State of Play Victorian Shiraz
Victoria’s great diversity of climate, sites, soils, and styles result in an endless assortment of flavour profiles in the country’s number one wine, as Shanteh Wale and the Selector tasting panel joyously observe.
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When the topic of wine is on the table, it’s inevitable that Shiraz will come up. Not only because it’s our most planted grape variety, but because it is part of Australia’s international wine identity, being grown in almost all Australian wine regions. “Spoiled for choice?” some might ask. “Never enough!” might come the retort. Strangers to these shores may not get our humour or our choice of rubber footwear, but the quality of our Shiraz absolutely cannot be denied.
When it comes to choosing a bottle for your table, however, the question remains; why choose Victorian Shiraz over something from, say, the Barossa? Or the Hunter Valley for that matter? Put simply, because the bountiful state of Victoria offers a kaleidoscope of Shiraz possibilities, each offering something unique for lovers of this perpetually popular varietal to enjoy.
Thank you Mr. Best
Shiraz has a long history in Victoria, with viticulture underway in force since the 19th century. In fact, by the late 1880s, Victoria was producing more wine than anywhere else in Australia. The pioneering Henry Best planted Shiraz in his Great Western vineyard in 1868, and these gnarly vines still produce wine today. Sadly, due to global unrest and the phylloxera epidemic in and around 1877, a vine pull scheme was introduced in the state and it took up until the 1950s for the Victorian wine industry to begin to recover. Thanks to the likes of some savvy visionaries, varieties like our good old Shiraz and Cabernet went back into the ground where they belong.
Tahbilk in Nagambie Lakes, for instance, can lay claim to the oldest ungrafted, pre-phylloxera plantings of Shiraz in the world – all part of Victoria’s storied past with the variety, providing context for the Shiraz we see emerging from it today.
After all, Shiraz is an enormously adaptable grape, thriving across cooler, moderate and warmer areas – something that can’t be said for all vitis vinifera varieties – and this suitability of Shiraz to an array of macroclimates contributes to the depth and range of Victoria’s Shiraz output.
Clones that suit cooler sites, for instance, often show lower bunch numbers, looser bunch structure, an early ripening ability and a nod to higher rotundone levels. Warmer climates typically result in a fuller-bodied frame and richer fruit flavours.
Decisions made by the winemaker then add those final nuances to the wine; the decision to use whole berry or whole bunches, picking times and ageing vessels, all of which add yet more facets or points of difference to each estate’s offerings.
This can translate in the glass to an aromatic quality and elevated perfume with notes of red and black fruits – even blueberries – violet, green peppercorns, black liquorice and spice, plus often also an added freshness of acidity that lifts the wine on the palate. It all adds up to something rather special.
Regions Rich and Rare
With twenty-one Geographical Indications on the table before us, there was plenty of tasting to get through. In a line-up of over fifty wines, the tasting panel had our work cut out for us, but the elegance and sheer variety of styles across these regional expressions had us animated and energised.
Some of Geelong’s newcomers were sticking their necks out by showcasing the sophistication of sandy soils and an extended ripening period. The high-toned whole bunch style of the Mornington Peninsula wines, from a region more often recognised for its Pinot Noir, showed strong Shiraz pedigree and merit.
Heathcote on the other hand offered that savoury, meat and spice factor that Shiraz lovers today are known for seeking out, perhaps a nod to the old world and those dense Cambrian soils; while on the pointy end of the spectrum, there were some wines that stopped all tasters in their track: wines from the Yarra Valley, Grampians and Western Victoria in particular, that showed their ancestry and heritage.
Yarra Yering’s Carrodus 2019 wowed with its finesse and poise. When asked about what informs Yarra Yering’s approach to Shiraz, winemaker Sarah Crowe offered the following insight.
Every year we’re trying to understand and express the vineyard more, and that comes from a lot of thinking and attention to detail. The best wines do not come easily, but they should look effortless.”
Effortless is the word, and a good reminder why certain wines fetch a higher price tag, not just for sheer quality but also in rarity. Wine Selectors Tasting Panel co-Chair Adam Walls however was very impressed across the board with the quality and drinkability of all the wines. Given the spread of wines from entry level to ultra-premium, price vs. quality was front-of-mind. Nonetheless, there were clear highlights.
