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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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Merlot Members Tasting
Words by Ralph Kyte Powell on 4 Jun 2018
Merlot is a mystery to a lot of us. Many other red wine grapes have much more recognisable varietal personalities, giving them more immediate impact than Merlot . Cabernet Sauvignon , for example, nearly always says ‘Cabernet’ emphatically, via varietal cues that cut across the vagaries of region, climate, winemaking, and culture. Blackcurranty character, leafy austerity, angular, savoury personality and tannic backbone mark Cabernet-based wines, apparent even in warmer, riper versions. So it is with Pinot Noir ’s distinctive fruit characters, softness and silken structure. Pinot Noir says Pinot Noir loud and clear, but what of Merlot? Confusing Merlot’s identity crisis is the multiplicity of different styles available. In the coolest places, the variety’s leafiness can become too herbal and green; in the warmest places, it can be big, jammy and soupy. When overcropped and made on an industrial scale, Merlot can be washed out, sometimes sweet, a simple quaffer. In the middle of all this, we find Merlot’s ideal spot in skillfully tended vineyards in temperate areas. Here we encounter suggestions of plum, mulberry and fruitcake, raspberry, cherry, violet, spice and dried herb hints, maybe chocolate and olive from oak input. These wines tend to be soft, plump and juicy, worthy of plenty of attention as a friendlier type of red wine than tannic Cabernet or Shiraz . Compared to Cabernets, Merlots are generally much lower in methoxypyrazines too. These compounds in grapes give raw, green, herbaceous characters that can be shrill and unpleasant, another reason for good Merlot’s friendly personality. Cabernet’s comrade Merlot’s historic role as a blending variety also tends to compromise its individual identity. In its Bordeaux home, its early ripening characteristics act as insurance against the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, especially across difficult vintages. Merlot develops higher sugar levels and riper fruit characters weeks before Cabernet, and it’s planted much more widely in the Bordeaux region as a result. Its rich, supple personality tempers Cabernet’s more severe traits in a blend, and it usually doesn’t need nearly as much mellowing bottle age to be gluggable. Around the world Merlot’s fortunes have been improving worldwide over the last few decades as plantings have expanded into new territory. Chile has been at the forefront and has built a large export market for easy-sipping Merlot. In the Old World, Merlot has been replacing other more mediocre varieties in vineyards across the European continent. Its international appeal and reputation for friendly wine has supported vast new plantings in places like France’s south-west as the French hit back after the inroads New World wineries have made in their traditional markets. French wine drinkers possibly don’t know Merlot by name very well, but they like it and so do their international customers. American consumers have an idea what to expect from Merlot – softness, maybe a little sweetness, easy drinking. New Zealanders are also familiar with Merlot’s easy manners and the variety has traditionally sparred with Pinot Noir as the red of choice for Kiwis. In recent times, NZ Pinot has been ascendant, but Merlot is still in the mix. Generally, Australians are much less Merlot-aware. No mention of Merlot can be made without referring to the cult American movie Sideways . In the USA, Merlot is the second most popular red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly due to vast quantities of soft, low tannin reds that appeal to wine novices. In Sideways , made in 2004, wine tragic and wine snob Miles rails loudly against Merlot. “If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f…ing Merlot,” he declares, and his comments contributed to a drop in Merlot sales in the USA, the UK, and probably Australia. Merlot has recovered, but I suspect a slightly negative perception lingers, helped by Merlot’s lack of a distinct varietal identity in the minds of many consumers. Taste expectations So to discover what makes Merlot tick, we recently gathered together a panel of eight keen Merlot fans from the ranks of Wine Selectors Members for a tasting dinner at Melbourne’s Papa Goose restaurant. Joining them were Selector publisher, Paul Diamond and yours truly. Sixteen wines from across Australia were served masked in brackets of four. South Australia was represented by seven wines from a diversity of regions, with the emphasis on somewhat cooler places like the Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Limestone Coast/Coonawarra regions. Victorian wines included examples from the Yarra Valley , the Pyrenees and the warm vineyards of Rutherglen , while New South Wales and Western Australia presented a cross-section of vineyard sources. As we sat down to taste, we made a quick survey of what the Members looked for in Merlot. “I like Merlot because it’s not too heavy,” said Wine Selectors Member, Darren Dean, “It’s