A Cheat’s Guide to Choosing Wine


Is that riesling sweet or dry? What’s an all-purpose red wine? Here, our top tips on choosing wine.

Wine can be bewildering. The avalanche of labels on the shelves is a daunting mishmash of variety, region, vintage and maker. Luckily among the bold, brassy labels, you’ll find reliable brands such as Brown Brothers, Penfolds or Wynns. There are short cuts, too. Try these fail-safe tips…

◖ If you pick up a riesling but don’t know whether it will be dry or sweet, look at the region. Rieslings from the Eden and Clare valleys in South Australia are dry and zesty. Off-dry rieslings from cooler regions in Tasmania and New Zealand carry residual sweetness to counterbalance their high acidity and work well with spicy food. Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel region can be sweet, too, their low alcohol and zippy flavours the perfect pre-noon apéritif.

◖ Don’t dismiss sauvignon blanc. If New Zealand’s Marlborough passionfruit bombs are too over the top, consider subtler Australian sauvignons; the Adelaide Hills lead the way. The counterpoint to Marlborough brashness is Sancerre, a subtle and minerally sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley. Sancerre labels omit any mention of variety – a trait typical of European wines.

◖ Know your chardonnays. In its French homeland, classic Chablis is lean and tight, like the new-wave chardonnays from the Yarra Valley, Tasmania and Orange. White Burgundies labelled Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault or Mâcon are richer and more like chardonnays from the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River.

◖ Fancy pinot noirs from tiny sites in Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges are more subtle and savoury than Australian pinot noirs, which have sweet, red-fruit flavours. Bolder pinots come from New Zealand, with Central Otago offering potent shiraz-like styles.

◖ Australia does shiraz universally well. However, a bold, brash Barossa shiraz is poles apart from a syrah (its French name) from the northern Rhône appellations of Saint-Joseph, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Shiraz from cooler sites in Victoria and the ACT are more akin to Rhône syrahs, which are lighter, brighter and spicier.

◖ An all-purpose red wine is grenache, the main grape in Côtes du Rhône. The regional star is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Want something similar here? Try a GSM (grenache-shiraz-mourvèdre) from the Barossa or McLaren Vale.

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