What is the first grape that comes to mind when you hear Australia? Shiraz is as synonymous to Australia as vegemite. However, Australian Shiraz has experienced an identity crisis. The US wine market was flooded with inexpensive, over-ripe Shiraz that was initially well received and highly consumed, yet overtime spawned questions as to whether Australian Shiraz had lost its soul. Perhaps there were some producers who saw the increase in revenue and shifted their focus from quality to quantity, that exists in every wine region; however, do not throw out the baby with the bathwater because there are many high quality Australian Shiraz ready to be rediscovered.
Australia is a huge land mass, when super-imposed over North America it makes up about half of Canada and almost all of the US except the northeast and Texas. Even though wine is only produced in the southern part of the country, speaking of Australian Shiraz (or any Aussie wine for that matter) as a single style would be an error. Similarly, wines from the US, Italy, Spain, etc are not spoken of as one style of wine. This is an important misconception that must be ended to best understand Australian wines of all varieties.
“What has happened with Australian Shiraz (a woefully inadequate description given the size of Australia and its many wine regions, so perhaps better to say “the Shiraz of Australia”) is not a new phenomenon. Riesling, Lambrusco, Beaujolais, and a number of other styles have enjoyed huge success followed by a collapse in popularity. Each of these has evolved in philosophy, practices and style. A generation of wine drinkers later, they get revisited and appreciated for the evolution. I think the Shiraz of Australia deserves to be revisited in the context of its evolution. The diversity of styles, places, practices and producers offer variety for any wine list. If a wine list includes every Cru of the Rhone, then why not a selection of regions and styles from Australia?” ~ James Tidwell, Master Sommelier and TexSom cofounder
Wine production in Australia takes place on the southern coast of Western Australia, and in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. Within these states there are many regions that produce wines. Western Australia is far removed from the rest of the wine producing regions. If it was its own landmass and not part of Australia it would be the world’s tenth largest country. However, the wine production is centered around the coastal city of Perth. Home to nine wine regions, the Margaret River region is the best known, as it has made a name for itself due to its high quality Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The Margaret River has a maritime climate and gravelly soil, producing Shiraz with herbaceous notes and black pepper.
South Australia is home to more than half of Australia’s wine production. It is the driest state and home to 18 different wine regions with a host of microclimates. Some of the widely recognized regions include Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, and Coonawarra. It is the largest Shiraz producing state in Australia and home to some of the oldest Shiraz/Syrah vines on the earth. However, to explain a style of Shiraz from South Australia would be impossible, like explaining a Cabernet Sauvignon from America. It is worth picking up Shiraz from a variety of South Australia wine regions and explore the differences and similarities yourself.
New South Wales is the second largest wine producing state by volume, with 14 wine regions and is home to Hunter Valley, the country’s oldest wine region. The Hunter Valley is a wine region aberration. It is close to the equator with weather influenced by warm tropical ocean currents, it is warm and humid, yet somehow grapes such as Shiraz, Semillon and Chardonnay thrive. Ironically, Shiraz from Hunter Valley is known to be more “old-world” in style with lower alcohol percentages and earthier in nature.
Victoria, on the other hand, is the mainland’s smallest and most southern wine region, Tasmania lies off the coast of Victoria and is Australia’s finest cool climate region. Victoria houses 21 wine regions, all with distinct microclimates due to the Great Dividing Range that runs through Victoria, creating mountainous terrain over a third of the state. Yarra Valley is known for its cool climate Shiraz that can be underwhelming on their own so producers in this region blend in a small percentage of Viognier to add depth to the wine. Conversely, Nagambie Lakes Shiraz are warm climate, producing full-body, juicy, spiced Shiraz.
