These rare Australian wines are not endangered.

Some Australian varietal wines that are one of a kind.

The varietal wine scene in Australia is more vibrant than ever. Well over a hundred grape varieties are being used commercially by Australian wineries. Many of these varieties are new, and were unheard of just a few years ago.

New varieties are being trialled in vineyards all around Australia. Some of the "new" varieties are fast becoming mainstream; most serious winedrinkers in Australia have at least heard of Sangiovese, Pinot grigio and Viognier.

But there are a couple of dozen varieties that are just here by a thread, with only one winery using them. A few of these may take off over the next couple of years.

Introducing a new variety involves considerable time and expense, only dedicated winemakers would go to the trouble. Often the effort involves getting new varieties through quarantine, propagating vines over a couple of years to get enough to plant, then adapting the viticultural and winemaking methods to best use the variety.

So when you see a bottle of wine made from a rare variety you should try it, because someone has been smitten by the variety and has invested their time, passion and money to get the wine to you.

The rare Australian wines below are used only by one or maybe just a handful of wineries, but by the time you read this someone else may be using them.

Aligote is a white wine variety from the Burgundy region. Nearly all of the white wine in Burgundy is made from Chardonnay, but in warmer years Aligote can produce good white wine, otherwise it is blended with Chardonnay, where it adds acidity to the wine. Hickinbotham of Dromana in the Mornington Peninsula region use it this way.

Another rare French white wine variety is Petit meslier. This is an obscure variety from Champagne, used to add acidity to the base wines from which the famous bubbly is made. In Australia it is grown by James Irvine in the Eden Valley to make a sparkling white wine with a difference. As far as I know he is the only winemaker using this variety in Australia.

Another sparkling wine is made from a unique variety in the Swan Valley Region of Western Australia where the Mann Winery use a grape variety that they have developed themselves called Cynge blanc. It is believed to have originated from a Cabernet sauvignon seedling, but the berries are white, not black. Cynge blanc is now being grown in the Limestone coast region of South Australia so you might here more about this variety in the next few years.

The Cleggett winery in the Langhorne Creek region is home to two unique grape varieties, both of which originated as sports of Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Malian is a bronze coloured grape, and is used to make a rose style wine. A further sport of the variety has been called Shalistin. This variety is pure white and is used to make a dry white wine. Both of these varieties are registered and unique to Cleggett.

The CSIRO has developed several varieties by crossing European varieties and selecting those which seem to be best in Australian conditions. Cienna is a red wine variety used to make light styles, Brown Brothers and Yalumba are both pioneering this variety. Tyrian is another red variety bred by the CSIRO. It makes a deeply coloured red wine. McWilliams are making wine from Tyrian grown in the Riverina. Orlando have been trialling another CSIRO bred variety called Rubienne.

Sometimes varieties get used by accident. In Western Australia Howard Park Winery planted out some vines that they thought were the Italian variety Sangiovese. In fact the vines were of another variety called Carnelian.

They now make a virtue out of the mistake and market a good red wine under their Madfish label. Other WA wineries are also using the variety. Misnaming of varieties is not at all uncommon. Only in recent years when a more scientific approach has been taken have some of these errors come to light.

For many years wineries in Chile thought they were using Merlot, but they now know that the vines are in fact Carmenere, a relatively obscure red variety form Bordeaux. The wine is fine, it has just been labeled incorrectly. In fact Chilean Carmenere is now widely exported. Olssens Winery in the Clare Valley have a small amount of Carmenere which may come onto the market in the next couple of years.

Another rare Bordeaux variety is St Macaire. It is a red wine variety being used by West End Estate in the Riverina. The name St Macaire is shared with a town in Bordeaux, and Cotes de Bordeaux-St-Macaire which is a sweet white wine appellation.

Winemakers have been paying more attention to Italian white wine varieties over the past few years. Lost Valley Vineyard are using Cortese, a variety from North Western Italy, to make an impressive white wine. Their planting is believed to be the only vineyard using Cortese outside Italy.

Fiano is another less common Italian white wine variety. Coriole in the McLaren Vale Region have some and will possibly have a commercial release in 2006.

Another Italian variety which we may be hearing more about is Brachetto. This variety is used in Italy to make low alcohol sparkling reds, more in the Moscato line than the more robust 'Sparkling Burgundies' that Australian are used to. Pizzini in the King Valley are developing an Australian version of Brachetto.

Sometimes grape varieties become extinct. This is believed to have happened to the variety called Gouais or Gouais blanc in its native France. Chambers Rosewood Vineyard in Rutherglen may have the last remaining vines of this variety.

Finding the correct name for a grape variety is not always easy. Sometimes it turns out to be impossible. Rimfire Vineyards in Queensland have an unidentified white wine variety which they are using to make a dry white. All attempts to match it with known named varieties have failed, so they sell the wine with the number 1893 on the label. This is date of establishment of the block of vines where the grapes are grown.

Siegerrebbe is a German white wine variety that is renowned for its ability to make lots of sugar. It is used by the Snowy Vineyard to make a lovely white port.

Best's wines in the Grampians region have a half dozen or so varieties which have defied recognition, even in this day of DNA assisted ampelography. The vines are part of the "Nursery block" planted 150 years ago.

There are quite a few more rare Australian wines which are being used by just a handful of wineries. Some of these will no doubt remain obscure while others will make their names known, but all will contribute to the pleasure of more adventurous winelovers.

Use the readers advice page to tell me about any varieties that I have missed.

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