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Wine

Salute to Shiraz

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 Brothersd'ArenbergDe 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

Jim Barry and Tom Barry from Jim Barry Wines

If any region can lay claim to the most recognisable style of Australian Shiraz, it is the Barossa, its big, fruity wines of the 1980s and 90s established us on the world wine map. It makes perfect sense, as the state can lay claim to the oldest Shiraz vines in the world.

First planted in the Barossa Valley in the mid 1800s, these vines were around 50 years old when phylloxera decimated the original root stock across France and greater Europe in the 1900s. Now over 160 years old, these same vines are responsible for producing some of the most lauded Shiraz in the world.

"Many of the younger vineyards have been planted using these heritage vineyards as sources," explains Robert Hill-Smith, from Australia's oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba. "In the Barossa, we are very lucky to have not only a perfect Mediterranean-style climate, but also a diverse range of soils types and terroirs and Shiraz thrives in them all.

"In the higher and cooler Eden Valley, aromas and flavours are more aromatic - red and blue fruits with violets, sage, pepper, and the wines more elegant and linear than in the warmer Barossa Valley where they're round and velvety and show more blue and black fruits - dark cherry, fruitcake, plum, blackberry, mulberry, black olives, chocolate and liquorice."

Other wine regions in South Australia can also boast Shiraz of world renown, McLaren Vale, in particular. d'Arenberg's colourful winemaker Chester Osborn says the different soil types and sub-climes of McLaren Vale can result in many different types of Shiraz, but overall attributes "a certain savoury, fragrant, flowery edge to McLaren Vale Shiraz, full, but elegant and quite spicy with a crushed ant character that sets it apart from other regions."

Known for its Riesling, the Clare Valley is emerging as a stellar region for Shiraz. Mitchell Taylor, third generation managing director and winemaker at Taylors Wines says Clare Shiraz has a certain powerful elegance and finesse you don't see from many other places.

"Because of the Clare's climate of long, warm sunny days and cool nights, the fruit develops and ripens slowly," he explains. "This ensures the rich flavours develop into more subtle and elegant characteristics, but with great concentration of flavour."

 

EXPRESS YOURSELF

Darren DeBortoli of DeBortoli Wines

In the cool climates, Shiraz is expressed as a much leaner wine, while still showing its famed fruit profile. This is certainly true of Victoria's Yarra Valley where Shiraz is still savoury and spicy, but also shows a certain elegance.

"Yarra Shiraz is medium bodied and elegant in style," says De Bortoli red winemaker, Sarah Fagan. "Lifted aromatics and grainy tannins are also commonplace."

Katherine Brown, winemaker at Brown Brothers, explains they get most of their fruit for their iconic 18 Eighty Nine Shiraz from the central Victorian region of Heathcote and, as such, you may find a touch of eucalyptus in their Shiraz, which she describes as having "vibrant purple colours with rich blackberry and plum fruit and black pepper clove spice."

In the warmer Rutherglen region of Victoria, Shiraz is expressed in a bolder style such as Campbell's famed Bobbie Burns Shiraz, which is a rich, full flavoured red with ripe berry fruit balanced by oak with a long, soft tannin finish.

 