“With 65 wine regions, from a country the size of continental United States, it is impossible to pigeon hole Australian wine into one style or variety. Instead, there are a plethora of wine varieties and styles that offer an exciting opportunity for discovery for wine consumers. Even just across one variety, Shiraz, there are amazingly diverse offerings, from Hunter Valley which produces medium bodied styles, to Barossa Valley which is known to produce some of the fuller-bodied styles of the variety. From Margaret River Cabernet and Chardonnay and Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, to Clare Valley Riesling and McLaren Vale Grenache, there’s never been a better time to explore Australia’s fine wine offering.” ~ Aaron Ridgway, Head of Market, Americas, Wines of Australia
Here are some Shiraz from each state to start your rediscovery:
2014 Tyrell’s Hunter Valley Shiraz ($24.99): Deep garnet; medium+ aromas of baked red fruit, dried rose petals, black currant leaf, sweet baking spice, tobacco, smoked meat, and leather; medium+ acidity and tannins create a balanced wine that is earthy with tart red fruit and leather pronounced on the palate, full body, long finish.
2015 Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Yarra Valley Syrah ($42): Deep ruby; pronounced aromas of candied violets, stewed red berries, eucalyptus, baking spice, fresh picked tobacco, vanilla, and dusty earth; high acidity and tannins, balanced wine, full body with a long, dusty earth finish.
2014 Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz ($34.99): Deep garnet; medium aromas of fresh black and red berries, dusty earth, dried herbs, minerality, leather, and smoke; high acidity and tannins with an earthy savory palate and nice minerality, balanced, full body, long smoky finish.
2013 Leeuwin Estates Art Series Margaret River Shiraz ($35): Deep ruby; pronounced aromas of candied violets, fresh red fruit, dried herbs, licorice, sweet baking spice, medicinal notes, smoked meat, dark chocolate, and vanilla; high acidity and tannins, layers of flavors and textures, old world style, nice eucalyptus notes on the palate, silky mouth-feel, full body, long sultry finish.
2012 Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Shiraz ($23): Deep garnet; medium aromas of cooked red fruit, sweet baking spice, dusty earth, dried herbs and rose petals; medium+ acidity and tannins, elegant on palate, old world style, balanced with a dusty earth palate, over-delivers for price, well-integrated oak, full body with long fruity finish.
2013 Campbells Bobbie Burns Rutherglen Shiraz ($23.99): Deep ruby; medium aromas of candied violets and red and black berries, forest floor, sweet baking spice, eucalyptus, and fresh tobacco; medium+ acidity and tannins, this wine exhibits great tension between fruit and earth, “old world” style; elegantly restrained, over-delivers for price, full body, long finish.
2013 Henry’s Drive Magnus Padthaway Shiraz ($70): Deep ruby; inviting nose with pronounced aromas of fresh red and black berries, eucalyptus, lavender, sweet baking spice, licorice, leather, and smoke; pronounced acidity and tannins, fruit forward on palate with trailing spice, full body, long finish.
2013 Wakefield St Andrews Clare Valley Shiraz ($49.99): Deep ruby; medium aromas of cooked red fruit, sweet baking spice, leather, smoked meat, roasted espresso, and vanilla; high acidity and tannins that are youthful and silky, mouth-coating full body with long finish.
2013 Wirra Wirra RSW McLaren Vale Shiraz ($65.99): Deep ruby, pronounced aromas of baked red and black fruit, eucalyptus anise, nutmet, smoked meat, licorice, and tobacco; rich and powerful on palate, crafted from best selection of grapes from five vineyards, biodynamic estate, high acidity and tannins, plush mouth-feel, full body, long finish.
2014 Henschke Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz ($202.99): Deep ruby; medium+ aromas of fresh red and black fruit, dried roses and herbs, eucalyptus, smoked meat, milk chocolate, minerality, and vanilla; restrained palate with medium acidity and tannins, elegant and silky mouth-feel, beautifully balanced, full body, long finish, will age beautifully for years.
2005 Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz ($150.00): Deep garnet, medium- delicate aromas of fresh red and black fruit, smoke, worn leather, medicinal notes, sweet baking spice, mint, and vanilla; elegant on the palate with lots of spice mid-palate, medium+ acidity and tannins, restrained, full body, long finish, will age beautifully for years.