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Member tasting: the trend of Shiraz blends

Shiraz is the undisputed king of the Australian wine industry. It is the varietal that proudly carved us a prestigious reputation internationally and thrives in nearly every wine region across our country, where it consistently produces a delicious, flavoursome wine laden with dark fruit and peppery spice.

Many of us prefer the big, bold Shiraz from South Australian regions such as the Barossa and McLaren Vale, others the medium-bodied savoury examples from the Hunter Valley, while the more refined Shiraz of cool climate regions such as Hilltops, Canberra and Great Southern is also very much in fashion.

Recently, a number of trailblazing winemakers have been taking Shiraz and blending it with different varietals to produce seductive wines that range from light and ethereal to full and rich.

The big question is, will passionate Shiraz lovers give these wines the thumbs up? Or will they stick to their tried and tested? The jury is still out, but every vintage is bringing more of these Shiraz blends to the market.

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A single focus

For many consumers, the idea of blending wines is often perceived as something winemakers do with the leftover grapes so they can eke out a few more bottles from a vintage. While there is an element of truth to this, sometimes it is all about fashion, the search for the next big thing.

That is exactly how it is with these exciting Shiraz blends. Inquisitive and inventive winemakers driven by a deep  burning desire to create new flavours that will excite the palates of savvy drinkers looking for the next trend in wine. And today’s trend is blends.

What better place to start than taking our greatest red wine and blending it with a range of different varietals, not for the sake of selling leftover stock, but in the pursuit of something new and exciting.

A blended history

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Of course, blending Shiraz with other varietals is not an entirely new concept. In its ancestral home in France’s RhÔne region, Shiraz has been successfully blended with Viognier for centuries. GSM or Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre is also a time-honoured combination, while the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is in fact Shiraz, blended with any number of RhÔne varietals.

In Australia, some of our most revered reds have also been Shiraz blends. In particular, Shiraz blended with Cabernet, a beguiling combination that has become known as the Great Australian Red and is the secret to the global success of wines such as Penfold’s Grange and Bin 389, and Yalumba’s Signature.

Of course, Shiraz Cabernet is a blend that would never happen in France due to the fact that the varietals are from different regions. But over here, winemakers have the freedom to experiment with growing and blending any varieties they like. And our thirsty, trend-seeking palates have been the beneficiaries.

The past few years has seen the emergence of mouthwatering blends such as Shiraz Touriga, Shiraz Pinot, even a Shiraz Riesling. It seems almost every winemaker, in every region is giving a Shiraz blend a go.

Tasting the blends

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To navigate our way through this sea of Shiraz blends and see what styles are worth drinking, we set up a Members Tasting. We invited seven knowledgeable Wine Selectors Members to join a dedicated Selector magazine crew for a tasting of 16 Shiraz blends paired with four courses of scrumptious food from Newcastle tapas-themed restaurant, Bocados.

We also had the honour of two special guests, Andrew and Lisa Margan from Margan Wines in the Hunter Valley. Noted for pioneering alternative varietals, particularly Italian styles, Andrew has also experimented with a few Shiraz blends of his own, including Shiraz Mourvedre and Shiraz Tempranillo.

Four distinct styles

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To formulate some sense of trend, we  grouped the 16 wines of the tasting into four brackets; Shiraz blended with light-bodied reds, Shiraz with medium-bodied reds, Shiraz blended with white varietals, and Shiraz blended with full-bodied reds.

The first bracket featured three Shiraz Pinot, two from the Hunter Valley and one from Frankland River, WA, along with an interesting blend of dry, European-style Syrah Dolcetto made by inventive winemaker Dan Binet.

Shiraz Pinot has become quite fashionable, particularly in the Hunter where a number of winemakers are utilising Pinot’s lifted aromatics and fresh acidity to add elegance and brightness to Shiraz. However, it is a really of case of ‘everything old is new again’.

Legendary winemaker Maurice O’Shea actually popularised the blend when he was establishing his Mount Pleasant label almost a century ago. It seems the trend has come full circle.

As it turned out, the Shiraz Pinot blends impressed most of our tasters.

Member Patrick Murphy was besotted with the soft mouthfeel and the lingering palate of the Silkman Shiraz Pinot Noir 2017 from the Hunter Valley. It was the first time Patrick had tried the blend, and while he admitted he wouldn’t normally buy a Shiraz Pinot, he said he definitely will now.

Jane Elvy liked both the Ferngrove Shiraz Pinot 2017 and the Mount Pleasant Mount Henry Shiraz Pinot 2017, saying the flavoursome but light body of the wines paired delightfully with the first course of house crumbed sardines served with a Catalan chickpea pinenut salad.

To read the full story, pick up the latest issue of Selector Magazine at newsstands from March 7.

Wine
Words by
Mark Hughes
Photography by
Ben Forrest
Published on
13 Mar 2019

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