GO WEST

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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Pursuit of Perfection - Australian Pinot Noir
Words by Dave Mavor on 2 May 2017
Australia's established Pinot Noir regions are continuing to develop and evolve remarkable examples of this varietal. But for the big future of Aussie Pinot, we may need to look west. I'll admit it - not everyone is a fan of  Pinot Noir . But that fact, in itself, is what makes Pinot so enigmatic - aficionados swoon, swillers scoff. And this suits Pinot (and its lovers) just fine because in this land of the tall poppy, it is not always favourable to be too popular. That said, Pinot is one of the most revered and collected wine styles in the world, with the top examples from its homeland in Burgundy selling for outrageous sums of money. It is generally quite delicate (some say light-bodied), and it takes a certain development of one's palate to truly appreciate its delightful nuances, perfumed aromas, textural elements and supple tannin profile. It appears that if you enjoy wine for long enough, eventually your palate will look for and appreciate the more subtle and complex style that quality Pinot can provide. A good point that illustrates this comes from winemaker Stephen George, who developed the revered Ashton Hills brand. "A lot of older gentlemen come into the cellar door and say they love Shiraz, but it doesn't love them anymore," he says. "So we are getting some of my generation moving over to Pinot Noir, and the young kids of today are also really embracing it." THE ALLURE OF PINOT (FOR THE WINEMAKER) Winemakers love a challenge, and there is no doubt that Pinot is a challenging grape to grow, and even more challenging to make. The Burgundians have certainly nailed it, but they have been practicing for thousands of years, and this is part of the key. The cool climate of Burgundy has proven to be a major factor, as is the geology of the soils there, but they have also shown the variety to be very site-specific - vines grown in adjacent vineyards, and even within vineyards, can produce very different results. Vine age too, is critical. True of most varieties, but especially Pinot Noir, the best fruit tends to come from mature vineyards, considered to be around 15 years old or more. Yields too, need to be kept low to get the best out of this grape, as it needs all the flavour concentration it can get to show its best. Australian winemakers have taken these lessons to heart - gradually developing ever cooler areas to grow Pinot, working out the best soil types, and carefully exploring the ideal sites within each vineyard to grow this fickle variety. They're also working out the best clones and the most appropriate vine spacing, and then managing the vine canopy to allow just the right amount of dappled sunlight to reach the ripening bunches. Our vines are getting older, reaching that critical phase of maturity, and yields are managed carefully to coax the maximum from each berry. Once in the winery, the grapes need careful handling due to their thin skins and low phenolic content, so physical pump-overs are kept to a minimum. These days more and more winemakers are including a percentage of stems in the ferment to enhance the aromatic and textural qualities of the finished wine, and oak usage is more skilfully matched to the style being produced. THE STATE OF PLAY OF PINOT Australian viticulturists and winemakers are getting better at producing top quality Pinot with every passing year. And that quality is truly on show in our most recent State of Play tasting. It's been five years since we last had an in-depth look at Pinot Noir in this country. And what a change we've seen in that time! The overall quality of Australian Pinot is certainly on the rise. But what is perhaps the biggest development in the last five years has been the emergence of a potential Pinot giant  in the west . As you will see in our reviews across the following pages, the established Pinot producing regions such as the  Yarra Valley ,  Tasmania  and  Adelaide Hills  are still well represented in our Top 20, but they are joined by newcomers, the cool-climate  Tumbarumba  region of NSW, and an impressively strong showing from the  Great Southern  and  Pemberton  areas of Western Australia. In fact, five wines in the Top 20 are from WA - an amazing statistic given that there were none five years ago. THE EMERGING PINOT GIANT - WA We have seen a marked increase in the number and quality of Pinots coming from the West in recent years, particularly from the vast  Great Southern  area encompassing the five distinct sub-regions of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongorup, as well as a secluded pocket of the South West around Pemberton and Manjimup. So what has led to the emergence of WA as a Pinot powerhouse? According to second generation winemaker Rob Wignall, whose father Bill pioneered Pinot production in Albany, there have been a number of small improvements that make up the overall picture. He believes that climate change has been a significant and positive factor, moving the region's climate into more of a semi-Mediterranean situation with mild summer days and a reduction in rainfall throughout the growing season, leading to improvements in disease control and better canopy management. In addition, Rob feels that better oak selection and winemaking practices such as 'cold soaking' of the must prior to fermentation have led to improvements in the finished product. He is also a strong advocate for screw caps, believing that the delicate fruit characters of Pinot really shine under this closure, and that they also enhance the age-ability of the wines. Luke Eckersley, from regional icon Plantagenet Wines in Mt Barker, points to the variations in micro-climates and soil types across the Great Southern region as a factor. "Pinot Noir styles are varied with complex savoury styles from Denmark; elegant perfumed styles from Porongurup; rich fruit driven styles from Mount Barker; big robust styles from Albany; lighter primary fruit styles from Frankland River," he says. Michael Ng, winemaker from Rockcliffe in Denmark, adds that the cool climate with coastal influences allows full flavour development in the fruit, while still allowing for wines of finesse and savoury complexity. And a bit further west, Coby Ladwig of Rosenthal Wines points to the steep hills and valleys of the Pemberton region creating many unique micro-climates that enable varied grape growing conditions, "allowing us to create extremely complex and elegantly styled wines from one region", he says. While neighbouring Manjimup, with an altitude of 300m and therefore the coolest region in Western Australia, has cold nights and warm days ideal for flavour enhancement. PERFECTING THE FUTURE In summary, Pinot Noir in Australia is in a healthy position, with the established regions in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia producing more consistent and ever improving results. Equally exciting are the emerging Pinot Noir regions such as those in WA, as well as Tumbarumba and Orange, that show that the future for Pinot in Australia is bright. So, if you find your Shiraz doesn't love you as much anymore, perhaps look to Pinot, and when doing so, glance west. THE WINE SELECTORS TASTING PANEL The wines in this State of Play were tasted over a dedicated period by the  Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , which is made up of perceptive personalities and palates of winemakers, international wine show judges and wine educators. With an amazing 140 years collective experience, they love wine and they know their stuff.
Wine
Magic Mediterranean - Vermentino
Words by Daniel Honan on 15 Oct 2017
The Italian varietal Vermentino is winning fans for its wonderfully refreshing characters and textural mouthfeel making it the drink for this summer. You heard it here first – Vermentino is the new white! There are fewer wines around that are as sexy to say, taste as good, and are perfect paired with a spread of fresh seafood on a summer’s afternoon. In fact, drinking a glass of Vermentino is like going on a Mediterranean holiday. Indeed, Vermentino hails from the type of places where warm sun and cool sea breezes, cellar doors and summer afternoons are in abundance. Just off the coasts of Italy and France are the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, which lie (almost) in the middle of the Mediterranean, split between the Balearic and Tyrrhenian Seas. Here you’ll find a melting pot of different soils (limestone, granite, sandstone and clay) and climates (maritime and continental) mixed together to provide the perfect growing conditions for this unique grape variety. Aussie Vermentino Just like its home in the Med, here in Australia, Vermentino seems especially at home near the coast, in regions like McLaren Vale , Margaret River , even the Hunter Valley . Yet, this grape variety is also finding favour, and flavour, in other places a little further from the shore, such as King Valley , the Barossa , and the Riverland wine region around Mildura. Inland wine growers, Chalmers, have been pioneering alternative varietals for over 15 years. The family first planted Vermentino back in 2000, and were one of the first wineries in Australia to make wine from the variety. 

