10 wine grape varieties you've probably never heard of, but should try

Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images

The Thinkers and Drinkers food and wine festival is coming up in Sydney this Thursday, October 8.

The 13-year-old Six Nations Wine Challenge, run by Association of Australian Boutique Winemakers, organises the annual event, which features 600 wines from the six “New World” wine countries – New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, North America and Australia – made from 35 different grape varieties.

It’s on at Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf, Pyrmont, from 5.30pm Thursday and ahead of night, we asked, Six Nations Wine Challenge president Judith Kennedy to take us through 10 grape varieties you can try there, but have probably never heard of. Festival details are here.

Gruner Veltliner

Looking for an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc? Feeling adventurous? Seek out the Gruner Veltliner on the South African stand. Originally an Austrian variety now it’s found in the Adelaide Hills as well as the region of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Try it with something spicy. Next to the South African wines you will find the Bilton Man offering you a snack or two to match.


Pronounced ‘vee-on-yay’ to be exact. Heaps of this (previously French) beautiful, white, dry wine is being grown in a range of Australian wine regions. It’s the gentle, perfumed wine that Clonakilla adds to their outstanding Shiraz. Usually only 3% is needed to make the difference however those at the Australian stand are 100% the real deal. A piece of cheese from the Hunter Valley will go just nicely.


A white Argentine wine grape variety and great alternative to Chardonnay. It’s little known by wine lovers in Australia, however is being imported as an increasingly popular summer lunch wine.

The judges describe it thus: “A fresh, aromatic wine with moderate acidity, smooth texture and mouth feel as well as distinctive peach and apricot aromas on the nose”.

You will find them on the wine stand next to the malbec bottles and it matches well to the Argentinean BBQ chicken located very close by outside on the deck overlooking the harbour.

Petite Syrah

The grape was first developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region, the result of a cross between Syrah (Shiraz) and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin. If you know the variety Durif then think of it as a close relative. Even though the origins of this grape are in France, California is the place to look for the best expressions of this popular red.

Petite refers to the size of the grape – not the powerful taste and aroma. Take a glass of it to chat with Michael at the Brooklyn Boy Bagel stand and match the two for a delightful taste experience.

Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.


This is a Chilean favourite – at least 5 of them to sample at Thinkers & Drinkers. It’s a big red so best to taste along with the beef BBQ being served on the deck outside. If you venture into your bottle shop and buy one, plan to have it with rich roasts or red meat any style.

It’s Chile’s own signature grape, this red varietal disappeared from European vineyards in the mid-19th century and reappeared among Chile’s Merlot vines a hundred years later. The purple, deepest, darkest of all red grapes needs a long growing season to reach its fullest potential. Rich in berry fruits and spice (think blackberries and black pepper), with smooth, well-rounded tannins, making this a very pleasing and easy to drink wine


This red variety, which can be confused with Mataro was originally a widely grown French grape, it is now grown in Chile and also has a new home in California. Carignan comes from vines that can produce as much as 11 tons of fruit per acre, which is pretty high given that some quality wines are harvested at 2 tons per acre.

These high yields mean that there’s plenty of wine to go around; often more than the market can handle and on its own it does not compare with lower yielded grapes.

So generally it is blended with other reds such as Mourvedre and Grenache creating a wonderful mix of flavours and textures – good enough to enter into the Six Nations judging! Check out the blend on the Chilean stand and take a piece of cheese and bread with you.

Photo: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images


This is a red Italian wine grape variety that, as of 2000, was the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano). It produces good yields and is known for deep color, low tannins and high levels of acid.
Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards and allow for the production of long-aging, robust red wines with intense fruit and enhanced tannic content.
Many wineries around central Victoria grow this and other Italian varieties very successfully and it is a successful variety on the West coast of the USA. It’s not a big red similar to Australian Shiraz or Cabernet but a delightful drink with almost any type of meal.
You will find four of these beauties just across from the Brooklyn Bay Bagels next to Hank’s chutney.


You’ll find seven ‘Zins’ on the USA wine stand and a few among the Aussie reds – right next to the Cabernet! Also known as Primitivo, the variety is grown in over 10% of California vineyards.

DNA fingerprinting has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia Italy where it was introduced in the 18th century.

The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of the name “Zinfandel”, a name which is probably of Austrian origin. The grapes typically produce a robust red wine if you are looking for an alternative to Shiraz or Cabernet.

Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier

Ever tried a great Aussie white blend? – Now it’s time. You would have had the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend from Margaret river and plenty of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blended into Aussie bubbles but now have a look at this cracker from Lark Hill in the Canberra region.
These three French varieties blend beautifully together. All three components were wild fermented by the winemaker and the Rousanne in tank, the Viognier in older-French oak, and the Marsanne on skins (21 days).

The resulting blend has an aromatic, funky nose and a structural, powerful palate. The skin-fermented “orange” component of Marsanne gives a quintessential ‘savoury’ note; this is a wine that really grabs your attention and powers through food/wine matches.
Don’t miss this one for something different!


Traditionally a German dessert wine and now a New Zealand winner for Framingham in the Six Nations Wine Challenge. It won a double gold medal and came second in its class. You’ll find this one in with the dessert wines on the New Zealand stand. If you have a sweet tooth you will fall in love with this stunner – it’s outstanding, very true to its origins and its style and made by one of New Zealand’s finest winemakers Dr Andrew Hedley based in the Marlborough region. Match to the macaroons and a coffee at the end of the session and you will go home smiling with thoughts of excellence.

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