Shiraz tasting

One of the most boring things a wine industry type can do is bang on about a list of wines they have tasted recently like some sychophantic celebrity-navel-gazer, name dropping and frothing superlatives at all who come near.   So that's precisely what I'm about to do.

Don't read on if you're not a bit obsessed by shiraz wines.

Unusually, one of our local winemakers managed to produce a tasting of several outstanding shiraz wines which were nearly all around 13.5% alcohol rather than the Australian industry norm of over 15%.  These weren't wines you have never heard of.  In fact, they were actually some of the most acclaimed wines on Australia and a few comparable French shiraz wines.

Here are my comments, and a completely subjective selection of the comments made by the rest of the gathered folk.

So all the wines were from the 2006 vintage.  It was a good vintage in many Australian wine regions as well as the Rhone Valley.
Not all wines tasted are reviewed: only the ones that I regard as worth mentioning.

Brokenwood Graveyard Vineyard shiraz 2006, Hunter Valley, NSW

I found all the wines pretty typical of their region in character, and in the case of this wine it had a pretty dull bouquet, but much more life on the palate.  (OK, so I did not expect this much liveliness on the palate from a Hunter Valley wine: that says a lot about the wine).
The bricky-dry aroma seemed a bit tired to me, but part of that is oak, and part of that is climate.  
To drink this wine, however, is a large step from just smelling it.  It has a leathery, sweet density.  It is alive with concentrated sweet fruit, drying tannins and tar and leather savoury character.  The wine is lovely to drink, deep and complex, both in the subtle but rich character of the fruit-derived flavours and the more ethereal earthy, very complex aged flavours.  It reveals more over time: half an hour in the glass gave more intrigue than the first impression. 
And yet, I found this wine unexciting. Then I was told it was $300 a bottle.  
I must confess that I grew up in Sydney and spent 10 years in the business with the Hunter Valley as the  premium wine region in my sphere of influence.   After a long search, we settled in Beechworth.  Wine style must have a lot to do with my preferences, so you need to consider that when you read this column. 

Bests Great Western Shiraz Bin 0, 2006, Vic

Now this wine I liked very much.  I know that Bests have a reputation that goes back many, many years, and I have bought their wine infrequently in the past.  

At the risk of over-simplifying my description of these wines, this wine has the style of the traditional Victorian shiraz from many years ago.  But I really need to point out that even the traditional style has had modern influences.  The best traditionally styled wines are brighter and stronger.  They don't have the weird, smelly, off-aromas that you might associate with "traditional" winemaking.  They have cleaned up their methods without compromising their style.

This wine has a softer, subtler character than the other wines we tasted.  I really believe this suppleness is part of the old-fashioned style.   It has a leather and mild spice nose, but the palate has a really lovely depth of flavour.  There is a hint of eucalyptus coming over the top of the sweet, complex fruit and the leathery texture. The flavours are rich and deep, and the structure firm with drying tannins and long lasting.  

To my mind, this wine was the best suited to our meal of grilled lamb chops: it had a savoury character and firm structure that managed to cope with the strong meat and grill flavours.

Giaconda 'Warners' Vineyard' shiraz 2006, Beechworth, Vic

Most of the winemakers in Beechworth are migrants.  And for many of us, the reason we chose to move here and grow wine was that we like the style of wine that is made here.  No surprises then that most of us prefered this wine.

There are a few real points of difference between this wine and the others in the tasting.  Firstly, the Giaconda has so much more bouquet: spice, violets and generally more fruit complexity.  I guess this comes form various factors, but regionality, terroir, soil must all play a part.  A dash of Roussanne may add to it as well.  The wine was also more alive with a longer lasting flavour.

On reflection, this wine from younger vines than the others did not seem weaker, lighter or simpler.  Quite remarkably, it seemed stronger in structure and more complex, although definitely a lighter style.

There were other wines in the line up, but I felt that these three were the best of the bunch.  Interestingly, they were all under 14% alcohol.  The wines that I haven't reviewed here were all over 15%.


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