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Wine

Hunter Valley Shiraz Member Tasting

Hunter Valley winemakers have embraced their unique style of Shiraz and it’s set to become a timeless classic

Fashion is a strange beast. Whether it’s moulding what we wear, what we eat or the car we drive, it’s hard to escape its influence. Even winemaking is at the mercy of fashion with critics often the ones to set the trends. One of recent history’s greatest influencers has been Robert Parker Jr, a US-based doyen of wine who has been described in The Wall Street Journal as being “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic.”

Parker has always shown a predilection for Barossa Shiraz with its bold, generous, full-bodied characters and during the 1990s he really helped put this South Australian region on the world wine stage. But where did that leave other regions whose Shiraz fell short of Parker’s preference for the voluptuous? According to Hunter Valley winemaker Andrew Thomas, Shiraz producers in his region attempted to emulate the Barossa style. “They left the fruit on the vine for longer, added tannins, used too much new oak.”

That wasn’t the only challenge affecting Hunter Valley Shiraz at this time. Unfortunately, some of the region’s wineries were affected by a spoilage yeast called Brettanomyces, which led to the development of the ‘sweaty saddle or barnyard character’ you might have heard associated with the style. While it should be savoury, Andrew says, Hunter Shiraz shouldn’t have these characters.

An Optimistic Outlook

This all added up to a crying shame because the Hunter has its own unique brand of Shiraz that’s very different to that of the Barossa, but with equal appeal. Thankfully, Andrew goes on to describe, around ten years ago, Hunter winemakers made a unified effort to rid the region of Brettanomyces. They also came to the realisation that they had something special to offer and embraced the Hunter’s distinct style of Shiraz.

The key to allowing Hunter Shiraz to show its true beauty is “letting the vineyard do the talking”, says Andrew. Fellow Hunter winemaker and Hunter Valley Living Legend Phil Ryan agrees, calling the vineyard the “principle number one factor” in Shiraz success. Add to that vine age and site selection, where you’ve got red soils over limestone, and you’ve got a winning formula.

The result is a style of Shiraz that’s vibrant, fruit driven and, as Phil describes, “more user friendly”. While in the past winemakers had to rely on bottle ageing to soften the wines, Phil says, today “they’re basically made to drink as they’re bottled.” That’s not to say that Hunter Shiraz has lost its capacity to age. “The great vineyards have the potential to mature for decades,” Phil says.

So Hunter winemakers are excited about their Shiraz and success is rolling in on the wine show front, but does this equate to consumer appeal? Happily, contemporary Hunter winemakers now have fashion on their side. Having recently returned from a European sojourn, Phil experienced first hand the demand for fresh, flavoursome reds with a lighter tannin structure. “Hunter Shiraz with its medium body and fruit sweetness on the palate can compete with what people see as modern red wines –Sangiovese Tempranillo or even Pinot Noir from various countries.”

The Wines of the Tasting

Peter Drayton Wines Premium Release Shiraz 2014

Tulloch Wines Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz 2014

Allandale Matthew Single Vineyard Shiraz 2014

Brokenwood Wines Shiraz 2014

Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014

Margan Shiraz 2014

Hart & Hunter Single Vineyard Series Ablington Shiraz 2014

Mount Eyre Three Ponds Holman Shiraz 2014

De Iuliis Shiraz 2014

Sobels Shiraz 2013

The Little Wine Co Little Gem Shiraz 2013

Andrew Thomas Elenay Barrel Selection Shiraz 2014

First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz 2014

Usher Tinkler Wines Reserve Shiraz 2014

Tyrrell’s Wines Vat 9 Shiraz 2013

Mount Pleasant Rosehill Vineyard Shiraz 2013

Leogate Estate Wines The Basin Reserve Shiraz 2013

Petersons Back Block Shiraz 2013

Judge and Jury

When it comes to the attraction of Hunter Shiraz, the Tasting Panel needs no convincing. As our resident Hunter expert Nicole Gow describes, “there’s nothing overpowering about this style and its beautiful savouriness and medium weight makes it a wonderful food wine.” The question is, are Australian wine-lovers on board with the new face of Hunter Shiraz?

