from the perfect blackness of it all. But sometimes, a splash of colour is exactly what’s required to make your ensemble pop.

When wine varieties are blended together, they can create an altogether different wine that is well balanced and appealing – and just as fabulous as any single variety. Blending can balance acidity, tannins, alcohol level, sweetness and fruit flavours.

While there are some well-known, tried and tested wine blends to look out for, there is some serious fun to be had in seeking out lesser known combinations and ‘field blends’ – that is, a blend of several or all of the varieties being grown within a particular vineyard. Winemakers are often at their most innovative and creative when making blended wines.

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