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Showcasing Shiraz with Australia's First Families of Wine

A fabulous Wine Selectors dinner with Australia’s first families of wine revealed the bright future of this incredible variety.

A red wine dinner in the middle of a chilly Melbourne August seemed like a highly appropriate thing to do and what better variety than Shiraz to chase the cold away. And so a four-course menu by the team at Neale White’s Papa Goose restaurant was devised and 12 great Shiraz from Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) were sourced and the tables set.

By the time the Wine Selectors faithful started arriving, it was clear that the dinner was going to be one to remember. Designed to celebrate Shiraz through the expressions of 12 wines from the 12 families that make up the AFFW, the diversity of flavours and expressions from one grape variety was quite remarkable.

On paper, the line-up looked simply yummy, but as the wines were being opened and tested before the guests arrived, the reality of what we were pouring and tasting started dawning on
us; we were privy to a multiplicity of smells, flavours and textures that were being represented from 10 different regions and 1300+ collective years of winemaking experience.

A Family Affair

On hand to help host, pour and manage 1000-odd glasses of Shiraz were Katherine Brown, Brown Brothers winemaker and Chairperson of the AFFW Next Generation, Justine Henschke, PR for Henschke Wines, Justin Taylor, export manager for Taylors Wines, Sally Webber, DeBortoli family ambassador and Jeff McWilliam, CEO of McWilliam’s Wines.

The food was awesome and the wine a perfect foil for the cold and wet. And as the family anecdotes from each of the AFFW members were told, the conversation eventually found itself reflecting on the future of Australian Shiraz.

“Shiraz is the past and it’s also the future,” Justine Henschke noted emphatically. “It’s the past in that it has established a lot of wine communities and it’s the future in that we now know how Shiraz thrives according to climate.”

“So now it’s all about educating people on what style comes from where, so they know where to go for something specific.

Look at tonight, we have tried 12 different wines of the same variety across many different regions, showing small nuances from where they have been sourced and that’s pretty incredible.

- Justine Henschke, Henschke Wines

Sally Webber agreed that diversity is a key and that blends are going to play a big part in strengthening its appeal for future generations. “I love that it’s such a diverse variety and can blend beautifully with so many other varieties.”

“The future for Shiraz is in blends,” she added. “It’s such an intense variety, you have pepper and spice and there are some varieties you only need a little of and it brings out all these other great characters.

“Rhône varieties like Grenache and Mourvedre, and even varieties like Gamay and Tempranillo really add different expressions to Shiraz and as the Australian consumer becomes less conservative and more experimental, we’ll get to see the variety’s real potential.”

A hint of spice

For Katherine Brown and Brown Brothers, fine, spicy cool climate Shiraz is the future and Heathcote is their chosen region. As Katherine described, “We think customers understand that Shiraz doesn’t need to come from a warm climate and we are on the search to make a Shiraz that you can call refreshing.”

“Something you can drink at lunch, something that is more about pepper and spice than big jammy fruits. That’s where I see the future of Shiraz, we are starting to see these cooler climates like Heathcote, Eden Valley and Margaret River delivering these flavours.”

So what about hot areas, those that built the wines that put us on the map like Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Clare?

Justin Taylor thinks that Shiraz is a variety that can deal with the heat and with careful winemaking, the future for warmer styles is still bright.

“Australia’s getting hotter whether you like it or not, and Shiraz loves heat, so we can keep making more Shiraz for the global market, we can do it with rationality, and we can do it with diversity. Our quality has never been as good as it is right now, it’s a great story for this country.”

- Jeff McWilliam, McWilliams Wines

Jeff McWilliam agrees and is happy that the diversity we are seeing has extended to a place where the expressions of Shiraz that emulate the O’Shea Hunter River Burgundies that the Hunter Valley does so well are gaining popularity again.

“We are going back to medium bodied wines, just like the great old wines that came from Mt Pleasant,” said Jeff.

“I love McLaren Vale and Barossa Shiraz, but I know the wines we do best are in that style of the old O’Shea wines.

“We are talking about vineyards and the special wines they produce, but the Hunter is like that, you can have a great vintage and you can have a really poor vintage and that’s the excitement of it, just like the diversity of Australian Shiraz.”

