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The rieslings of Mount Barker, for example, have been compared. This in some ways has been disappointing, for the variety can produce some stunning wines with the best in the country.

The bunches are small and compact with small berries and tough skins.

The wines usually have a distinct varietal flavour that shows up well in dry or slightly sweet wines.As well, it can be extremely attractive in luscious sweet wines where the fruit has been affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea), a prized mould which causes the berries to dehydrate, concentrating the sugar and flavours.

If cabernet sauvignon is 'king' of the reds then chardonnay is 'queen' of the whites.

This magnificent ancient variety, which the Lebanese and Syrians claim to have originally nurtured, is used exclusively in the great wines of Chablis and Burgundy including Montrachet, Meursault and Pouilly-Fuisse. It is also important along with pinot noir in champagne-making.

Of all the white varieties chardonnay perhaps has the greatest affinity to oak fermentation and maturation, adding complexity an depth, andoften giving years of cellaring life.

Although yields in the Margaret River area have been disappointing at times, some outstanding wines have been produced in the area, gaining recognition in the annual 'great chardonnay tasting' event run by the Cullen family. Pitched against the world's best, they have often been the top wines when the final points from a wide range of tasters have been compiled.

In the Swan Valley the class of John Kosovich's wines (Westfield) have seen them picked in masked tastings as products from so-called superior cooler regions of the nation.

The wines of this variety are usually the highest-priced of the whites with winemakers providing the best oak they can afford, often inspired by the wines of France, regarded by many as the finest, most subtle and complex dry whites made in the world despite challenges from newer areas like Australia and California.

This is the main white wine variety of Bordeaux with the biggest planting outside France in Chile, where it accounts for about 75 per cent of all white wine produced. In South Africa it goes by the unusual name of greengrape.

In her book Vines, Grapes and Wines, Jancis Robinson says: 'In most of the world's vineyards where it is planted, it sits around sullenly, line an overweight schoolgirl, showing awkward fatness or just plain dullness in the wine it produces.

In odd places though, as if under thespell of a fairy god mother, it can be transformed into a raving beauty.

The variety certainly seems to have found a happy home in Margaret River, where Evans and Tate, Chateau Xanadu, Ashbrook and Moss Wood, for example, have produced some very fine wines.

At tastings people often refer to the variety as being grassy or herbaceous. More producers are now tending to blend it with sauvignon blanc.

In France the combination provides the base for the great luscious sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, where the fruit has been affected by botrytis.

This is a vigorous variety which growers try to curb in favour of fruit production.

It usually produces wines of strong varietal character, ranging from green grass herbaceousness to melon and tropical fruit where the grapes have been left to ripen a little more.

Often the pungent aroma can be too much for some consumers.

Like chardonnay and semillon, the variety can be oaked to advantage.

Margaret River producer Cape Mentelle has done much to forward the cause of the variety with its NewZealand production of Cloudy Bay.

In the Margaret River district, notable wines have been produced at Leeuwin Estate, and in 1993, at Ribbon Vale. Alkoomi at Frandland River produced a very fine wine in 1989.

This is the main variety of the Loire Valley in France.

Cultivated in that country in the ninth century, it can now be found in the remotest growing regions of the world, producing table and sparkling wines and the base for sherries and brandy.

In Western Australia it was formerly, and incorrectly, known as semillon. Another vigorous variety, it has done well in the Swan Valley, Bindoon and the coastal plain especially. The Peel Estate Wood-aged chenin has long been a favourite.

Other good wines have been produced from Moondah Brook fruit, especially the 1992, and by Amberley Estate in Margaret River. The variety has good acidity with the wines generally found in the mid-range of quality, at modest prices compared with the more favoured white wines.

It is used very successfully for well-balanced dry table wines in South Africa and California.

This is the aristocrat of red wines, the major variety in some of the best wines of the Medoc, Bordeaux.

Its influence has spread around the vine growing globe with Western Australia no exception.

The variety does well in all areas of the State, producing some excellent wines.

