The tasting sought to take a fresh look at Barossa Shiraz through a tasting of six wines, representing different sub-regions and styles within the Valley. There is a well-founded suspicion that many consumers – and members of the wine trade – still have a one-dimensional view that all Barossa Shiraz is made in the full-throttle, blockbuster style on which the region’s fame was originally based.
High alcohols are more or less unavoidable in the Barossa, where grapes ripen easily and fully, and sugar creeps up as the grapes hang on the vine long enough to fullen ripen. But the message here was that there are many other faces to the Shiraz wines of the Barossa, whilst hopefully not forgetting the history and traditions of the region.
Largely that comes down to winemakers exploring and understanding the differences between soils and micro-climates, and partly to making sure parcels are vinified with a ‘recipe’ that suits the fruit, rather than a standard formula. That includes picking a little earlier and using a gentler hand on the oak, which winemaker of the past perhaps lacked. The map below plots the six wines tasted, with the altitude changes:
1. Chaffey Bros, 2. Purple Hands, 3. Thorne-Clarke, 4. Head Wine, 5. Hentley Farm, 6. Yalumba
These wines did indeed show many faces of Barossa Shiraz, from the relatively ‘old-school’ style of the Thorne Clarke, to the fragrant lift of the Hentley Farm, to the savoury, more European reflections of the Head Wine’s and Yalumba examples.
(2022) From the Eden Valley, 60 kilometres from the coast but at an altitude of over 400 metres, soils are shallow sandy loam over clay and gravel with some schist and quartz. The vines are 26 years old, and 11% of whole bunches were used, the wine spending 18 months in larger French oak barrels. A very dark, dense colour, the nose shows lots of spice and white pepper, some quite exotic fruit and floral notes but pure and ripe blackberry and blueberry dominates. The gentle toast of the oak comes through on nose and palate, in a wine where a smooth but savoury fruit stays pliable and fresh across the mid-palate. The finish has fresh acids, very tight tannins, the oak again adding some toast in the finish. No UK retail stockists at time of review. Imported by enotriacoe.com
(2022) On friable red clay with quartz and ironstone, this organic vineyard sits 70 kilometres from the coast at an latitude of 260-280 metres. The vines are 20 years old. Fermented with wild yeasts, larger French oak barrels were used for maturation, 33% new. A deep, glass-staining purple, this has very pure and punching fruit, slick and creamy black fruits touching into chocolate. The palate is very slightly more chunky and spicy than the Chaffey Bros., but has balance, the creamy, ripe fruit soft through the mid-palate, but tension ramped up by the roughening edge of tannin and fresh, tangy acid balance. Very different from wine one, less lift and fragrance. Imported by thewineway.co.uk
(2022) The vines here are planted on sandy loam at an altitude of 400 metres and 67 kilometres from the coast. Vines are aged 25 years, and the wines were aged 18 months in oak, 40% new. Deep colour but a little light on the rim given the extra year in bottle. Very attractive mint and eucalypt-touched black fruit aromas. Lots of creamy coffee and chocolate underpinning the ripeness. A beautiful, big mouthful of what I'd class as a more traditional take on Barossa Shiraz. Deep, vibrant, brimming with black fruit, real fruit sweetness and flesh set against a nicely bitter tannin and acid axis, slightly charry oak adding another edge. Classic. UK stockist is for an older vintage at time of review.
(2022) From high vineyards in the Eden Valley at 480-500 metres, and just 50 kilometres from the coast. Soils are shallow rock with red clay, quartz and ironstone. These are very old vines at 80 years, and 20% whole bunches were feremented with wild yeasts, the wine aged 15 months in French oak, 30% new. Back to the deepest and vibrant colour, this misses the full-on old-Barossa character of the Thorne-Clarke, but adds a dimension of real elegance, intensity and smoothness, with a beautiful fruit quality. The palate is perhaps the most savoury of the examples so far, quite meaty-stocky and dense, chewy tannins but very good balance in the end giving a gravelly intensity. No UK retail stockists at time of review. Imported by Amathus Drinks.
(2022) This comes from the western ridge of the Barossa, 50 kilometres from the coast on red clay and limestone. Planted at 220-300 metres, the vines are over 20 years old. There is 3% Viognier skins in the ferment, and the wine spent 20 months in French oak, 35% new. Dark, saturated, almost black in colour, there's elegance here again, a velvetty dark fruit, but hints of florals and more lifted kirsch adding highlights, perhaps the Viognier playing its part. In the mouth a big raft of sweet, plush black fruit floods the palate. Such fruit sweetness and juiciness here, then once again the very tight-grained tannins and acids romp in on the finish, some spice coming through, the wine finishing tangy with lingering fruit and spice. Stockist at time of review is for an earlier vintage.
(2022) From the Northern Grounds on sand and clay, we are 65km from the coast and at an altitude of 280-285 meteres. Vines range in age from 24 to 60 years. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak vats, then aged in puncheons for 15 months (only 8% new). Again, a 2018 wine shows a little softer in colour. Lots of lift here, violet and cherry notes, the florals and light pepper quite striking. On the palate relatively light-bodied compared to some here, lots of acidity giving freshness and bite, cherry skins and a twist of liquorice. A different take again, a Seville orange twist to the acidity giving this a bittersweet tang into the savoury finish. The only UK stockist I can see at time of review is for an earlier vintage.