Long the work horse of the Australian wine industry, Shiraz is widely regarded as the most versatile and ageworthy red grape variety grown in Australia. With its roots firmly planted in Australian wine folklore dating back to the early eighteen-thirties, Shiraz is the most widely planted, profusely produced red grape that's just as likely to be the source of a cheap "Rose'", a remarkable Seppelt sparkling "Burgundy", a good old Penfold's St. Henri "Claret" or even a monumental "Rutherglen Port" and just about anything in between. Not to mention it constitutes the significant proprtion of every vintage of Max Scubert's world famous creation, Grange "Hermitage". Thankfully, all the preceding preposterous generic stylistic references are not used these days (at least Max got the region almost right for grape variety with his precious Grange). Recent international legal agreements now preclude such ridiculous and, what I regard as, insulting label references to the great wines of France and Portugal from gracing Australian wine bottles. But for decades these generic descriptors were used almost "carte blanche" across the local wine industry as some form of "ready reckoner" for the new breed of local "punters" and their choice of, the new kid on the block, red table wine.
For the most part of its long existence in Australia, Shiraz has been put to most use in the production of fortified wine. Even today, if you see a bottle of Australian "Tawny" or "Fortified Vintage" wine languishing on a retailer's shelf, the chances are the predominant grape used as the basis of its construction, will be Shiraz, although, it must be said, even as far back as the nineteen-thirties, Hunter Valley pioneering genius, Maurice O'Shea, produced absolutely magnificent dry Shiraz table wines at the Mount Pleasant winery. Coonawarra, now famous for their Cabernet's, was once home, and for decades almost exclusively, to Shiraz and the great wines of the nineteen -forties and -fifties from Wynns (1955 Michael Hermitage) and Woodley's incredible Treasure Chest Series (1949-1956) bear testimony to this grape's role in forging the region's reputation.
Shiraz flourishes in most areas of Australia, perhaps reflecting its warm-climate ancestry but, almost surprisingly, performs equally well in cooler regions. Aromas and flavours can be detected at either end of the spectrum - sour cherry, redcurrant, pepper, spice and even forest floor at one extreme, graduating through to the sweeter red berry fruits such as raspberry, cherry and plum, moving to the darker fruits of blueberry, blackberry to chocolate and prune at the other. With considerable time (and good provenance) the telltale signs of well-aged leather, cigar box, sweet earth, game and sometimes mushroom appear giving extra dimension and complexity, especially when aged sensibly, in well-seasoned, quality American and/or French oak.
One of the great attributes of Australian Shiraz is its ability to be blended with other great red grape varieties. Although this may be akin to some purists of mixing scotch with ice or water, Shiraz has the amazing ability to fill out and soften the mid-palate and harshness of the more austere Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the greatest mature Australian reds I've encountered over the last two and a half decades have been bleen blends of these two varieties. Blending with Grenache, Mataro (Mouvedre) and, particularly over the last decade or two, Viognier have come into vogue, often in the attempt to mimick the blends employed so successfully over the decades and, in some cases, centuries in France such as Chateauneuf-des-Pape and Cote Rotie. And how could I not mention the great results from the loyal band of Aussie wineries who continue to produce wonderful sparkling Shiraz. Somewhat of an Aussie enigma, Seppelt have the quite envious and foremost reputation of making this unusual wine style since the early decades of the twentieth century and what a fine, ageworthy wine it can be.
So whether it be a big, bold and brassy, top-end South Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley (Penfold's Grange), Clare Valley (Jim Barry's The Armagh) or McLaren Vale (Coriole's Lloyd Reserve), a gorgeously fragrantly seductive cool climate Shiraz Viognier (Canberra's own Clonakilla), a New South Wales Hunter Valley legend from Lindemans (e.g. 1965 Bin 6600) or the occasional sensational vintage of Brokenwood's Graveyard, a Victorian blockbuster from Heathcote (Wild Duck Creek's Duck Muck) or Great Western (Seppelt St. Peters) or any of the new breed from Margaret River or Lower Great Southern in Western Australia, there's plenty of variety for the hedonist to get their teeth into. At the other end of the price range, I can heartily recommend some of the bigger corporate's efforts with wines from Burge, Lehmann's Barossa, Saltram, Penfold's, Orlando et al. For the bottom dweller's there is absolutely no need to go to Yellowtail or some forlorn Gobbly-Gunk, purile, sweet crap we're "concocting" for the "sweet-toothed" American market. This is crass marketing at its worst. It's not even clever. It's demeaning to me and so many other lovers of "good value" wine in this country.
The real beauty and secret of Australian Shiraz is that somewhere between the best and the worst you'll be able to find an ocean of more than decent juice at not too high a price that will be approachable as a youngster and should improve and probably last for a lot longer than most would expect. My cellar has been built on a platform of low- to mid-priced Australian Shiraz and I'm still drinking wines dating back to 1990 that have not only held for many years but will go for some appreciable time to come. And when I drink 'em masked, I invariably give them one helluva good rating to boot.
Last edited by David Lole
on Thu Oct 04, 2007 5:39 am, edited 4 times in total.