To find out, the Panel decided to put a line-up of Hunter Shiraz to the taste test in the company of some Wine Selectors members. Joining the judging team of Nicole Gow and Trent Mannell were members Melissa and Tony Calder and Marilyn Willoughby, along with winemaker Andrew Thomas.

The Tasting

When the guests were asked what they liked in their reds, the resounding answer was smoothness. One of the smoothest Shiraz of the tasting turned out to be Andrew Thomas’ Elenay Shiraz 2014, which Marilyn also admired for its lovely spicy appeal.

The story behind this wine is a colourful one, so perhaps skip to the next paragraph if you’re sensitive to strong language. In 2011, Andrew found himself with some leftover barrels of two of his other premium Shiraz. These barrels became known as the ‘lips and arseholes’, but when they were blended together, they actually produced a standout Shiraz. So the label – Elenay (L and A) was continued and has enjoyed great success since.

While the majority of the wines in the tasting lived up to the regional reputation for being medium-bodied, there were a couple of fuller styles among the standouts. The Little Wine Company Little Gem Shiraz 2013 was described as “a wine for the oak-lovers”, which Melissa and Marilyn both enjoyed. The other was the Pepper Tree Limited Release Shiraz 2014, which Nicole praised for its generous plummy fruit.

The wine that really brought all the tasters together was the De Iuliis Shiraz 2014, which was described as having “beautiful balance with long, spicy elegant tannins”.

Overall, our members left impressed with the Hunter Shiraz they tasted and will definitely be adding more examples to their collection. So let’s hope that now there’s a new found confidence in the style from local winemakers, wine-lovers will share in their enthusiasm and Hunter Shiraz will become a timeless classic in the world of wine fashion.

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Know Your Variety – Australian Grenache
Having claims to its origins in both France and Spain, Grenache is most famously known in Australia as part of a blended trio with Shiraz and Mourvedre . But, Grenache is starting to break out and go solo with some superb single varietal wines from South Australia. To help us learn more about Australian Grenache, we reached out to experts Kevin Glastonbury of Yalumba and Nathan Hughes of Willunga 100 . Australian Grenache Infographic Origins
In Spain it is known as Garnacha, in Sardinia it’s Cannonau and in France, where the variety carpets the Côtes du Rhône, it is Grenache. So, where does Grenache actually come from? It’s complicated. Spain has perhaps the strongest claim to producing the first vines, but this is hotly contested and constantly revised by wine academics . It is, however, France where the variety is most famously grown with Grenache forming an integral part of the classic Rhône blend. In the Côtes du Rhône, Grenache is the star and must make up at least 50% of their prized blend along with Syrah (Shiraz) and Mourvedre. Grenache in Australia
Grenache is a variety that relishes warm climates and improves as the vines grow old, which is why the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale , two of Australia’s oldest regions, produce some of the best expressions. The Barossa, in particular, has blocks of wine with Grenache from 1850 still producing wines, each and every year.

Grenache is a red grape variety that relishes heat and can relatively easily produce ripe, full styles of wine. Perhaps Grenache was grown initially on sites that were more akin to producing a generous crop for fortified winemaking. But, now many wineries are searching for more finesse and picking these Grenache blocks earlier and seeking red fruit rather than riper black fruit flavours. The majority of Grenache in the Barossa is not trellised; it is grown as a bush-vine. These bush-vines tend to take care of themselves, allowing more air flow and light penetration. The Barossa and McLaren Vale are considered the two leading regions for Grenache in Australia. And it is always a great debate as to which consistently produces better quality wine.

- Kevin Glastonbury, Winemaker, Yalumba Family Vignerons
Tasting Notes With a similar weight and tannin structure to light to medium bodied Shiraz, Grenache is light on the palate and is all about purity of fruit. With aromas like pomegranate, wild strawberries, violets and red fruits and a palate that’s restrained and fine in texture, it is often blended with Mataro/Mourvedre, which provides a heightened element of spice and tannin. But, with careful oak treatment, Grenache can produce be a splendid single varietal wine.

