wine-pages.com
Tom Cannavan's wine-pages.com   

Australian Shiraz


Maturation and Differences in Regionality

By David Pearce

Do Australian wines show regional differences? Very much so is my opinion, and this was confirmed at a recent Shiraz tasting by the Institute of Masters of Wine. We tasted the best wines from various regions of Australia, and also had the chance to taste mature vintages alongside current releases. This gave a unique opportunity to assess the maturation times of the top-flight wines, whilst seeing if cool- or warm-climate wines are better suited to laying down.

As a broad guide, Shiraz from different regions displays the following characteristics:

Margaret River - Warm Maritime Climate
With a climate akin to Pomerol, the Margaret River region is best know for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. Although it can be hard to identify an MR Shiraz blind, they do display great elegance and structure. Not as full or rich as the Barossa, but with intense spice, black cherry, cinnamon and raspberry flavours. The tannins are ripe and the wines usually have good length.

Hunter Valley - Hot Climate
Although hot, the Hunter can be prone to rain, which can occasionally cause problems. The Shiraz can be complex and opulent, with plummy, earthy and leathery aromatics. On the palate the wines display concentrated earthy flavours, fruit sweetness, ripe tannins and good length. The Hunter has an ability to produce wines that can age remarkable well, especially Shiraz and Semillon. Tyrells still harvests grapes form vines planted in 1879.

Clare Valley - Warm to Hot Climate
The home of Wendouree - one of Australia's most saught after wines which does not open up to its full glory for at least a decade. Clare Valley Shiraz is concentrated, but has more spice, cracked-pepper and anise aromas than the Barossa. They display ripe prune-like fruit with great structure and sometimes angular tannins.

  

Barossa Valley - Warm Climate
Thank goodness for Peter Lehmann! At a time when the big companies in the Barossa were abandoning Shiraz, scrubbing up their own vines and cancelling long term contracts with growers, Lehmann stepped in using borrowed money to buy grapes from the growers and make Shiraz. What foresight he showed: the Barossa is now arguably the most important region in Australia for Shiraz. The area is littered with fine producers such as Henschke, Rockford, Charles Melton, Greenock Creek, Torbreck and Three Rivers. It is also loved by Robert Parker. Is this due to the amounts of American Oak used in the wines or their stunning complexity with aromas of plums, liquorice, chocolate and of course vanilla? On the palate the wines are fruit-driven, with massive concentration, ripe tannins and almost infinite length. Some people find these "one glass wines" because of their power.

McLaren Vale - Warm Climate
Situated to the South of the Barossa, the wines are similar in texture but produce different flavours. McLaren Vale Shiraz produces wine with intense blackberry and liquorice aromas with vanilla overtones. The tannins are ripe and give good longevity to the wines.

Heathcote - Warm Climate
There are not really any singular flavours to identify Shiraz from Heathcote as the area has a number of smaller wineries, who make highly individualistic wines - Wild Duck Creek's "Duck Muck" is made from grapes that are picked at 17+ Baume (a potential Alc level of 18%!). If you were to identify flavour compounds, then plumy and meaty come to mind with abundant fruit flavours and concentration.

Grampians - Warm Climate
Shiraz from the Grampians typically shows pepper and spice aromas with massive fruit concentration and finely structured tannins. With age they develop meaty, gamy bouquets and a silk-like palate. Some of the finer estates wines are often compared to the Rhône Valley in France.

the tasting

We commenced with a blind tasting of seven Shiraz wines - the object to identify the region of origin by the flavour profiles of the wines (I got four out of seven correct).

1) Vasse Felix Shiraz 1999 - Margaret River
Deep purple to the rim. Eucalyptus in predominance on the nose with blackcurrant, cassis and liquorice on the palate. Good weight and high acidity. Drink now - 2004

2) Tyrells Vat 9 Shiraz 1996 - Hunter Valley
Much darker in colour, almost looking like a Bordeaux with brownish tinges beginning to show. Sweet black fruit, blackcurrants especially, elegant but somewhat restrained. Secondary flavours starting to show from age of leather and white pepper. Soft silky tannins but showing it's age. Drinking now

3) Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 1996 - Eden Valley
Not showing nearly as much age as the Tyrells. Spicy and medicinal wine with cassis and cherry overtones. Intense, but not over extracted. Good weight and length. Now - 2005

4) Wendouree Shiraz 1998 - Clare Valley
Deep purple, almost opaque. Young, extracted, concentrated with big fruit showing vegetal and earthy tones. Black pepper and very fine tannins. Very good weight. One for the long term. 2005-2020

5) d'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 1998 - McLaren Vale
Deep purple and very intense nose of cassis, sweet blackcurrants, black pepper and a hint of mint. Very tannic and needs to settle down for a few years before drinking although it may fall apart in the very long term. 2005-2010

6) Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 1996 - Barossa Valley
Still a deep vibrant red colour with plenty of sweet fruit. Aniseed, raspberry and liquorice all present as is a plethora of oak. Almost like a rich fruitcake. A big wine for laying down. Now -2010

7) Clarendon Hills "Hickinbotham" 1998 - McLaren Vale
Deep bright purple and a herbaceous nose that is very perfumed. Very earthy wine with spice and black pepper. Good oak integration and length. Now - 2008

Regional variations really stood out with the cool climate wines showing more elegance and restraint than those from the Barossa and South Australia. Australia may need to promote these cool climate regions more to prevent the "big wine boredom" that Aussie Chardonnay has suffered. I also think the large companies need to invest in more cool regions and get the wine on to the supermarket shelves.

