Wayne On Wine: Australian Shiraz
By Wayne Crawford
Syrah is the great red wine of the Northern Rhone. From the Cote-Rôtie and Hermitage regions, it is a world renowned medium- to full-bodied red wine with aromas and flavors of plum, boysenberry, olive, green peppercorns, bacon fat and cocoa. These great Syrah wines start at $400 to $668 or higher per bottle for a 2010 top-grower vintage and cellar until 2040; wait till at least 2020 to drink.
France is the largest producer of Syrah, but the second largest is Australia, which first imported the grape in 1832 in part, I am certain, due to the success of the Rhone area wines.
Always independent, the Australians call the syrah grape shiraz, with some exceptions. Do not confuse these two names with petite sirah, a different red grape I will showcase in my next article.
Australian Shiraz is almost always a full-bodied wine with deep, dark fruit flavors – blueberry and blackberry – with complements of chocolate, spice and vanilla arising through oak aging. Both countries, along with California and the state of Washington, bottle this wine as 100 percent varietal.
Given the grape’s origin in the Northern Rhone, it also is blended with the white viognier grape grown in the Rhone. This practice is increasingly common in Australia, using the same grape on different terroir.
Shiraz is the most popular red grape in Australia and grown in almost all its wine regions. The most famous is the Barossa Valley just north and east of Adelaide in South Australia. These grapes are aged mostly in American oak, with some French, and there is this increased co-fermentation with viognier to encourage a lush mouthfeel and softer tannins. As a reminder, in the southern hemisphere, harvest runs from February to the end of April.
There are too many great wineries to mention all those in the valley, but a few of the best known are Penfolds, Torbreck and Two Hands Wines. The most renowned wine from the region is Penfolds Grange Shiraz. The latest release is 2010 and, priced at $850, it is keeping up with offerings from the Rhone. The great news is they produce Shiraz at all price levels, and it is locally available.
Next to the Barossa Valley is Eden Valley in South Australia; it also has a covey of great Shiraz wine producers. Established in 1868 with old vines planted in 1861-69, Henschke produces the second most known Shiraz with its Hill of Grace. The latest is 2009 at $725. Like Penfolds, Henschke makes great Shiraz wine at multiple price levels.
When I attended British Army staff college, my next door neighbor, Australian Mike Beckingham, got me going with Australian beer and wines, particularly Shiraz, so I have enjoyed this wine for the last 35 years. I maintain a cross-section of these wines in my cellar and strongly encourage readers to drink a few more Aussie reds. My recommendations include, in no particular order, Ralph Bender, Clarendon Hill, Jim Barry, Glatzer, Two Hands, Mollydooker, Yalumba, d’Arenberg and, of course, Henschke and Penfolds.
‘Wines drinking well now’
Mollydooker 2011 Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia, $40. Dark-red fruit with purple hues on the rim, this wine offers menthol, black plum, cherry and spice aromas on the nose. A full-bodied wine with a long finish and 16 percent alcohol, it has rich flavors of black cherry and chocolate on the finish. This bold red was the first choice at our blind-tasting, but with its high alcohol content, it may not agree with everyone’s palate. Highly Recommended.
d’Arenberg 2004 Dead Arm, $65. A dark-red wine with deep saturation in color, on the nose this wine offers complex aromas of blackberry jam, plum, anise, pepper and tar. On the palate, it is full-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel. This rich, aged wine is balanced, rich dark fruit with the anise and pepper that continue to improve over time. This was our second choice in the blind-tasting. Highly Recommended collector wine; look for new vintages.
Clarendon Hills Syrah 2004 Hickinbotham, $64. Dark-red with purple hues and aromas of rich black fruit, dark plum, blackberry, black cherry, licorice and chocolate, on the palate this is a smooth, well-balanced wine that continues to improve with age, It is full-bodied with flavors of black fruit accented by licorice, chocolate and blueberry. The tannins complement the wine. It has an intense, long finish and is an exceptional wine. Highly recommended collector wine; look for new vintages.
Thorne-Clarke 2012 “Shotfire" Shiraz, 2012, $20. A deep-purple color with a red hue, this wine has a nose of blackberry fruit, mocha and spice. The palate displays blackberry, plum, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg flavors. The wine is full-bodied and a longtime favorite. Best Buy.
Other wines to consider: Elderton Estate Shiraz 2010, $25; Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz 2012, $19.99; Mitolo the Jester 2012, $19.99; Oliverhill Red Silk Shiraz 2011, $19.99; and Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, $19.99. You also may find a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.
It should not surprise readers these wines pair wonderfully with barbecue spareribs and all barbecue sauces, grilled and roasted red meat, grilled lamb and duck, steak, tuna, venison and sausage, wild mushrooms and hard and aged cheeses.
‘Drink what you like’
In my next article, the focus is on bold, dark Petite Sirah from California, often overlooked but increasingly well-crafted and affordable.
Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society.