The pronounced varietal character can be very intense, especially where the vines are grown under cooler conditions. Tasters often use terms like minty, eucalyptus, cigar box, cassis, cedar wood and blackcurrent to describe flavours.

Like chardonnay, cabernet also has a special affinity to oak while plenty of tannin makes the wines ideal for ageing. Pips are an important source of tannin in red wines, and cabernet has one of the highest proportions of pip-to-pulp of any grape.

Many West Australian producers like to add shiraz, cabernet franc, merlot and sometimes melbec and petit verdot to help fill out their cabernets and give complexity.

Often the mid-palate is referred to as being doughnut-like in structure (a hole in the middle) in wines made just from the variety.

This variety is tremendously important throughout Australia. It produces thousands of tonnes a year for dry red table wine and for ports.

The other major producing area of the world is in the Hermitage region of the Rhone Valley in France, where it is known as Syrah.

One tradition suggests it was brought to Hermitage from Shiraz in Iran by the hermits, and another that it was brought from Syracuse by the Roman legions. Some West Australian producers label their wines shiraz and other hermitage, in the quest for marketing advantage.

However, under agreements with the European Community, the use of hermitage has to be phased out. The vigerous variety is extremely versatile, growing well in all viticulture areas, quite happy in warm temperatures.

Because of its 'workhorse' status it is often underrated in favour of the more fashionable cabernet, undeserved on quality and value terms.

At Mount Barker wines like those produced by Plantagenet can be appealingly spicy and peppery. In the Swan Valley they are usually big, soft and flavoursome, a real mouthful of wine.

Pinot Noir is the bastion of the great red wines of Burgundy while providing the power and the long life in wines of Champagne.

In Australia the variety has probably done more to develop grey hairs on winemakers than any other.

It is a difficult variety, tantalising for its feats in France, but frustrating to growers, makers and consumers alike due to the variable results achieved.

While some very good wines have been made in Western Australia, including Wignalls, Leeuwin, Karriview and Moss wood, the reality is that the industry is still struggling to come to terms with the variety.

Sometimes the wines are more dry red, sometimes thin and hard, lacking flavour, and sometimes attractive strawberry, cherry or raspberry characters are over-ripe, a taste at times likened to boiled lollies. While plantings in the State are still generally small, they have increased in recent years with interest keen despite the problems.

For many producers, however, the fruit is more likely to be part of their sparkling winemaking than for a dry red table wine. The cooler areas seem best suited to the variety with high hopes for the young vineyards of the Pemberton-Manjimup district.

The colours of wines from such areas may not be intense, but the distinctive characters and flavours of the best wines will be keenly appreciated. Generally, fruit from hot areas makes uninteresting wines, lacking in colour and flavour.

For many people in Australia this important Bordeaux variety is best suited to blending, especially to soften and fill out the more austere cabernet for earlier drinking.

Yet it is a variety of class on its own as wines of Evans and Tate, Westfield and Happs would indicate. its problem, however, is the battle for acceptance.

The wines are fruity and forward, not always meant for ageing. Devotees find its sweet fruit character distinctive and appealing, and seek it out.

Despite its potential for top quality wines, it seems destined in Western Australia to remain very much the underdog to cabernet.

Like merlot this variety produces soft, mouth-filling wines, again, not always meant for ageing.

They too are usually thought of as best suited to blending but some very good individual wines have been made in the country.

Perhaps the most notable in Western Australia is that produced by Alkoomi, where the wines are dense in colour and massive in flavour.

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This is a portuguese variety, the most planted white vine on the Island of Madeira, and the Douro Valley.

It has probably adapted better to West Australian conditions than anywhere else in Australia, especially in the Swan Valley, Gingin and Margaret River.

The variety has shown that it copes well with heat, maintaining acid levels and producing dry white table wines of strong varietal character.

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Commonly called rhine riesling, a tendency which developed to avoid confusion with Hunter River riesling (semillon) and Clare riesling (crouchen).

It is the noble grape variety of Germany.

In Australia it has suffered in recent years with the consumer swing to wooded white wines such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon and blends.

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