South Australia has old vines, this resource cannot be understated. We work with vines ranging from 50 to 90 years old. Grenache is extremely reflective of where it’s grown. In McLaren Vale, we see lighter bodied, more aromatic styles from Blewitt Springs and Clarendon. Down on the flats of Tatachilla, we see a far heavier, richer, full-bodied styles.

- Nathan Hughes, Willunga 100
Grenache food pairing   The heightened alcohol, medium tannin and low acidity that characterise Grenache mean it will work well with a range of dishes from game through to lighter dishes. For Kevin, the perfect match for Grenache is simple - “Pizza, always”. But, he is also fond of pairing it with “Sticky glaze duck with rocket and pear pizza. Pork belly, with buffalo mozzarella, balsamic onion, oregano and radicchio.” The notes of red plum, black cherry and raspberry also mean that Grenache is also a great match for many Asian-style dishes as long as they aren’t too spicy. As Nathan Hughes from Willunga 100 describes, “I love how lemongrass, soy and coriander work with Grenache.” Recommended Recipe: Stefano Manfredi’s roast spitchcock with bread and truffle stuffing Recommended Recipe: Bocconcini, cherry tomato and basil pizza
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Salute to Shiraz
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Jul 2017
We examine the remarkable success of Australian Shiraz through the eyes of some of those who know it best,  Australia's First Families of Wine. Is there any wine more symbolic of Australia than  Shiraz ? Hard working, popular and a great lover of food, it is just as much a descriptor for an Aussie living abroad, as it is for our famed Shiraz. The fact that we call it 'Shiraz' is just the first of many ways we have adopted this varietal as our own. In the rest of the world it is called 'Syrah' in reference to its French heritage, but as is our cultural right, we have corrupted the title to suit our style. To us, it 'Shiraz', with an emphasis on the 'raz'. But Shiraz suits us, too. In its spiritual home in the Rhône region in France, it is seen as a bit of a workhorse varietal, creating solid medium-weight red wines,  but certainly not escalating to the regal heights afforded the Cabernets of Bordeaux or the Pinots of Burgundy. In Australia, however, it is revered as our premium red, and rightly so, as it is capable of producing a range of delectable wines that can be consumed now, or aged for years. "It grows just about anywhere, and suits most of Australia's range of climates," says Hunter Valley winemaker Bruce Tyrrell. "With 61 different regions, there are 61 different styles." Tyrrell's  are one of the 12 members of  Australia's First Families of Wine (AFFW) , along with  Brown Brothers ,  d'Arenberg ,  De Bortoli , Campbells, Henschke,  Howard Park , Jim Barry,  McWilliam's , Taylors,  Tahbilk  and Yalumba. With over 1,300 years combined winemaking experience, and vineyards from coast to coast, the group is perfectly placed to tell the many faceted story of Australian Shiraz. After all, there is a true provenance with Shiraz and Australia's First Families - that sense of place, style and history that a wine develops from its consistent quality across vintages. "My family owns Shiraz vines that are 137 years old, and there are many older vineyards still in production around the country," says Scott McWilliam. "As winemakers, we've had lots of time to learn how to get the best of Shiraz, and we're seeing continued success with regions and new styles emerging frequently."   SPRINGBOARD TO SUCCESS
In many ways, the success of Shiraz in Australia mirrors that of Australia's  First Families. Starting small, this varietal has, through its proud history, earned integrity and respect deserved and given the world over. Alister Purbrick from Tahbilk in Victoria's Nagambie Lakes points out that the versatility of Australian Shiraz put us centre stage in the world of wine and paved the way for our export market. "This success means that Australia boasts a critical mass of many styles of Shiraz which have captivated the world's influencers," says Alister. "The result is that Australia 'owns' this variety and ownership of a segment is a powerful position to be in."   SENSATIONAL STYLES