soft, easy to drink, sweet and smooth.” Fellow Member Ingrid Fraser agreed. “They are soft, complete wines, plump and lovely,” she said. Paul looked for, “consistency of mouthfeel, smooth texture, seamlessness.” Softness and smoothness were terms most tasters used to describe Merlot’s general appeal. Were these characteristics reinforced as the dinner progressed and the group came to terms with the wines served? Paired to perfection Matching food and wine is much discussed in the gastronomic world. Carefully constructed dishes, devised with a particular type of wine in mind, can offer experiences that transcend the simple idea of eating and drinking. When we consider food-friendly wines, the softer, lighter, lower tannin drops offer more food compatibilities than bigger, tougher wines. Thus, Pinot Noir, or softer, cool climate style Shiraz, works well where the big bruisers fall short. On this basis, Merlot should excel as a food wine, and as the dinner progressed, the pairings proved harmonious. This was due to Papa Goose chef Neale White’s intuitive ability to create Merlot-compatible dishes to complement the wines. The four course menu began with a superb dish that echoed Merlot’s charm. Cured and smoked duck breast was accompanied by beetroot, raspberry and red sorrel, all flavours that dovetailed superbly with the first bracket of wines. Gnocchi with king oyster mushroom, tarragon and amaretti cream pointed up the depths of the following group of four wines, with rich flavours and textures woven through aromatic ones. Eyebrows were raised when we saw that the porterhouse with red wine sauce was coming with caraway coleslaw – caraway can be formidable – but the dish’s subtlety actually drew out some of the foresty, herbal notes in the wines, making the sum of the parts far more than the individual inputs. Cheese can be problematic with a lot of wines, but the mild, mature Pynegana Cheddar, served to finish dinner, had fruity accompaniments of chutney, quince paste and muscatels to temper it. Merlot stood up to the entire menu, confirming its delicious suitability at the table. The dinner confirmed in everybody’s eyes that Australian Merlot does indeed have its own distinct personality, and that it deserves to be centre stage alongside better-known brethren like Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot should be on everybody’s shopping list.
Wine
A Time to Sparkle: Member Tasting
Words by Mark Hughes on 15 Mar 2016
Which Sparkling for which occasion? We asked some Wine Selectors Members: Traditional, Prosecco or Blanc de Blanc? With the festive season in full swing, you are going to want to have a handy stash of Sparkling on hand to make sure you have the absolutely perfect drink to toast any occasion. After all, fun, fizz and Happy New Year/Hooray for Holidays/Cheers to that etc… go together. Traditionally, that meant finding a good Sparkling wine and by that I mean the exquisite Champagne blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and often, but not always, Pinot Meunier. Sometimes, you’d be looking for a smart Blanc de Blanc, that is, a Sparkling made entirely from white grapes (bearing in mind that Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier mentioned above, are both red grapes. Of course, you knew that, but I’m just explaining it for those who don’t). Blanc de Blancs are most often made from Chardonnay, but in Australia you’ll also find impressive examples made from Semillon, Riesling or whatever white varietal winemakers have lots of and want to use to add a Sparkling offering to their cellar door range. Recently, though, there has been a sassy new lady on the scene – Prosecco . Commonly explained as the Italian version of Champagne, Prosecco has become the top-selling Sparkling wine in Europe, and it is trending that way here. It is easy to see why. It is generally cheaper than Champagne, lower in alcohol at around 12%, and has a lighter bubble, so it is a bit easier to drink and it has a stronger fruit profile so it is a versatile food match. Well heeled (or should that be perfectly palated) critics say that Prosecco is a bit simple and lacks the complexity of Sparking wine. Which is true, strictly speaking. One of the main reasons for this is the way Prosecco is made. Stick with me here as I’m going to give you a bit of background data followed by some technical details, so pay attention. Prosecco is made from the Prosecco grape, although outside of Italy you should refer to the varietal as ‘glera’ because the Italians successful petitioned to have the name protected, much the way Champagne can only be called Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region in France. However, the Prosecco law only covers Europe, so Australian winemakers can still go about their merry way making Prosecco from Prosecco and calling it Prosecco, at least for now. The method used to make Prosecco is the reason it is generally cheaper and less complex than Sparkling. Unlike Champagne, which undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle (commonly known as the Method Champenoise – once again, you knew that), Prosecco undergoes fermentation in a tank and is bottled under pressure. The Italians call this process Metodo Martinotti, crediting an Italian winemaker called Federico Martinotti with developing and patenting the method. The French call it the Charmat method after French winemaker Eugene Charmat, who further developed Martinotti’s method and secured a new patent. All of this matters very little when you have a glass in your hand and you just want to say, “Here’s to us!” as one does at festive occasions. So to find out who prefers what, we organised one of our infamous Members’ Tastings. Find out more about Australian Prosecco in this article A Festive Feeel