This in its self though is a major problem in this accountancy driven age. Vignerons are producing wine from two year old vines to start the cash flow rolling - this practice has to stop as it is counter-productive: stress is placed on the vines, thus shortening the lifespan of the resultant wines. Respectable retailers will learn not to stock such wines. This still leaves the gullable tourist at the cellar door to sell too of course…

Mount Langi Ghiran

We then went on to taste four vintages of Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz, tutored by Trevor Mast, the winemaker and owner. Mount Langi Ghiran Vineyards were planted in the 1960's, and Trevor was consultant wine maker for a number of years. Trevor purchased the
 
estate in 1987. The wines are picked on flavour profile in mid April, and de-stemmed before crushing. Cold Maceration takes place for three days before being transferred to shallow open fermenters. The wines are aged in a combination of American and French oak for around 12 months before bottling.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz 1999
Deep purple to the rim. The alcohol hits you immediately. No spice on the nose but eucalyptus and an abundance of fresh black cherries and liquorice. The palate is very full, complex and opulent. High acidity and racy tannins.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz 1995
Deep red with tints of brown. Eucalyptus on the nose with old leather and tar. Secondary fruit flavours starting to show through. Plenty of spice and tannin. Ready to drink now and for the next few years.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz 1993
Deep red but with signs of browning. A wonderful nose of chocolate. Leather and rich black fruits. Silky smooth in the mouth with luxurious chocolate, cassis and liquorice. Great length and perfectly balanced. A superb wine and my second favourite of the tasting. Drinking now.

Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz 1989
Brick red with strong brownish tinge. Totally different in style to the other three being a lot lighter. Still some secondary fruit on the nose but the wine is past it's best, although enjoyable.

Jasper Hill

Next were the wines from Jasper Hill, the Cult winery in the Heathcote region. The wines are very sought-after and the "Emboly's Paddock" is rarely seen as only around 300 cases are made each year. Emboly's Paddock and Georgia's Paddock are only one kilometre away from each other. They are also planted from identical root stock and the wines are made in the same way apart from a little Cabernet
 
Franc in the Emboly's, and different oak treatments. Yet in drinking the wines are totally different from each other: while the Georgia's is big and opulent, the Emboly's is more civilised and refined. All harvesting and pruning is done by hand and Ron Laughton (the owner and winemaker) is looking for supple and pronounced tannins. This is very "hands-off" winemaking, the belief being that the wines should speak for themselves.

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock 2000
Deep vivid purple with beautiful fruit and structure. An abundance of blackcurrant and cassis with aniseed and vanilla derived from the oak. Sweet, ripe, spicy fruits and very voluptuous with integrated tannins. A superb wine that will last many years. My favourite of the tasting.

Jasper Hill Emboly's Paddock 2000
Lighter in colour than the Georgia's with more red fruits including raspberries on the nose and a lighter spicy flavour. Thinner mouth feel with good acidity and fruit. Very tight tannins and understated.

Jasper Hill Georgias Paddock 1991
Brown/crimson colour and bursting with secondary flavours of leather, aniseed, blackcurrant and a hint of chocolate. Sweet fruits and great weight and length.

Jasper Hill Emilys Paddock 1991
Deeper in colour than the Georgias with a leathery nose complimented by soft spice and pepper. Red fruits showing through, giving a great depth of flavour. There is an earthiness with a tight tannin structure.

Penfolds

The last flight was from Penfolds to taste the differences between Grange and St Henri. Grange has tannins that are assertive and ripe, as opposed to St Henri's more textured tannins. Grange is a powerful and concentrated wine whilst the St Henri is more elegant and refined. Grange is aged in 100% new American 227
 
litres oak barrels, St Henri in 100% old 1,460 litre vats.

Penfolds St Henri 1996
Deep vivid purple with a big massive nose of black fruits, spice, and dark berries. On the palate there are some floral overtones of violet with sweet fruit. Grainy tannins and impressive length.

Penfolds St Henri 1986
Browny brick red colour with sweet fruit on the nose and a sweet nuttiness. Very Rhône-like in style and weight with hints of pepper.

Penfolds Grange 1996
Very deep purple and concentrated. A seductive nose of rich, ripe fruit. Very complex. Meaty, liquorice, plummy and coffee flavours on the palate. Well-integrated oak which can take the massive fruit giving a well-balanced wine. Fine but delicate tannins. Promise of great longevity.

Penfolds Grange 1986
Deep crimson but with hints of purple. Quite sweet fruits and liquorice. Great concentration on the palate with tight tannins. A moderately big wine that will continue to age, as suggested by its great length.

conclusions

All in all a unique tasting that really highlighted the regionality and ageing potential of the wines on show. In conclusion, I feel that the winemakers who believe wine is made in the vineyard, and not by the winemaker, have the better longevity. The over-extracted, fruit-driven wines from younger vines can be wonderful now, but might well fall apart five or six years after the vintage.

One more gripe is the price of Grange - it is a lovely wine and has the longest cellaring potential and structure of the wines tasted, but should be priced at around half its current RRP of £110.00. This was especially put into context along side Mount Langhi, Jasper Hill and Wendouree.

columnists-banner