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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

Barossa Shiraz

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

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The Best Barossa Valley Wineries & Cellar Doors
Your guide to Barossa Valley’s historic cellar doors and tasting experiences! Only a short drive from Adelaide will get you to one of Australia’s most historic wine regions, the Barossa Valley. The international success of Australian wine has a lot to thank the Barossa for, recognised for the outstanding quality of wine to come out of the region since the first plantings over 160 years ago. Today, there are so many internationally renowned wineries in the Barossa with equally acclaimed cellar doors and restaurants that a visit to the area will definitely reward any person with a love of regional wines, produce, and beauty. Fine, fresh and regional flavours abound; a bold Shiraz, a hearty Cabernet Sauv, classic Chardonnays, fresh Rieslings, and everything else in between are all ready for your enjoyment. So, jump in the car, take in the views, soak up the sunshine and savour everything the Barossa has to offer. The Willows Vineyard    Situated at Light Pass in the Barossa Valley, The Willows Vineyard has roots going back to the beginning of this historic grape growing region – Johann Gottfried Scholz, an early European colonists and previous Prussian Army bonesetter, first settled The Willows Vineyard property in 1845. But it wasn’t until 1936 that fourth generation relatives of Johann planted the property’s first Semillon vines, with Shiraz, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache added over the years. Now home to the ‘Bonesetter’ Shiraz and ‘The Doctor’ Sparkling Shiraz in honour of Johann, the Scholz family are proudly 100% Barossan, sourcing fruit entirely from their Light Pass vineyard. 310 Light Pass Rd, Light Pass Open Wednesday to Monday 10:30am-4:30pm | Closed Tuesday and Public holidays Visit The Willows Vineyard website Schild Estate   Recognised as a Five Star Winery and listed as one of the ‘Ten Dark Horses’ in the 2019 James Halliday Wine Companion, Schild Estate produces highly acclaimed wines including the Moorooroo Shiraz, of which the 2015 vintage was awarded 99 points (James Halliday, 2019 Wine Companion) and the Ben Schild Reserve Shiraz which was awarded ‘Best in Show – Australian Reds’ at Mundus Vini Grand International Wine Awards 2019. 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Top Adelaide Hills Wineries and Cellar Doors
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For those in need of more than a bite-sized snack, enjoy a leisurely lunch paired with wines from the same single estate vineyard you can admire from the comfort of the beautiful restaurant. 5 Ravenswood Lane, Hahndorf Open daily 10am to 4pm Visit The Lane Vineyard website Howard Vineyard The beauty of the gum trees, terraced lawns and rolling vines that surround the family-owned Howard Vineyard impress visitors before they even sample the award-winning wines. Try cool climate Cabernet Francs, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Gris and Sparkling wines before settling in beside the roaring fire with your favourite glass. Active guests can take a walk around the manicured gardens or play a spot of croquet on the lawn. 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Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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