The standouts for me were the Yarra Yering Carrodus which was unashamedly medium-weight but had great fragrance and length of flavour. The other was the Heathcote Estate Single Vineyard. It offered this perfect combination of elegant fruit flavours and persistent tannin presence. It spoke of the warmer Heathcote climate and that unique volcanic soil.
One thing we all agreed upon was that Victorian Shiraz are generally more approachable when still young, in contrast perhaps to their Barossa counterparts. Of course, vintage variation played a part also, with some cooler and warmer years revealing their influences, but all in all it was the sheer variety and overall quality that led to the most dynamic discussions of the day. Long story short, these wines are of lip-smacking deliciousness, suitable to drink through brunch, lunch, dinner and beyond.
Maybe we should call it “the vibe” of the place, but whether it be its bewitching bunches, captivating carbonic maceration or magnetic minerality of site, Shiraz from the sprawling regions of Victoria has us charmed and disarmed all at once.
Yarra Yering Carrodus Shiraz Vintage 2019
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $275
Deep red purple in the glass with vibrant and lifted plum, mulberry compote, white pepper and sweet oak aromas. Shows great poise between fruit power and refinement: beautifully judged oak in balance with the dark core of fruit, lovely cool climate, white pepper expression and silken tannin mouthfeel. An exceptionally well-made wine from a Yarra icon.
Tahbilk Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz 2017
NAGAMBIE LAKES, RRP $72.95
Named for one of the earliest figures to place his faith in the future of Australian table wine, this Shiraz is medium to dark crimson red in the glass offering up aromas of anise and kitchen spices over ripe mulberry and dusty plum. Earthy and savoury with good power and concentration of fruit, strong yet balanced tannins and tight acidity in support. A fantastic food wine.
Best's Great Western Bin No.1 Shiraz 2019
GREAT WESTERN, RRP $25
From winemaker Justin Purser, the Bin No.1 continues Best's legacy as a Shiraz 'house'. Very bright deep, dark red. Black pepper, mocha, sweet mulberry and cedar oak aromas. Medium to full-bodied yet packed
full of flavour, with deep yet beautifully silken tannins, underlying liquorice, cocoa and crushed herbs, and savoury oak to balance.
Yeringberg Shiraz 2019
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $110
Light to medium red in the glass. Very pretty and bright aromas of red berry fruit, five spice and green pepper. Soft, spicy and medium-bodied, with gentle earthy red fruit depth, supple tannins, surprising complexity given the lighter weight frame, and touches of liquorice, earth and pepper to finish.
Mitchelton Print Shiraz 2013
NAGAMBIE LAKES, RRP $90
Dark brick red in colour. Macerated red plum and rhubarb aromas, with secondary notes of leather and sandalwood. A still-fresh wine with lovely tight tannins and lively acidity underpinning the mocha-like mix of red fruit, with fully-integrated oak and complex flavour persistence. Drinking well, this is a well-made wine.
Blue Pyrenees Estate Richardson Reserve Shiraz 2017
PYRENEES, RRP $120
Simmering deep red with a nose of blackberry, star anise and cassia with a good mix of secondary notes and primary freshness. Blackberries in syrup supported by violet florals, kirsch and black pepper, supple acidity and plenty of quality oak, sour cherry and sappy tannins making for a real food wine.
De Bortoli Section A8 Syrah 2018
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $55
Deep garnet red. Very lifted red cherry, raspberry, mulberry, clove and sage aromas. Very moreish, long and complex, with a minty layer underpinning the dark core of fruit; very drying, almost Nebbiolo-like tannins, mouth-watering acidity and quality oak. Again, an excellent food wine from the sure hand of Steve Webber and one of the best Yarra vintages in recent memory.
Bannockburn De La Roche Shiraz 2018
GEELONG, RRP $53
Deep red purple colour. Very savoury mix of charcuterie, barnyard, undergrowth, green olive and spicy fruit compote. Light-bodied, savoury and elegant with good weight and earthy complexity, and an almost meaty finish. Grown in close-planted blocks in soils scattered with volcanic rocks, the result is a quite Euro-in-style red.
