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The Ultimate Guide to Aussie Shiraz
The Ultimate Guide to Aussie Shiraz
By David Brookes
Here’s a little task. It’ll only take a moment and I’d be interested to hear your opinion. What would you consider to be Australia’s most famous grape variety?
If you said shiraz, you’re not alone.
It’s certainly our most famous export and if you were to wander up to a stranger in some far-flung destination and ask them, I’m pretty sure you’d get the same reply. Australian shiraz is the rockstar of antipodean grape varieties.
It was one of the first grape varieties to enter our fine land courtesy of the James Busby collection and we are lucky enough to have some of the oldest shiraz vines in the world.
I’m lucky to live in a pretty special place where I can walk 600 metres one direction and stand next to a vineyard planted in 1912. Then amble past a vineyard planted in 1962, wheeze my way up a short incline, cut through a paddock, hope the cows don’t chase me and then have a break leaning on a fence staring at some shiraz vines planted in 1860. Those old vines are national treasures.
Shiraz is a grape variety that can be found in many of Australia’s wine regions which, in turn, gives us bonafide shiraz-lovers plenty of choice and great diversity of wine style thanks to regional nuance.
Medium-bodied, age-worthy and savoury? Head to the Hunter Valley. Something equally as savoury perhaps finely-honed with tight lines? You should aim towards wines from the Yarra Valley, Nagambie Lakes, Beechworth, Grampians or the Adelaide Hills. Classic, elegant wines with abundant fruit depth and latent power? You certainly can’t go past the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley. Aromatic and finely structured? Canberra is a no-brainer. Fruit weight and plushness with structure and fine lines? Head west… Great Southern and Margaret River should do the trick.
Picking Decisions and Winemaking Techniques
Then we add in the intricacies of picking decisions and winemaking techniques in the cellar and the matrix gets very diverse indeed. New oak or large format seasoned oak? Pick it early or let it hang? De-stemmed fruit or some proportion of whole bunches in the ferments?
I’ve a bit of an affinity towards the whole bunch thing. For me, when done well, whole bunches in the ferments seem to open a wine up. It seems to let a little more light into the wine, a little more space and clarity along with detail and abundant spice notes.
Shiraz vs Syrah
We should probably talk about the Shiraz vs Syrah debate here also yeah? More often than not, if an Australian producer is labelling the wine ‘Syrah’ it signals that something is a little different about the wine and perhaps signals that it is more ‘European’ in style than the fruit-forward styles that our country is famous for. Think more savoury, a bit finer and elegant… that sort of thing.
But that’s the great thing about shiraz. There really is something to suit everyone from the full-throttle powerhouses to the lighter, airy, more delicate wines. It’s a beautiful thing and one that I find endlessly fascinating.
And we haven’t even touched on shiraz’s penchant for teaming up with other grape varieties to shape all manner of delicious red blends! Of course, there is the great Australian red the shiraz/cabernet, all manner of wine acronym blends that sound like motorcycle models… GSM, GSZ, SGM, etc and of course shiraz/viognier. If a grape variety were to be given an award for service to Australian drinkers, my vote would be for shiraz.
I’m going to attempt to pen some of my favourite shiraz below. This kind of stuff is always hard as I’m a complex human whose tastes and preferences in wine ebbs and flows depending on the context. But the main thing is to taste widely and enjoy the wines with good company and preferably good food.
That said. I’ll have a crack… Here’s a short-list of producers whose shiraz/syrah wines make me go googly-eyed. Of course, your mileage may vary but this is what works for me. Here we go.
Must Try Aussie Shiraz
- Henschke (Hill of Grace & Mount Edelstone)
- Penfolds (of course Grange and my favourite St Henri)
- Mount Langi Ghiran
- Mount Pleasant
- Chris Ringland
- Hentley Farm
- De Iuliis
- Stephen Pannell Wines
- Giant Steps
- McHenry Hohnen
- Nick O’Leary Wines
- St Hallett
- The Lane
- Shaw + Smith
Okay… I’m going to have to stop myself there. A Top 30 it is, truth be told, I could keep going all day, but that is a pretty solid start.
A Weekend Guide to Hawke‘s Bay
Can’t find accommodation in Napier? No worries. Everywhere in Hawke’s Bay is within fairly easy driving distance.
Behind the Wine: Dylan McMahon of Seville Estate
Seville Estate, what can we say? One of the founding wineries of the Yarra Valley, Halliday Winery of the Year 2019 and an impressive, newly renovated site which is home to award-winning wines. We were stoked to catch up with winemaker Dylan McMahon after his recent win at the Halliday Wine Awards and ask a few questions about the history of Seville Estate, his personal journey in wine and what the future holds. Dylan’s story is one of both passion and precision, along with a deep appreciation of the site with which he works and the winemaking community in the Yarra, that both supports and inspires him. The only thing that we didn’t get a chance to delve into was Dylan’s side-hustle as the bass player in winemaker supergroup Harvest Goon. But hey, we’ll leave that for another time...
A Weekend in the Barossa Valley
I spoke to Judy Watson, Schild Estate’s Family Proprietor and Brand Ambassador, some time ago. She described the region simply as this, “The Barossa is like a funnel – 25km wide at one end, 8km at the other. Night temperatures drop from gully breezes which keeps the southern end cool. This cooling assists flavour intensity.”
Classic Food and Wine Pairings Throughout History
When the concept of food and wine pairing is brought up some of us run and hide, others seek to rise to the challenge, while most of us will stick to the classics—those pairings that have been tried and tested for centuries before us. There is no harm in that, when something works so perfectly like a glass of Sauternes with foie gras, there’s no point fighting it. Some of the grandest events and dinner parties in our history have exhibited these artful pairings. They are called classics for a reason, and I’m going to prove it to you…