July 28th is Shiraz Day, providing an excellent excuse to get into some of those rich reds from Down Under! While not native to Australia, the country has now made the grape its flagship wine.
Known elsewhere as Syrah, the variety was birthed, as it were, from a natural crossing of Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, most likely in the French départment de Isère, in the Rhône-Alpes region. Its first recorded mention came in 1781. Shiraz’s history in Australia, however, dates back to 1832, when James Busby brought Syrah cuttings from the Rhône valley. The grape took to the land, and the Australians took to the grape. It is now the country’s most planted variety.
It is unclear how Syrah became Shiraz, but what is clear is that it’s an expression of the grape unique from anywhere else. Granted, the styles vary somewhat, given Australia’s many regions, each with their own terroir. Trademark aromas of the grape are black and blue fruits, black pepper, and olives. In warmer regions, like Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, the wines will show a fuller body, higher alcohol, softer tannins, and have more spice and earth aromas, even showing leather with age. Whereas in cooler regions, such as the Yarra Valley and Grampians, the aromas include more red and black fruit, and have less alcohol.
Traditionally, many Australian winemakers choose to age their wines in American oak, known to impart aromas of coconut and dill into the wines, but an affection for French oak, with its toasty vanilla and baking spice aromas, is growing. Shiraz also frequently is used in blends. In the style of the Rhône Valley it is often combined with Grenache and Mourvèdre in the classic GSM blends. It also is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Below are a few of the standout examples of some of the finest expressions Australia has to offer for Shiraz Day.
Some of the most classic expressions of Shiraz come from Henschke, who are considered pioneers in single-vineyard wines such as their Hill of Grace Shiraz, made in the Eden Valley. A powerful and highly expressive example of the varietal, the purity of fruit is made more impressive by incredible complexity and its perfect balance. If you need somewhere to start this Shiraz Day, you'll not go far wrong with Henschke.
Equally renowned is Penfolds, whose “Grange” wines were so universally disliked at first that winemaker Max Schubert was ordered to stop making them. Knowing that aging was the key to his wines’ beauty, they continued to be produced in secret, and thank goodness! It is now considered one of the world’s best wines. Renowned for its decadent depth and highly structured body, Grange is approachable in its youth, but reveals its outstanding character with careful aging. This would probably the first wine to come to mind for Shiraz Day!
Another winery to take note of is Kilikinoon, a relative newcomer having only been founded in 1997, and known for minimalist winemaking techniques. The Reserve Shiraz spends a full 24 months in 100% new French oak before 12 months bottle aging prior to release. Offering spectacular precision and intensity as well as purity of fruit, this richly expressive Shiraz is made in small volumes and is a true classic of Australian winemaking.
Clarendon Hills' Astralis Shiraz is a true cult wine, the winery setting itself apart by growing and purchasing grapes from pre-phylloxera vines. Earning a number of impressive 98-100 scores from influential critics such as Robert Parker and Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Astralis is an extraordinarily complex and delineated Shiraz that proves just how expressive and unique this varietal can be. This majestic offering by Roman Bratasiuk is an effort to make one of the greatest wines in the world. Do you think he succeeded? Why not take the opportunity this Shiraz Day to find out!
These are just a few of the fabulous Australian Shiraz examples to seek out, but there are plenty more to be found, including producers like Yalumba – one of the oldest family owned Australian wineries known not just for their superb wines, but for their onsite nursery that supplies much of the Australian wine industry with vines and rootstock.
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