E’ per me un piacere ed un onore ospitare su Wineup l’intervento del nostro Brendan Jansen, di Perth, profondo conoscitore di vini australiani – in particolare di Shiraz – e dei migliori cru del mondo.
Shiraz, or Syrah as it is called in most other parts of the globe, is, I think, Australia’s gift to the world. There is more Shiraz grown in Australia than in the Rhone Valley, the spiritual home of Syrah (but when other areas are taken into consideration, more Syrah is planted in France, with Australia a close second). In this brief expose I will use the terms Shiraz and Syrah interchangeably, although most New World wines labelled as ‘Syrah’ (even those from Australia) are made in more of a French style – less up-front sweet fruit, and with more of a savoury edge.
Australia has a long and proud history with Shiraz. The first vines were brought into the country by Sir James Busby in the 1830’s. Many vines in many areas in Australia, especially South Australia, are on their own rootstocks, and are well over 100 years old. (Henschke’s Hill of Grace Shiraz, from Eden Valley in South Australia, is made from vines over 120 years old). These precious vines are some of those that survived the great “vine-pull” schemes due to the glut of grapes in the 1980’s.
Australia’s history with Shiraz has benefitted from the various climatic zones in Australia that is able to sustain this versatile grape variety. It has also benefitted from modern winemaking techniques and the absence of strict historical laws, which allow, for example, blending from different areas, sometimes long distances away. Penfold’s Grange, for example, is a multiregional blend of Shiraz, blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Australian winemakers and consumers are now beginning to understand the different ways that Shiraz can manifest itself in different regions with different temperatures, proximity to the ocean and soil types. Tintara (of the Hardy’s stable) has released a series of three single vineyard Shirazes from the Mclaren Vale area to highlight the influences of soil and microclimate. (They are the Blewitt Springs, McLaren Flat and Upper Tintara Shiraz). We are also just beginning to understand the influences of clonal selection, especially in relation to suitability to certain climatic conditions and soil types, and research in this area is ongoing.
Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in South Australia is traditionally big and bold, adored by the likes of Robert Parker, full of deep dark and dense fruit, with stewed plums, blackberry and cherry flavours. It is this kind of Shiraz that put Australian Shiraz on the world wine map. Well-known examples are the Basket Press Shiraz from Rockford, Peter Lehmann’s Stonewell Shiraz, Grant Burge’s Meshach and Glaetzer’s Amon Ra.
Then there is, a short distance away, the McLaren Vale (which itself has cooler subregions). Shiraz from this region usually has intense berry fruit, sometimes with hints of chocolate and spice, especially anise. D’Arenberg, Chapel Hill and Wirra Wirra are three excellent producers from this area.
The Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, being a warmer climatic region, produces Shiraz with different characteristics. Here, Shiraz has a more earthy, leathery and savoury edge, but contains enough structure and tannin to allow medium to long term aging. Tempus Two (part of the McGuigan stable) and Brokenwood (Graveyard Shiraz) are two well-known examples.
The Frankland River region in Western Australia, has a growing reputation as a leading area for Shiraz. The Shiraz from this region bears all the hallmarks of a cooler climate wine, with black pepper and spicy overtones, a medium-weight palate, pure varietal expression, and the structure that allows longevity in the cellar. Houghton has produced an excellent regional series of wines with its Shiraz selected from the Frankland River district.
The Heathcote Region in Victoria is another zone that produces powerful, inky, unctuous Shiraz. The ancient Cambrian soils (like that found in the Coonawarra region in South Australia) are thought to contribute at least in part to the quality of the wines. Heathcote Winery and Munari are two examples of producers.
Cooler regions in South Australia such as the Clare Valley and Coonawarra also produce Shiraz of superlative quality. The superb but small, boutique winery, Wendouree, with incredibly difficult to procure wines (mailing list only) is located in the Clare Valley. Most of the great Cabernet producers of the Coonawarra region also produce exceptional Shiraz.
Margaret River, a region with a moderate climate, long known for its Cabernet Sauvignons, is also producing more and more Shiraz of exceptionally high standard. Voyager Estate and Windance are good examples.
In a review such as this, justice cannot be done to the myriad of producers from the many areas in Australia that produce Shiraz. Other regions in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania have not even been mentioned. It would be fair to say that most wine producers in Australia would grow and bottle Shiraz.
In Australia, as in other parts of the world, Shiraz is also blended with other grape varieties. A growing number of producers are releasing Shiraz-Viognier blends (Clonakilla and Yering Station are good examples). Cabernet and Shiraz have been long-time bedfellows in Australia, in what is a classic Australian blend (such as the iconic Penfolds Bin 389). Grenache and Mourvedre (as in Chateauneuf du Pape) are also often blended with Shiraz (Charles Melton’s Nine Popes being an excellent example).
Two final issues. First, a note on style. In recent years there has been a shift away from the fruit bombs laden with vanillin, American oak, to a more restrained style with more French rather than American oak. (But of course, the big powerful examples still exist).
Lastly, the recent heat and drought in Australia has proved to be a challenge for some grape growers and wine producers, especially in the warmer growing zones, where rapid ripening can be at the expense of flavour and, downstream, acid and structure. The cooler growing zones have of course fared better.