“Vermentino was one of our first flagship wines,” says Kim Chalmers. “It’s a variety that loves warm summers and sunshine, which is perfect for our Australian conditions. Its big bunches and juicy berries make it quite resistant to long heat waves. We’ve had a lot of success growing Vermentino at our vineyards in both Heathcote and Mildura.”

- Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Wines, Riverland
That is the great thing we’ve discovered about this (and other) Italian varietals recently trialled across the many wine regions of Australia - their adaptability. If you speak to a European producer of Vermentino, they’ll probably tell you that the grapes must be grown in close proximity to the sea, so that they can possess and express their inherently unique and refreshing sea-spray aroma and flavour. “Our experience growing Vermentino would suggest otherwise,” counters Kim. “We’ve only ever grown the variety very inland, and yet we still get that delicious sea-salt, briny character in all of our wines made from the variety. I think the closeness to the ocean rumour might be an old wives tale.” Key characters
The unique textural and sensual characteristics of Vermentino are what make this variety such a delicious alternative to your typical tipple of, say, Sauvignon Blanc , or Pinot Gris . The dominant aromas and flavours expressed by the grape include juicy lemons and limes, fleshy grapefruit, crunchy green apples and crushed almonds. Sometimes, you may notice the briny scent of ocean-spray drifting over fresh jasmine. At other times, you might smell a hint of beeswax and musk, or taste fresh tropical fruits, crispy pear, with a touch of salt. This all depends, of course, on where the grapes are grown, when they’re picked, and what the winemaker’s intent is when making Vermentino into wine. If the grapes are picked early you will, typically, note freshness and citrus, with bright, crunchy acids. If the grapes are allowed to ripen and are picked a bit later, you get a fleshier, juicier, more tropical style of wine. “The thing about Vermentino is it’s a very late picked varietal, for example, in the Hunter they pick it after Shiraz,” says winemaker David Hook, who has been specialising in Italian varietals for 30 years. “Some go for that lighter, crunchier style, which is picked earlier and is great for everyday drinking. But in Orange, where I source my Vermentino, I like to wait as long as I can to pick it as it gives a bigger, richer style that really highlights the varietal characters and the texture is ramped up.” Phil Ryan, co-Chairman of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel , echoes David’s preference for the fuller, riper style of Vermentino, saying that it offers so much more for the drinker. “The riper style of Vermentino offers far more complexity and intrigue to the wine,” says Phil. “It also allows those delicious stonefruit characteristics to come to the fore and plays to one of its major appeals, which is its texture.” Vermentino’s textual qualities (the way the wine feels in the mouth when you drink it) also boosts its food matching ability and is one of the reasons why this varietal stands out from the rest of the wine crowd.

