Drinks News

Wine country: the Barossa Valley varieties to know

From big reds to big ideas, Barossa is living up to its reputation as a premier wine region.
Barossa Valley wine varieties

Photo: Alicia Taylor

Alicia Taylor

There is nothing more quintessential than a glass of Australian shiraz. Known as our “national grape”, it’s the wine that put Australia on the international wine-drinking radar and it’s grown in every wine region across the country.

But in any word association game, when you think Australian shiraz, chances are you immediately think Barossa. With a vine history dating back to 1842 (from original French cuttings), the Barossa has some of the oldest continuing shiraz vines in the world.

Stretching from the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley sub-regions, warm and cool climate growing conditions live side-by-side. This diversity of temperatures within the GI (Geographical Indicator) creates an incredible variety of shiraz, grenache and other classic red varietals across the 11,609 hectares of vineyards planted.

“If you ask any Barossa winemaker, you’ll see them say that shiraz has changed significantly over the years,” muses Yalumba senior red winemaker Kevin ‘KG’ Glastonbury.

With Yalumba working with red grapevines dating back to 1849, they’re deeply entrenched in the styles of red wines being developed in the region. Glastonbury continues: “The former ‘big’ style has waned and has become one of many, many styles giving the consumer a plethora of choices – and that’s really exciting for us.”

Another member of the First Families of Australian wine and working with legacy vineyards is the Henschke family, with viticulturist and matriarch Prue leading the charge to produce some of the most iconic single-vineyard wines in the region, alongside husband Stephen (and the rest of the clan). Prue and Stephen explain: “Seeing the differences in shiraz is such a new thing; we see it distinctly in our Mt. Edelstone and Hill of Grace wines. The former has classic Eden Valley characters of bay leaf and spice, and the latter has slightly riper and more perfumed notes – and the sites are only four kilometres apart.”

Legacy producers aside, the region is also an incubator for new winemaking talent including Andy Cummins, Tom Shobbrook and Fraser McKinley. One such winemaker is Riley Harrison, who produces Harrison Wines primarily from the Barossa and McLaren Vale. “Barossa feels like a place that’s comfortable with itself. A place that has grown grapes for a very long time. You feed off that multi-generational energy,” he says. “I don’t need to be a local, but it’s nice to be a part of that history; that shared ethos.”

Change is afoot in this classic region. As Glastonbury explains: “We’re a traditional and old region that’s also showcasing new winemaking methods. We’re constantly playing with other varieties and clonal diversity.” So it looks like the Barossa still has plenty more years of life, grape growing and winemaking potential left in it yet.

The traditional custodians of the Barossa are the Peramangk, whose lands are framed by Mount Lofty Ranges from Myponga north to Gawler and Angaston; east to Wright Hill, Strathalbyn, Kanmantoo, and along the eastern part of the range towards Towitta. They were called the “Fire Makers” and “Red Ochre Peoples” because of their access to red ochre, flint and mineral pyrites for trading and ceremony.

5 bottles to try

2021 Harrison Wines ‘Fleur de Lune’ Grenache, $38

The grenache comes from vines planted in the 1940s and 1960s (baby vines in the grand scheme of the region). Pure and bright, this wine is an exceptional example of a classic Barossan grape in an elegant New World style.

Buy now

2012 Spinifex ‘Old Vine’ Mataro, $50

Mataro is the “dark horse” of the Barossa. It’s a supple and mouth-filling wine that bombards the palate with blackcurrant and spicy clove notes. Winemaker Pete Schell deftly crafted this wine from 90-year-old vines as an aged release and it’s some of his finest work to date.

Buy now

2016 Yalumba ‘The Octavius’ Shiraz, $150

One of the more iconic wines from the Yalumba stable, this shiraz blends fruit sourced from the Barossa and Eden Valleys to craft something truly “Barossa”. Think bramble and mulberry fruit, mocha and vanilla notes, begging for a tomahawk steak.

buy now

2017 Henschke ‘Hill of Roses’ Shiraz, $430

A wine from vines planted by Prue in 1989 from the original Hill of Grace grandfather vines. Expect bay leaf, sage and a hint of cardamom among blackberry, red plum and violets. Plus the hallmark Henschke touch.

[buy now]((https://www.henschke.com.au/wine/hill-of-roses/22255/|target=”_blank”|rel=”nofollow”)

Non-Vintage David Franz ‘Old Redemption Exceptionally Old’ Tawny, $75

Easily one of the best fortified wines in the Barossa (if not the country) and one with an excellent family story. The base comes from a blend started in 1947. Golden toffee, smoky oak and golden raisin notes meet cinnamon and cigar box spices. Drink on its own, pour over ice cream or over sticky date pudding.

Buy now

Related stories