Here Are The Best Wines In Australia Made From Grapes You've Never Heard Of

SC Pannell’s tempranillo-touriga was declared the best in the alternative wine show.

Vermentino sounds like a loveable rodent from a Disney cartoon, but it’s actually an Italian grape variety, most commonly found in Sardinia, as well as finding increasing favour with Australian winemakers.

While we still love chardy, sauvignon blanc, shiraz and cabernet the most, there are literally hundreds of other regional grape varieties which Aussie winemakers have been experimenting with in recent decades and judging by the results of the 14th annual Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS), announced today, they’re getting really good at it.

Wines from 24 different regions were awarded gold medals at this year’s show, with SC Pannell taking Best Wine of Show for a 5th time with his McLaren Vale 2013 tempranillo-touriga blend – a mix of Spanish and Portuguese grapes.

Touriga is best known as a port grape, and Stephen Pannell first planted some in South Australia back in the 90s when he was making port for Hardy’s. (Under EU rules, we can’t call it port any more – it’s now known as vintage, ruby and tawny fortified.)

Funny thing is Pannell never intended to make a dry red from touriga.

“I was sick of making port from shiraz,” he says. “Then in 2008 we had the huge heat wave in South Australia. It was 37°C and the shiraz was coming in at 20 baume [a way to measure sugar in grapes for ripeness] but not the tempranillo and touriga. I knew then there was a new way with these varieties as the climate changed.”

Italian varieties are also popular in Australia, in part thanks to our immigration and the show’s international judge Walter Speller (a writer for said declared Australia “a real second home for Italian varieties”.

Didn’t know what to expect and was surprised by how good the wines are.

“I have been so impressed by the quality of the wines,” Speller said.

The inaugural Best New Zealand Wine Trophy went to a gruner veltliner, an Austrian white, from Waimea Estates in Nelson, at the top of the South Island.

The complete results and medals are available online here, but here are the trophy winners for best in show.

The Dr. Rod Bonfiglioli Best Wine of Show
S.C. Pannell Wines 2013 Tempranillo Touriga

Trans Tasman Award for Best New Zealand Wine
Waimea Estates 2014 Waimea Gruner Veltliner

Best Red Wine
2013 SC Pannell Tempranillo Touriga

Best White Wine
2014 Oliver’s Taranga Fiano

Best Red Italian Varietal
Hither & Yon 2014 Nero d’Avola

Best White Italian Varietal
Oliver’s Taranga 2014 Oliver’s Taranga Fiano

Best Spanish Varietal
SC Pannell Wines 2013 Tempranillo Touriga

Chief Judge’s Wine to Watch
Davis Premium Vineyards 2013 Rogue Series Hunter Valley Vermentino

Best Blend
SC Pannell Wines 2013 Tempranillo Touriga

Best Commercial Volume Wine (Minimum 5000 cases)
Yalumba Wine Company 2013 Yalumba Y Series Tempranillo

Best Rosé
Nova Vita Wines 2014 Firebird

Best Nebbiolo
2012 T’Gallant Odysseus (Mornington Peninsula)

Best Murray Darling Region Wine
2013 Calabria Private Bin Vermentino

Stewards Choice Award
Beach Road Wines 2013 Fiano

Best Organic Wine
2013 Whistling Kite Biodynamic Montepulciano

Best Fortified
Stanton & Killeen Rare Topaque

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