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Hunter Valley Shiraz Member Tasting
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 31 Aug 2016
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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Meet Carissa Major and Marnie Roberts of Claymore Wines
Get to know the ladies behind Claymore Wines -General Manager Carissa Major and Winemaker, Marnie Roberts Carrisa, you say you “had the good fortune to fall into” the wine industry days after your 18 th birthday – what’s the story behind that good fortune?  As in real estate – location location location! I grew up at the southern end of the Clare Valley, had travelled throughout my 17 th year (thanks to the possibly misguided generosity of my parents) then landed back into the Clare Valley …a little bit jobless and without a sense of purpose. The idea of university for uni’s sake was less than appealing so my one year gap turned into two and through friends of the family I wound up with a position at Knappstein Wines Cellar Door. Tim was still on site then and I found the whole staff tastings both inspirational and intimidating but got enough out of them to want to learn more. Andrew Hardy had a similar approach to staff engagement so what started off as a spark became something a little more…so basically, I had the right door open at the right time. Got sucked in and found this amazing industry that brings people together while opening up the world. Given the quirky nature of the brand, do you have to bring out your inner quirks too? Well it’s not hard really…they are never too far from the surface! The best thing about the brand is that link to music informs so much of the fun every day and provides a motivating backdrop to the workplace. There is nothing better than an impromptu Friday afternoon singalong with customers as Meatloaf cranks out of the sound system (and yes that really did and does happen!)  Are you a Voodoo Child, or do you like a splash of Purple Rain, or do you hear London calling? (i.e. what’s your favourite Claymore wine and does your love of the wine match your fondness for its namesake?) Oh there are too many to choose from; from a wine perspective though I do have a soft spot for London Calling. It took a few years to win the boss over to Malbec – he’s more of a Merlot kind of guy – but it just shines in Clare and paired with cabernet it makes for such approachable drinking without compromising depth and intensity. One day I may be able to release that straight Malbec…not sure what label I’d choose though. Can you recall the first wine you tried? Easy one – we grew up farming on the outskirts of Auburn in the shadow of Taylors wines so it was their white wines that graced our family table for special occasions. From the age of about 12 I was allowed a half pour if their amazingly bone dry, fully worked Chardonnay which I would duly sip over the course of a meal. It was dry, acid and complex for my junior palate and I recall grimacing after the first taste but would never dare leave a drop…it was wayyyy too special! What do you think is special about your wine region? There is an easy intimacy to the Clare Valley that you don’t see in many other regions; intimate without being aloof or removed. From a wine perspective there is an underlying elegance to the wines we produce here – even those 15.8% brooding monsters carry an underpinning structure that balances that intensity. Any region that can pull off our delicately structured Rieslings that defy expectation with just how powerful they can be and at the same time produce complex, finely drawn cabernet and nuanced yet flavour busting shiraz has to be special. It’s a multi-faceted little dynamo that continues to surprise and delight..and the locals aren’t a bad lot either! Do you have a favourite holiday destination/memory? We spent many early years holidaying at Elliston on the West Coast in the family shack – total beachfront, tumble down tiny fibro thing that we’d have to drive seemingly endless distances to get to while listening to the Australia Open on the radio (?). Fishing off the beach and jetty, grandma’s garfish and squid for breakfast pan fried in truckloads of butter and playing tennis on asphalt courts then jumping into the ocean to cool off. Oh – nostalgia overload! Now I like to recreate that sense of simple pleasure and we still holiday in shacks (just closer to home on the Yorke Peninsula) and chase fish and squid from the jetty and beach while fossicking in rockpools, building sandcastles and eating hot chips. Except now I chase it all down with a Riesling or two – best ever with fresh shucked oysters! And Marnie, as Claymore Wines winemaker do you have to make the wines to match the songs? Or does lyrical inspiration come after the tasting? The link of wines and songs seems to naturally evolve. The base constant is always to create the best wine to start with and I suppose, yes, doesn’t everyone get inspired in some way when they are drinking wine?! Certain labels do make complete sense to me. Nirvana is a Reserve Shiraz and drinking it you hope to reach a state of Nirvana. Dark Side of the Moon is our Clare Shiraz and it has the elegance and dark seductive fruit layered over oak. Do you get to name any of the wines? We all have input and suggestions which can be quite amusing. I got Skinny Love across the line which came to me in the car while singing it at the top of my lungs….the Claymore version of 'Car Pool Karaoke'. Was it your dream of being a rock star that drew you to Claymore? The Rockstar dream is still my back up occupation if the winemaking thing falls through. So far, the music world is safe. I do love the idea of the music and wine. I think to make good wine you have to have an element of love for the arts and the creation of things. Wine and Music just make sense  - both are so evocative and amazing for setting a sense of  place and time. All those great moments, you know the BIG celebrations in life can usually be tracked back in the memory banks tied to a particular wine or song! What is your favourite wine to make? I don’t think I could pick a variety or a style as such. I love the process and the chance to follow it the whole way through. From the vineyard basics of pruning and harvesting to ferment to batching to oak to tank to bottle to mouth….it’s an amazing journey that I get to guide these babies through. When did you fall in love with wine? Growing up on a block in Mildura that went from citrus to dried fruit to winegrapes, I have always had an appreciation for the fruit. The love of wine was the next step. I remember the cask wine in my parents’ fridge in the 80s and then the big purchases of wine in a bottle. I remember one night, when I was around 19 or 20, going to a friend’s house who was studying to be a winemaker and he opened a 1994 Lindemans Pyrus. A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon /Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? I love to cook. With a toddler and husband that works away, time is limited but when I can, I love to invite friends around and cook. Homemade pasta with a trio of different sauce options is always a winner. The other is a stuffed squid. A recipe I have had for about 20 years and it never seems to fail. What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to chill at home but my favourite getaways are anywhere near the water. I love the beach in winter and the river in summer. Anytime with my family is a bonus and I have great friends who are around for a catch up…which usually includes wine and food!
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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!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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