Friday 24 May 2013

Australian Shiraz comes of age

‘We’re the pretty ones now,’ Allister Ashmead of Elderton said to me once, in relation to his newly-elegant Shiraz. Who’d have thought to hear an Aussie, a Barossan, say that?

Matthew Jukes’ extraordinary 100 Best Australian Wines tasting this week has confirmed to me that Australian Shiraz has graduated to a new and sublime level. And it seems absolutely right – as if the best producers of the Barossa, McLaren  Vale, Clare, Coonawarra and the rest are simply taking the next step on an evolutionary journey.

Extraordinary nose of dark rotted fruit...Jamsheed

Oh, there are some monsters still (and I mean that as a compliment). But the mighty ones – Ben Glaetzer’s Bishop, Grant Burge’s Meshach (the old testament names put you in mind of those stiffbacked pioneers in their rusty black hats, beards full of grit) – sit comfortably in their skins. They are behemoths, but they’re balanced and practical, there’s no alcohol burn, and the tannins don’t rip your teeth out and kick them down the street.

But before we got to those there was a line-up of excellence. Jukes knows what he’s doing of course (though no Elderton?), he should do, he’s been at it long enough – this is the 10th anniversary of the 100 Best, and the big hall at Aussie House was packed.

Back to the Shiraz. I haven’t used the word ‘delicate’ so much since I was reviewing Dresden china for Tea Service Weekly. Wine after wine was bold, bright, uncompromising but not brash. The thread that ran throught the 30-odd I tasted was the quality of the tannins. Typically a nose of ripe plums, bruised damsons, white pepper (not black so much, as it used to be), savoury grilled meats and so forth, repeated on the attack and then quickly picked up by a delicate (there we go again) but firm wave of ripe tannins, dry at first then explodingly juicy, and carrying right through to the end.

They are such complete wines. There is no fatigue (although I did trip over the fluted columns a couple of times), just a constant pleasure in tasting wines that are crafted by artisans at the very top of their game.

The difference between now and five or eight years ago is the tannin management. Big Australian Shiraz could make you feel you’d just drunk a glass of sand laced with mint and juicy berries, but no longer. These wines have tannins that are tough and muscular, there’s no doubt about them, but they don’t dominate except in a couple of cases.

Then there's the freshness of beautifully-balanced acidity, sitting alongside the tannin and fruit, adding to the mouthfeel.

This is the new Shiraz. The pretty ones. What a superb selection of masterful wines.

Lindemans Bin 50A Shiraz 2012 SEA £8.99
Very bright cherryish nose. Confected dense sweet cherry palate with sugared almonds, spice. Ripe soft tannins and good spicy length. Brilliant for the price

Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011 SA £9.99
Serious earthy, slightly rotted nose, quite one-dimensional palate but still there are decent notes of plum, damson and pepper. Good

De Bortoli Windy Peak Heathcote Shiraz 2012, Heathcote, Victoria £10.99
Sweet white pepper nose. Blackcurrant rush on the palate, lovely powdery tannins exploding into juiciness towards the end. Good

Tyrells Vat 9 Shiraz 2010, Hunter Valley NSW £34.99
Really fine meaty nose, savoury with earth and damson. Gentle tannins with real chalky grip. Charming, with long delicate length

Paringa Estate Peninsula Shiraz 2010 Mornington Peninsula Victoria £27.60
Delicate fresh plummy, cherry palate with gripping ripe tannins and this wonderful exotic spice (cinnamon and sandalwood). Juicy and pretty. Good dry (powdery) length. Excellent

Jamsheed, Garden Gully Vineyard Syrah 2011, Great Western, Victoria £35.00
Extraordinary nose of dark rotted fruit – challenging at first but mellowing into dark notes of forest floor, blackberry, black cherry, coffee. Firm linear tannins which carry through to a superb dry length. One of the wines of the line-up. Excellent

Fox Gordon Eight Uncles Shiraz 2011, Barossa, SA £18.75
Lovely bright red fruit nose, plummy but overall reddish fruit on the palate, superb juicy tannins, precise and lengthy. Of all the wines in the lineup this might not have the heft in the middle palate but it’s charming for all that

Wirra Wirra Catapult Shiraz 2011, McLaren Vale SDA £13.99
Bright minty aspirated nose, all eucalypt and sweet mint (spearmint). The tannins enter late, ripely, and pick up the red cherry and plum and carry it through to a long and lingering finish. Excellent

Chapel Hill Shiraz 2011, McLaren Vale, SA, £23.49
Savoury nose with animal skin (a hint of marmite). Dense and sweet black briar fruit, textured like the skin of a kiwi, very delicate tannins give the lie to the power of this wine. Very fine

Teusner, The Riebke Shiraz 2012, Barossa Valley, SA £19.99
More earth and general deliciously rotted forest floor on the nose. Brilliant nose. Cooked macerated plum, damsons, chocolate, coffee notes. Very complex, could go on smelling this for minutes on end. The palate is the same, with very precise tannins holding up more plum and dark stone fruit. The length is perfect: warm, powdery tannins which finally dissolve into juiciness and don’t disappoint for a full minute. Superlative wine – and what a price!

Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2010, Coonawarra SA £14.00
I’d tasted the altogether more expensive Michael and John Riddoch with Sue Hodder that morning… This has sweet definite red cherry and blackcurrant on the nose – very pure – then a ripe rather commercial (though not jammy) palate. But as soon as you start thinking, ‘commercial’, the tannins kick in and lift everything out of easy sweetness and into more serious territory. Great length. Very good.

Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz 2010, Hunter Valley NSW £34.99
Ah what an amazing nose, so open and perfumed, full of fruit and life. Palate of damson, blackcurrant and cherry with spicy tannins (clove, it has to be, and star anise), following through beautifully

Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2011, Canberra District ACT £66.99
Not a cheap wine, I have to say, and a disappointing end to the palate for the price. The Viognier adds a layer of parma violets to the nose, and there are velvety sweet violets, along with blackberry and white pepper. But ‘celestial’, Matthew? The only celestial thing about it is the price. There’s unbalance here – nothing serious, but within this lineup the tannins lack juice.

Best Great Western Bin 0 Shiraz 2009 Victoria £39.99
Open spicy peppery classic Aussie Shiraz nose, mint and menthol at the end. Tannins are old-fashioned monsters, but they don’t overwhelm the superb earthy dark fruit flavours. Until the end palate, when they’re drier than I’d like in an 09. Are they going to get any softer?

Giaconda Warner Shiraz 2008 Beechworth Victoria £75.00
This has a perfect modern nose, a cornucopia of plum and damson and robust red fruits, strawberries marinaded in balsamic, raspberries ripe and bruised. Lovely delicate palate, open and fresh. Excellent

Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 2009, Clare Valley SA £27.00
A touch of iodine and bandages on the nose – nothing disagreeable and rather refreshing, attractive. Lots of mint, eucalypt on the palate, blackcurrant and blackberry to the fore. Good

Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley £46.00
Open, fresh, sweet nose with all kinds of red and black fruit – cooked raspberries and balsamic strawbs, fresh mint. Opulent, generous. The tannins are deep and lush, give impression of really cherishing the fruit they support. Powerful and fine

Charles Melton Nine Popes 2010, Barossa Valley SA £34.99
Shiraz/Grenache. I’d been looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. A wonderful, muscular, copper-bottomed hulk of a wine, clinker-built for ocean-going. Lithe, with a cocktail of sour plums and sweet damson on the nose and dense opulent dark fruit on the palate. The tannins have an iron grip but don’t overwhelm,and carry through to  juicy end. It’s old-fashioned, uncompromising, full of vibrant, sinuous life. Excellent

Ulithorne Frux Frugis Shiraz 2010 McLaren Vale £34.95
Mint and eucalypt, white pepper and plummy dark fruit. Tannins full of power and grip, but charming for all that. Old-style muscular Shiraz. Good.

Torbreck The Factor 2009, Barossa Valley £89.00
Wonderful wine, fine blackcurrant and sweet plum on the nose, carrying through to the palate, picked up and rocked by sinuous, gritty tannins that remind you to eat a very large, very juicy rare steak with sea salt and black pepper, immediately. An old charismatic monster.

John Duval Entity Shiraz Barossa Valley SA £2009
No note! What happened? Must have been distracted. Pity as I love John Duval’s wines and had clocked this one earlier. What does Matthew say? ‘Grunt and more spice overlaying the chocolate, plum and mulberry theme… oak exotic…’ Damn.

Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2007, Clare Valley SA £120.00
Superb and muscular, a wine for laying down for a dozen years before you even attempt it. But the tannins on this 2007 are ripe and sweet and rather kind to your back teeth, the fruit is open and opulent, with an almost Grenache-like juiciness before the tannins grab you and usher you firmly into another world. Very fine.

Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley £35.00
From the immensely talented Ben Glaetzer, a beast. Brooding meaty nose, savoury, with sour-mash plums, licorice, dark berries. Sweet densely-knit tannins carry more plumminess and damson, chocolate and more licorice. Huge, and with a slight alcohol burn (only 15.1%) at the end, but then it’s very young and we can forgive that.

Rosemount Estate Balmoral Syrah 2010 McLaren Vale SA £78.00
Sweet dense nose loaded with chocolate, leather (old saddle leather), tar, dark fruit. There’s such elegance here for a big wine, the dark fruit palate carried by ripe tannins that carry it all the way to the end. Brilliant.

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz, 2008, Barossa Valley SA £88.00
More tar, sweet and pungent, rotted dense plum, molasses, wonderful perfume. Very ripe, very beguiling in a massive way. The tannins are ripe and powdery, exploding into almost viscous juice on the end palate. My last wine of the day and what a send-off.

Penfolds Grange 2008, SA £500
Empty bottle. Bastards.

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