Redefining an Australian Classic: Shiraz

This tasting of nine wines from across Australia attempted to demonstrate the evolution and diversified styles of Shiraz available today. First brought to Australia in the early 1800s, the country has some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, including a vineyard planted in 1843 and still in production to this day.

The story, as it is for many grape varieties in Australia, is focused on regional expressions, as well as changes to both viticulture and winemaking. This tasting featured both classic Shiraz terroirs like the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, and newer Shiraz hotspots like Great Southern in Western Australia and the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria. The map below picks out the eight regions in this selection.

There is a wide range of topographies, soils and climates across this vast country, so regional expression should certainly be possible, and hopefully evident in this snapshot of samples. Some of the most striking regional differences of note are:

AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL
Barossa Valley: 539mm | Yarra Valley: 1,094mm

MEAN JANUARY TEMPERATURE (MID SUMMER)
Hunter Valley: 23.3°C | Yarra Valley: 18.9°C

VINEYARD ALTITUDE
Hunter Valley: 22m-254m | Eden Valley: 310m-540m

VINEYARD LATITUDE
Hunter Valley: 32° | Grampians & Yarra Valley: 37°

PROPORTION PLANTED TO SHIRAZ
Yarra Valley: 8% | Grampians: 74%

The Wines

(2021) The vineyards here are 52 years old, planted on clay soils. The wine spends 14 months in large, 2,500-litre French oak casks. Vivid purple, but relatively transparent, there's real fragrance and lifted, floral aromas on this wine, all bright red fruits and violets, a touch of graphite and cedar in the background. In the mouth that elegant, rippling and creamy-fresh raspberry and cherry character is delightful, the fruit sweet, the tannins ripe and gentle and the acidity nicely balanced. My only criticism would be the oak feeling slightly prominent in the finish, but a charmer. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2021) Made using organic practices, this comes from terra rossa soils (ferrous loam) over clay over limestone and spent 16 months in older French oak barriques. Deeper and more dense than the Hunter's, with more of a black fruit character. As well as that sweet and plush black fruit, some exotic spice. On the palate, a much more tannic wine, with raised acidity too to give structure and backbone to the quite meaty, thick dark fruit.
(2021) From various soils including clay, sandy loam, red-brown earth and sand over limestone, part of the blend includes fruit from 100-year-old vines. The wine spent 17 months in French oak barrels, 35% new, of varying sizes. Vinous, dark, fragrant, with blackberry and plum, a suggestion of real ripeness and sweetness on the nose. Refined oak aromas. The palate has lovely weight and plushness of texture, but an elegant mix of sandy tannin and pert, juicy acidity slices through a more opulent mid-palate, giving this lovely overall appeal.
(2021) A biodynamic certified wine from sandy loam soils, with limestone and clay. Average age of vines here is 30 years and the wine matured for 16 months in French oak barriques, 15% new. A very dark and deeply-coloured wine, it's another vinous expression, all liquorice twsited around black plum and blue/black berries. A little creamy oak supports. In the mouth this is a big wine. Powerfully structured with thick tannins and just enough plum-skin acidity, the density and polish of the dark fruit floods the palate. This is concentrated and certainly a bit of a blockbuster. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2021) Marching to a different beat here, a wine made in stainless steel that sees no oak. Certified organic, plantings range from 1987 to early 1990s, on free-draining stony loam soils and black clay. Very vibrant purple in colour, the youth of this is obvious and it will need a little time: at the moment it is slightly closed and a touch reduced, but with coaxing some bold black fruit does come through. There's a chalkiness to this in the finish, the tannins dry and the acidity quite keen, but the fruit on the mid-palate is indeed pure, black and sweetly ripe. Maybe just a touch of noticeable alcohol heat in the finish. Note that price and stockist quoted are for a previous vintage at time of review.
(2021) From 10- to 15-year-old vineyards planted on sand and gravel soils, this was feremented with 20% whole bunches and matured in French oak for nine months. Great Southern is a cool region of Western Autralia, and this has meat-stock and gaminess against some toasty oak and dark bramble fruit. In the mouth there's a vivid explosion of fruit sweetness, a fleshy and unctuous black fruit melting into espresso-dark oak flavours. Savoury for sure in the finish, a dry tannin quality and nicely balanced acidity, finishes with a bit of spicy tang among the deep fruit flavours. No UK retail listing at time of review, though Majestic carried the 2017 at £16.99.
(2021) Soils here in Victoria's Strathbogie Ranges are sandy loam overlying granite. This is from two Shiraz blocks planted in 1996 and 2013, and spent 12 months in mostly older French oak barrels and large casks. Dark purple/black, this is nicely aromatic, with peppercorns and some floral and herbal notes over refined, taut black fruits. Though labelled with 14.9% alcohol, it does carry it well, the palate firm and juicy thanks to a little endive bite of bittersweetness, very fine tannins and plenty of racy acidity. It's an intense but peppery and taut style.
(2021) From the granite soils of the cool Grampians region, this spent 14 months in French oak, 35% new barrels. Deep in colour, it's another of the more lifted, floral and berry fruit styles here, very charming with its peppery notes and just a background hint of sizzling bacon rind. In the mouth a flood of plush and juicy fruit, tangy sour-edged blueberry and plum, but so much balancing fruit sweetness. There's a firmness through taut tannins and juicy acidity, giving this a fresh and appetising finish. Price and stockist quoted at time of review is for a previous vintage.
(2021) From 300 million-year-old red/black volcanic soils, and a vineyard planted in 2001, this is organically grown and was made with 80% whole bunches. It matured for six months in 5,000-litre French oak foudres. Opaque, almost black in colour, there is a real Rhône sensibility about this, lower in alcohol (13.5%) and with a lean, mineral and stony edge to quite floral red fruits. The palate continues with that pure and relatively cool expression of Syrah, the fruit so tangy and juicy, bittersweet flavours flirt with kumquat and bitter orange, raspberry too. The finish shows a tight but creamy tannin and acid structure, with fruit concentrated but not extracted through to the finish.

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