Vermentino always goes down well by the glass, here. We’ll often get people sitting at the bar snacking on a bowl of salty, crispy white bait. Personally, I love it matched to a plate of grilled blue mackerel with fresh tomato, olives and chilli.

- Stuart Knox, , Owner and sommelier of Fix St James, in Sydney.
For renowned Vermentino producer Joe Grilli from Primo Estate in McLaren Vale, the big attraction of Vermentino is the combination of freshness and texture. “Our Vermentino has aromas of fresh melon fruits, then some intriguing almond notes, followed by the slightest touch of citrus to finish,” says Joe. “What makes Vermentino so delicious is when all these facets are wrapped up in a lighter bodied wine with still enough texture to really satisfy the tastebuds.” In fashion There is no doubt Vermentino is one of the hottest whites around. Its increasing popularity in wines bars and restaurants around the country is reflected in its growing success at wine shows, particularly the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, held each year in Mildura. Organiser, Kim Chalmers says that Vermentino is one of the most popular wines of the show. “It’s massive,” says Kim. “We’ve had a Vermentino class since 2008 and for a number of years only a handful of wineries entered wines into that class. Within five years, the numbers have boomed. Last year there were 93 entries, and now the class has split into two separate classes: one for the lighter and fresher styles, and one for the more fuller bodied, richer styles.” There’s even a third style to be found in Australia, these days. It’s said that the name Vermentino derives from the Italian word, ‘fermento’, which relates to the fizzy characters of the young wine and this might have inspired Fowles Wine, from the Strathbogie Ranges, to make a fun, sparkling style of Vermentino. “I’m a huge fan of the tangy lemon and light florals of Vermentino and thought it might be fun to see those characters sparkle,” says Matt Fowles. “We make our sparkling Vermentino in a Prosecco style, and, I must say, I’ve been surprised just how well it’s been received!” The tasting For this tasting, over 50 Vermentinos were submitted to the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel . For a wine considered to still be an ‘emerging’ varietal, the pass rate was impressively high with around 75% scoring a medal. The top 20 wines were hotly contested and, as expected, the spread of regions was vast with multiple entries from the Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale and Barossa, as well as Riverland, which doesn’t often get much kudos in wine shows, but is proving to be a real contender with Italian varietals. The styles were varied, which is to be expected, given all the variables, but the underlying characters remained true – delicious stonefruit flavours balanced with freshness and texture with subtle sea salt notes and energetic acidity. You just have to find the particular nuances that appeal to you. Yep, Vermentino is here. Whether enjoying a warm afternoon with a sumptuous spread of seafood or sitting in a cosy bar planning a potential Mediterranean sojourn, pairing your activity with a glass of your favourite Vermentino seems like the perfect thing to do. The Standout Vermentino from the Tasting Trentham The Family Vermentino 2016 (Murray Darling) Chalmers Vermentino 2016 (Heathcote) Stone Dwellers Limited Release Vermentino 2015 (Strathbogie Ranges) Lovable Rogue The Italian Jobs Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) Parish Hill Vermentino 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Seppeltsfield Cellar Door Collection Vermentino 2017 (Barossa) Tulloch Cellar Door Release Vermentino 2017 (Orange) Chalk Hill Wines Vermentino 2016 (McLaren Vale) Saddler’s Vermentino 2015 (Barossa) Alejandro Vermentino 2016 (Riverland) Alternatus Vermentino 2016 (Mclaren vale) David Hook Central Ranges Vermentino 2016 (Orange) First Creek Vermentino 2016 (Hunter Valley) La Maschera Vermentino 2015 (Barossa)
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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