All Pizzazz - South Australian Shiraz
It's a good and appropriate time to undertake a tasting of good ol’ South Australian Shiraz. While Pinot Noir is strapped tight to the rocket of rapidly ascending popularity and wine lists across Australia overflow with so-called ‘alternative’ varieties, the fact remains more bottles of Shiraz are consumed across the country than any other red variety and of those bottles the majority trace their origins to South Australian dirt.
A good reason for the variety’s ubiquity is its ability to grow well in just about every wine region in the country and to present a different angle on its varietal character in each of those places. It really is our national barometer of terroir, the control that gives our experiments in regionality their context.
When it gives us medium-bodied savouriness we’re in the Hunter, when it’s exuberantly spiced we’re in Canberra or central Victoria. When it’s all that and more we’re in South Australia.
The results of a large tasting of South Australian Shiraz throwing up 30-odd top pointed wines offers a great opportunity to assess where the variety is at – they don’t call them State of Play tastings for nothing – and the results have presented some juicy food for thought. Some key observations follow.
The Barossa is still king
If we include the higher, cooler and bonier vineyards of the Eden Valley along with those down on the Valley floor, then the Barossa has produced almost half of the top pointed wines in the tasting.
That shouldn’t really surprise us, after all the Barossa has always been South Australia’s Shiraz heartland. But what’s really exciting is the diversity of styles across the wines that performed well.
“Ten years ago you could be forgiven for thinking Barossa Shiraz was pretty much all the same,” says senior Red Winemaker at Yalumba, Kevin Glastonbury. “A lot of the Barossa’s best wines were blended from across the region and made to a certain style, but now there’s a much greater focus on capturing what’s special about great single vineyards.”
That’s got to be a good thing considering the Barossa has some of the greatest viticultural resources on the planet, including some wizened, deep-rooted old vineyards that date back to the early days of the South Australian colony.
Zooming in closer on the Barossa’s viticultural map has also given a deeper understanding of sub-regionality across the Barossa. Glastonbury is well placed to comment on this development, having had a significant hand in two high-pointed wines in the tasting, each one representing a different approach to
Yalumba’s 2010 Paradox Shiraz is an outstanding example of this new way of thinking about Barossa Shiraz. Its vineyard sourcing is drawn from a narrow band across the northern Barossa, primarily around Kalimna, Ebenezer and up towards Moppa Springs, and the winemaking is carefully controlled to express the character of this corner of the region.
“We want something that’s really savoury and supple rather than hefty and sweet fruited,” he explains. “We also back right off on the new oak and use old French puncheons.”
Glastonbury is also a big fan of the distinctly different fruit that comes of vineyards up in the Eden Valley.
“The nature of the place allows us to apply a few winemaking techniques that work well with that finer fruit. We’ve started to do things like a bit of whole bunch fermentation in some Octavius parcels and it really adds an extra dimension to the style.”
The Barossa is clearly in a golden age
South Australian Shiraz is becoming cool and getting high. Anyone labouring under the out-dated impression that South Australian Shiraz is all big flesh and brute power should look to the impressive number of top pointed wines in the tasting coming from the Limestone Coast and Adelaide Hills.
Wines from Zema, Wynns and Brands help us realise there’s more to Coonawarra than just Cabernet Sauvignon and remind us that the famous terra rossa soils can produce outstanding, fine framed and elegant Shiraz.
It’s particularly exciting to see a wine from Wrattonbully – Coonawarra’s near neighbour to the north – a region that really has the capacity to produce a fragrantly spicy Shiraz style.
If this tasting took place a decade ago, we’d be surprised to see a single entrant from the cool, elevated vineyards of the Adelaide Hills, but in 2015 we have five breaking into the Top 30.
Where many saw Pinot Noir as the future star when vineyards began to take root in the Adelaide Hills, it’s been Shiraz that has performed best. The Hills offers a huge diversity of sites for growing Shiraz and canny winemakers have harnessed this diversity to produce some of the most impressive cool climate Shiraz in the country.
Clare is the real dark horse
One of the really significant elements of this tasting has been the strong performance of the Clare Valley. Clare attracts most attention for its Riesling, and while Shiraz lovers might look closer to Adelaide for their red wine thrills, it’s clear that the distinctive, consistent and exceedingly delicious Clare Shiraz style is something very special.
Andrew Mitchell has been making Shiraz in Clare for four decades and his Mitchell Wines ‘McNicol’ Shiraz 2005 was the highest pointed wine of the tasting.
“When we first started this place most people in Clare used Shiraz for making port,” he says. “ Even when table wines started taking off in the 70s, the market really wanted Cabernet, but I’ve always known Clare Shiraz was something pretty special.
“Clare Shiraz can give you power, intensity, depth and length, but does it all with great balance and a kind of elegance that I think defines the regional style.
“And it ages really well too. That’s why we release the McNicol with bottle age. I want people to experience just how beautiful these wines can be when mature.”
There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate.
The key word in discussing these results is ‘diversity’.
The one obvious conclusion to be drawn from these results is that to talk of South Australian Shiraz as one homogenous thing is unjust. There is such a wide range of Shiraz styles scattered throughout the top wines in this tasting that we can safely say there’s a South Australian Shiraz to suit just about any palate.
Click here see the Wine Selectors range of Shiraz