Usually, our Members’ Tastings are fun but also somewhat serious occasions, but seeing as we wanted to see what best to drink for festivities, we decided to make it much more of a party atmosphere. Seven Wine Selectors Members joined Tasting Panellists Adam Walls and Nicole Gow and all were in rarified company with special guest, Sparkling wine guru Ed Carr, winemaker at the mutli-award winning House of Arras, lending his knowledge on all things bubbly. Naturally, the evening started with a glass of bubbles and some delicious canapés in the boutique vineyard adjacent to the Wine Selectors headquarters in Newcastle. Then they got down to the business of tasting. A Prosecco bracket was followed by a Sparkling wine bracket and a Blanc de Blanc bracket. The results were as diverse as the palates around the tasting. Robin Farmer said he was very much in the Italian camp. “I actually enjoyed the Prosecco,” he said. “It seemed to be a little more easy drinking, less bubbles, a bit more to my taste.” Laura Egginton agreed, saying the Proseccos were “deliciously light and easy to drink.” However, once she tried the traditional bracket, she had a Sparkling awakening, describing “flavours that lingered with much more body.” Chantelle Staines agreed with Laura, describing the traditional set as “fresh and the easiest to drink.” On the other side of the equation, Jen Carter, Oonagh Farmer, Louisa Brown and Trudi Arnall said they preferred the Blanc de Blanc. Louisa summed it up when she described the Blanc de Blancs as showing, “more flavour and more depth of character” and being, “more aspiring.” This was perhaps a little unfair given that some of the B de Bs were aged, and with age comes complexity. What does it all mean? The results of the tasting went like this. Everyone generally liked the Prosecco bracket, some more than others, but overall everyone enjoyed them. When they tasted their way through the Traditional Sparkling bracket, everyone enjoyed those too, the majority more than the Prosecco bracket. And once again, you guessed it, everyone liked the Blanc de Blanc bracket, with at least four of the seven guests (and all of the experts) nominating these wines as the highlights of the night. The discussions after the tasting, held over a second serving of canapés with some lounge music in the background, revealed some interesting conclusions. It seems that all the wines were great, it was just a matter of what sort of occasion you were attending that would determine your bubbly of choice. Trudi voiced everyone’s collective thoughts when she said, “If I was to turn up for an afternoon BBQ with the kids in the pool, a Prosecco would be great. But if I was going to a dinner party, I’d go with the traditional Sparkling, and if I really wanted to impress, I’d go with a Sparkling or a Blanc de Blanc with some age.” And with that we all nodded in agreement. It was a sentiment to which we could all toast. And we did. Cheers!
Wine
Credaro | Wine of the Season
History The Credaros from Northern Italy settled in Margaret River in 1922, making them regional pioneers. Having made wine from their family vineyard for years, they became commercially involved in the wine industry in the 1980s. Today, the family manages 140 hectares of vines over seven separate vineyards across Margaret River, in the regions of Wilyabrup, Carbunup, Treeton, Yallingup and Wallcliffe. The Credaros produce all of their own wines in their 1200-tonne winery in Northern Margaret River. Tasting Notes Their Kinship Chardonnay presents a fragrant bouquet of white flowers, nectarine and pear with underlying cashew and citrus notes. Medium-full bodied with stone fruit, fresh citrus and creamy biscuit characters from lees influence, it has an elegant, refined structure and finishes with fine mineral acidity.
The 2016 Vintage Higher than average rain late in winter was followed by more in early spring, increasing soil moisture. October was unseasonably warm, and combined with the increased soil moisture caused slightly higher than normal vine growth. The long, mild growing period favoured earlier ripening varieties. Overall, the cooler vintage has resulted in Chardonnay being a standout, with extraordinary flavour depth and length at lower Baume levels. + Food With its wonderful complexity, Chardonnay is sumptuous with flavoursome white meats – try chicken tagine with almonds and preserved lemon.     2715 Caves Road, Yallingup, WA credarowines.com.au 08 9756 6520 
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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