Heathcote Estate Shiraz 2019
HEATHCOTE, RRP $50
Deep crimson purple in colour, this wine really opens up in the glass to reveal pot pourri, crushed herbs and spicy plum. Fresh, vibrant and generous with a very complex mix of black and purple fruit flavours, amazing balance and complexity, powerful peppery tannins and savoury oak in support, this is an absolutely delicious wine.
Mulline BANNOCKBURN Syrah 2021
GEELONG, RRP $50
Deep red purple colour. Very lifted white pepper spice over ripe and juicy mulberry and dark cherry. Grown in limestone clay with a very shallow topsoil horizon, it's very much in the leafy and herbaceous style with the appearance of whole bunch winemaking, with fine, sappy tannins and balance oak treatment. Will come together further with patience.
Rutherglen Estate Renaissance Shiraz 2018
RUTHERGLEN, RRP $45
From winemaker Mark Scalzo, a blend of 65% of fruit from the Burgoyne's vineyard and 35% from the Shelley's vineyard. Dark crimson red with pepper and clove lift over ripe mulberry and dark cherry. Medium-weight yet packed with ripe fruit power and delicious Chinese spice notes throughout. Fine, savoury tannins and well-balanced oak make this a perfectly enchanting wine.
Seville Estate Shiraz 2018
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $45
A single vineyard expression from one of the pioneers of modern Yarra Valley wine. Deep brick red colour with a complex nose of charcuterie, black pepper, old leather, garrigue herbs, black olive and blackcurrant. Brimming with dry yet still-vibrant dark cherry fruit, the wine delights with tertiary notes of cigar box, mace and sandalwood, soft acidity and cedary tannins.
Kooyong Estate Shiraz 2020
MORNINGTON PENINSULA, RRP $42
A cold, wet winter vintage and a milder than usual summer established favourable conditions for this to be an estate-grown wine of note, and so it turned out to be. Medium garnet colour in the glass, the nose is replete with red cherry, cranberry and peppery spice. A savoury, lighter-bodied style with subtle purple berry fruit flavours, a fine almost chalky tannin foundation and dusty oak, proving the worth of Peninsula Shiraz.
Taltarni Shiraz 2018
PYRENEES, RRP $40
Inky crimson in colour. Beautifully sweet black cherry perfume with complex supporting elements of anise, chocolate and iodine make for a compelling nose. These alluring characters return on the palate with excellent power and length, full assertive tannins, fine yet deep foundation and choc-mocha intensity.
Port Phillip Estate Tuerong Shiraz 2019
MORNINGTON PENINSULA, RRP $38
Crafted with fruit sourced from just 0.53ha of estate vineyard, the resulting wine is deep crimson purple colour with very ripe blood plum, mulberry white pepper, bay leaf and cedar oak on the nose. Quite delicate yet with surprising flavour weight showing dusty and peppery blue fruit depth, lighter weight tannins and oak sitting in the background, in a fine Peninsula Shiraz.
Yabby Lake Vineyard Syrah 2019
MORNINGTON PENINSULA, RRP $35
From a winery celebrated for its Pinot Noir comes an equally enchanting Shiraz. Deep, inky red purple in colour, with violets and wild florals over mulberry and blackberry fruit. Rich yet tightly-wound and youthful red and black fruit, an assertive frame of supple tannins, classy oak and excellent balance reveals a wine that's yet to show its best.
Mount Langi Ghiran Cliff Edge Shiraz 2019
GRAMPIANS, RRP $35
Sourced from a selection of blocks across the historic Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard situated in the Grampians.Medium to deep red in the glass, with very fresh and expressive blackberry, plum jam, mocha and pepper perfumes. Ripe, almost jammy black and purple fruit expression, with mid-weight dusty tannins, soft acidity and good approachability. Drinking well already.
Passing Clouds Shiraz 2020
BENDIGO, RRP $34
Deep purple saturation in the glass. Youthful and very bright raspberry, strawberry and plum compote with fresh rosemary and sage aromas open up to a medium-bodied wine, yet one packed with concentrated red and black fruit, with very robust tannins, drying yet supple acidity and well-balanced oak in harmony with the fruit.
