The ultimate guide to Aussie shiraz
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.
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
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.