Australian Wine from
Alternative Grape Varieties

Alternative varieties for diverse wines

Wine varieties are often classified by their origin, or at least where they form the substantial basis of the local wine industry. As this website is looking at the alternative varieties used to make wine in Australia we will adopt the criteria that to qualify as an alternative wine variety, it must not be one of the mainstream varieties used in Australia.

Full list of varieties described on this site

Just what are "alternative varieties" of wine grapes? Well, I suspect it really depends on what it is alternative to.

Usually we define alternative as being relative to some standard or norm. If it is not standard then it is "alternative."

The table below lists some varieties and three opinions about their status. The column labeled Clarke, refers to the classification used in Grapes and wine: a comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours, by Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand (2000). They denote seventeen varieties as 'Classic' and a further seventeen as 'Major'.

In her 1986 book Vines, grapes and wines: a drinkers guide to grape varieties, Jancis Robinson classifies just nine varieties as 'Classic' and twenty eight as 'Major'.

The Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) works on an exclusion list. A variety qualifies for entry as alternative if it is not Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet family generally, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Colombard, Grenache and Verdelho. The show does permit wines with a less than 49% composition of these excluded varieties in blends in some classes.

For the purposes of this web site I have defined "alternative" as meaning not

  • Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet family generally
  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Semillon
  • Shiraz

Thus I have been more generous in my interpretation with for example Verdelho, Genache, and Chenin Blanc. (I have also snuck a page about riesling onto this site, for the simple reason that I love the variety!)

At the AAVWS in 2007 there was some discussion about when a variety should be deemed no longer "alternative". One suggestion was that this could be the case when at least one major metropolitan wine show has a dedicated class for that variety. On this basis Pinot gris looks close to being dropped from their list. Sangiovese and Tempranillo may follow within a couple of years.

Classic, Major and Alternative Wine Grape Varieties
Group/origin Colour

Italian White -
Italian Red Major Major Alternative
Cabernet Franc
Bordeaux Red
Major Major -
Cabernet Sauvignon
Bordeaux Red Classic
Classic -
Carignan Rhone
Red - Major Alternative
Carmenere Bordeaux/Chile Red Major Alternative
Chardonnay International White Classic Classic -
Chenin blanc Loire White Classic Classic Alternative
Cinsault Rhone
Red - Major Alternative
Dolcetto Italian Red Major Alternative
Durif Rhone Red -

Gamay Beaujolais
Red - Major Alternative
Grenache French/Spanish
Red Classic Major Alternative
Gewurztraminer German White Classic Major Alternative
Malbec Bordeaux/Argentina Red Major
Malvasia Italian
+-White Major

Marsanne Rhone White Major Alternative
Bordeaux Red Classic Classic -
Rhone Red Major Alternative
Nebbiolo Italian Red Classic Major Alternative
Petit Verdot Bordeaux Red - - Alternative
Pinot Grigio/Gris French/Italian White Major Major Alternative
Pinot Noir Burgundy
Red Classic Classic -
South Africa Red Major
Riesling German
White Classic Classic Alternative
Roussanne Rhone White Major
Sangiovese Italian Red Classic Major Alternative
Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux White Classic Classic -
Semillon Bordeaux White Classic Classic -
Shiraz Rhone Red Classic Classic -
Silvaner (Sylvaner) German White Major Major Alternative
Tempranillo Spanish Red Classic Major Alternative
Touriga Nacional Portuguese Red Major   Alternative
Verdelho Portuguese White   -   Alternative
Rhone White Classic Major
Red Classic
Major Alternative

Table Source. Adapted from Grapes and wine: a comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours, by Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand (2000), Vines, grapes and wines: a drinkers guide to grape varieties, by Jancis Robinson (1986) and from the website of the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show.

Complete index of grape varieties on this site

You can find lots more information about alternative varieties in De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table


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