Paringa Estate Shiraz 2018
MORNINGTON PENINSULA, RRP $30
Crafted from estate grown fruit in what has been referred to as a "dream vintage". Dark crimson red in the glass. With a nose of black and purple fruit, black and white pepper and cinnamon oak. The palate is ripe, juicy and flavour-packed with a supple mix of blue and red berries, whole bunch spice, elegant tannin foundation and beautiful balanced spicy oak. Clean and classy.
Pfeiffer Shiraz 2019
NORTH EASTERN VICTORIA, RRP $28
Dark garnet colour. Ripe red and black berries, black jubes, black olive, clove and graphite aromas. Beautiful weight and class with expressive but well-integrated oak, a riot of dark fruit concentration. Deep tannins and succulent acidity to balance makes this a compelling blend of North Eastern Victorian fruits.
Yering Station Village Shiraz 2018
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $28
The Village Range presents as classic regional expressions, and this example from Yering Station does not disappoint. Medium to dark red in colour, ripe mulberry and plum with secondary complexity starting to show. Medium to full-bodied with good concentration and richness, deep dark fruit core saturation, lovely toasty cedar oak, and notes of white pepper and liquorice to finish. Starting to show its potential.
Helen's Hill Zenith Reserve Shiraz 2020
YARRA VALLEY, RRP $40
Subtle sweet oak sits on pepper and spice fruit, with undergrowth and leaf notes swirling in the background. Game and pepper-like notes add to what is already a complex show. Elegant with oak playing second fiddle here, the wine is mid-weight and a perfect example of the exciting things the region is currently doing with this variety.
Glenlofty GO Shiraz 2017
PYRENEES, RRP $25
Established in 2010, grapes were supplied to Penfolds and the Seppelts wineries for many years before Glenlofty branched out on their own. Deep ruby colour with blackberry, dark cherry, white pepper and milk chocolate aromas. Palate is richly-flavoured with plenty of earthy black fruit, touches of pepper, tapenade and mocha, robust tannins, fresh acidity and oak in balance with the fruit. Another fine Pyrenees wine.
Sam Miranda Shiraz 2021
KING VALLEY, RRP $25
Winemaker Sam Miranda shows he is as adept with Shiraz as he is with typical King Valley varieties and styles. Deep red to purple in colour, with aromas of white pepper, kitchen spice, fresh mulberry and blood plum. A fresh young red, with masses of juicy dark fruit, background oak and excellent concentration, this is a lip-smacking Joven style.
Ingram Road Shiraz 2020
HEATHCOTE, RRP $24
Produced by Helen's Hill, located in the heart of Coldstream in Victoria's Yarra Valley from some of the region's best vineyards. Deep, dark red in the glass with a very ripe nose of macerated dark berries, graphite, cola, pepper and pot pourri. A concentrated and powerful expression, with massive fruit power yet excellent balance and complexity, ferrous tannins and quality oak.
Robert Oatley Signature Series Yarra Valley Shiraz 2019
GEELONG, RRP $40
The Robert Oatley Signature Series draws on a diverse portfolio of vineyards, showcasing Australia’s most successful wine styles and regions. Deep red purple. Expressive nose of wild berries, herbs, white pepper and exotic spices. Medium-bodied yet full of flavour with simmering black cherry and mulberry, black pepper, wood smoke, tapenade and graphite. Very elegant and long.
Brown Brothers Origins Series Shiraz 2018
HEATHCOTE, RRP $18
The Origins Series range of exotic wine styles is made locally in Victoria, using traditional winemaking crafts from around the globe. Dark red in appearance. Ripe red and blue fruit with notes of coffee, pepper, mint and menthol. Soft and sweet, rich and ripe with gentle tannins underpinning the flavoursome mix of supple berry fruit, with oak sitting in the background.
Zilzie Estate Shiraz 2020
VICTORIA, RRP $11
From a vintage characterised by dry and warm weather, with minimal summer rain and some of the mildest conditions seen in the past 20 years. Deep crimson purple colour. White pepper lift over vibrant, sweet and complex dark fruit. Soft and well-balanced silky dark fruit in a fresh and vibrant style with ripe mulberry and blackberry flavour depth, powerful tannins and balanced oak.