I think we can all agree that Australian Shiraz went through a bubble not unlike the housing crisis in the U.S. But just as homeownership is making a slow, wobbly comeback, so is Shiraz trickling back into the market.
I addressed some of the issues the Australian wine market faced in a previous post, so this is old news. But to briefly recap the story of Shiraz, by winemakers’ own admissions, they glommed on to the trend of producing ripe, oaky syrup intended to please palates of critics and Coca-Cola loving Americans. But they made too much of it, and the style expired (or is still expiring—fingers crossed for the Mid-West!), as all trends do. Americans opened up their wallets and palates to different countries—Argentinian Malbec, for example—as well as to leaner wines with greater finesse. Shiraz was left to wither on the proverbial vine.
Enter Australia 2.0. The country has since come to realize their epic mistake for relying on one grape, one style, one low price point and a couple of critters to represent the country’s potential. Frankly, any thoughtful wine drinker can look at a map of Australia and conceive that there are many different micro-climates, varieties, producers and thus styles that should be heading our way. However, Australians needed introspection; thus, the industry took a look at their own map, defined their regions, embraced them and are looking to share it with us.
In progression towards this goal, Wine Australia has hosted monthly regional immersion classes for industry folks in hopes we spread the good wine word. I have attended class the last four months, each one focusing on different grapes/styles/regions.
To be honest, when the Shiraz class came up on the schedule, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. I had recently been to a tasting that left me underwhelmed—many of the wines were too ripe, lacked acidity, and had the same profile for which we sent the grape packing in the first place. So, why relive the nightmare in the classroom, when there are so many other wines worth knowing? However, I kept an open mind because that is kind of the point of discovery and Australia is, by my own acknowledgment, a big place.
We tasted 22 wines in all price points, and surprise, many of them were wonderful! I felt like I was tasting the real Shiraz, or at least something different from the past 10 years. Don’t get me wrong—the wines still hold loads of plush fruit, but many had depth, complexity and finally some acidity. The class was a great re-introduction to Aussie Shiraz’ potential, and I kept notes on a handful of wines I believe deserve recognition.
What’s fun about this list is that good Shiraz is being made all over Australia, some regions with cooler climes and thus less ripe styles. Here are a few worth seeking out, and my simplified tasting notes from class:
2010 Inkberry Mountain Estate Shiraz-Cabernet, Central Ranges, NSW, $13: Black cherry, blackberry, black raspberry and a touch of menthol; good value.
2009 Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz, Strathbogie Ranges, VIC $20: Fruit and flowers nose; fruit leather, Christmas spice, Sichuan peppercorn and integrated oak palate.
2010 Shingleback The Davey Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale, SA $22: Mint-choco chip ice cream with silky, warm blackberry sauce; lingering, pepper and herb finish.
2008 Plantagenet Shiraz, Mount Barker, WA $29: Earthy, floral and fruity; lifting acidity and a chocolate-minty finish.
2009 Brokenwood Shiraz, Hunter Valley, NSW, $36: Potpourri of baking spice, dried orange rind, cherries with traces of white fruit; good structure and acidity.
2007 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz, Clare Valley, SA $70: Vibrant mint, tobacco and black fruits; silky tannins fine like turkish coffee.