Scott McWilliam from McWilliam's Wines   So what are the different styles of Shiraz? In Alister's neck of the woods, where the moderating influence of an inland water mass keeps the climate between cool and moderate, the resulting style of Nagambie Lakes Shiraz is "savoury and mid-weight with a myriad of subtle flavours which tend to change and evolve as the bottle is consumed," says Alister. The Hunter Valley style is also savoury, "light to mid-weight with plenty of complexity with its base more in fruit and acid than in tannin and alcohol," says Bruce, who adds his perfect food match is aged Hunter Shiraz and flame-grilled, medium-rare Angus steak left to rest before it is served. Pioneers of the varietal in New South Wales, particularly in the Hunter Valley , McWilliam's have also been exploring Shiraz from the cooler Hilltops region. "Hilltops Shiraz is a beautiful example of a medium-bodied style," says Scott. "It has fruit forward characters with supple yet complex spicy aromatics and fleshy blue fruits, but it's not quite as peppery or jammy as Shiraz from other regions."   SOUTH OZ SHIRAZ
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Howard Park's Burch Family   In recent times, Western Australia has proven to be a mecca for many wine varietals, with Shiraz no exception. One of the state's premier producers is Howard Park and its chief winemaker Janice McDonald says the Great Southern sub-regions of Frankland and Mount Barker are where Shiraz reigns supreme. "The cooler, more continental climes of these sub-regions are favoured for growing our Flint Rock Shiraz," she says. "The wines display a great intensity of dark fruits with traces of spice, earth and soft tannins. The use of fine grain French oak crafts a layered and complex wine."   BLENDED FAMILIES
The Henschke Family   One of the other great qualities of Shiraz is that it blends beautifully with other varietals. We are famed globally for our 'great Australian red' - Shiraz Cabernet (see Tyson Stelzer's story on this iconic blen in the July/August issue of  Selector ). The reason these two great wines work so well together is due to the firm, fruity body of Australian Shiraz perfectly filling out the mid-palate of Cabernet, such as we see in the Jim Barry Shiraz Cabernet from Clare Valley. Other popular blends include Shiraz Viognier, Shiraz Grenache, while the GSM blend, Grenache Shiraz Mataro, has a long and successful history in Australia. Henschke's Henry's Seven is a delicious blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Viognier. "It is a tribute to Henry Evans, who planted the first vineyard at Keyneton in 1853," explains Justine Henschke, who challenges the traditional steak and Shiraz pairing. "We love to recommend game meats such as duck, venison and kangaroo. Lamb is an excellent match, too."   A SHIRAZ FUTURE
Bruce Tyrrell inspecting the vineyards   Winemakers love Shiraz for its reliability, impressive yields and resistance to disease; drinkers love it because it is delicious when young, even more beguiling with some age and is great with a range of foods. But its crowning glory is its versatility, its ability to express itself beautifully across many wine regions. And that's key to the success of Australian Shiraz globally. "The world now accepts that we do it better than anyone else," says Bruce. "The future for Australian Shiraz is endless, as long as winemakers stay true to the variety and the region where it is grown."  
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History Two lovers of wine, Paul Byron and Harold (Ralph) Dunning joined forces with vigneron Andrew Lane to form Byron & Harold. With more than 65 years combined experience in wine, they meticulously seek out parcels of wine they know Australian wine lovers will love. Based in WA’s Great Southern, Byron & Harold deliver wines with flavour, true to their variety – wines with provenance. Tasting Notes Brilliant pale straw in the glass, this gorgeous Rose & Thorns Riesling presents complex aromas of citrus blossom, lemon zest and green apple with underlying floral notes.  On the palate, it appeals with a long, fleshy mouth feel, and gorgeous characters of lemon blossom and crunchy green apple with complex floral notes complemented by well integrated natural acidity leading to a lovely crisp mineral finish. The 2017 vintage The 2017 vintage was one of the latest vintages in recent times, reminiscent more of the 1990s. With an abundance of groundwater, soil temperatures remained cool, which delayed budburst by three to four weeks. Flowering and fruit set were also exceptional due to the levels of groundwater. Although it was a challenging vintage, the long, cold wet winter combined with the mild summer has resulted in some exceptional fruit. + Food The natural acidity in Riesling makes it a beautiful match with a range of fresh summer seafood. Throw a feast together of prawns, ocean fish, and oysters and share this wine on a lazy afternoon with family and friends. byronandharold.com.au
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