Tasting Panel - Aussie Shiraz

, from Issue #102. March 21, 2022
glass of shiraz

Kiwis adore great Aussie shiraz – so our judges hunted out the spiciest, fruitiest, best of the best.

Just over a decade ago, dish Editor Victoria Wells finally gave in to my persistent pestering and agreed to let me host tasting panels for locally produced wine, craft beer and cider. Two years ago, our new (and current) Editor Sarah Tuck suggested spirits could be explored, kickstarting epic evaluations of whiskies, gins and vodka. Yet one theme remained constant. We’d keep it local. Kiwi or bust. But as Covid-19 and its pesky variants continued to play havoc with our ability to embrace our Aussie cobbers, we didn’t want to tie the kangaroo down any longer. ANZAC Day was approaching, and we felt that neighbours should be there for one another, so we declared the borders open to include New Zealand’s favourite Aussie sip. We love shiraz in Godzone. It’s a supermarket powerhouse and Kiwis soak up swimming pools of the stuff every year. It’s also Australia’s most-planted red variety, with around 40,000 hectares of it in the ground at the last count. Putting that in perspective, New Zealand’s entire vineyard area is only 39,935 hectares.

First things first. Syrah and shiraz are the same grape variety. The reason Aussies call it shiraz could be because back in 1832, when pioneering viticulturist James Busby imported French grape cuttings into Australia, one of the varieties was listed as “Hermitage – Fine black; supposed the Schiraz”. Hermitage in France’s northern Rhône Valley grows the world’s most famous syrah and legend has it that its original vines came from Persia (where Shiraz is a major city). To complicate things further, until recently, the name "Hermitage" was widely used in Australia as an alternative name for shiraz. Modern DNA analysis has proved syrah/shiraz is actually the offspring of dureza and mondeuse blanche grapes, both native to the Rhône. Thus, there’s no genetic connection between Persian grapes and the syrah/shiraz grape whatsoever. Busby’s diaries prove he knew of the legend of the Hermitage vine coming from Persia, but it’s more likely he simply misspelled syrah’s name as “schiraz”. He was Scottish, so his accent could’ve contributed. 

Anyhoo. Australia’s now home to the world's oldest continuously productive shiraz vines, with vineyards dating back to 1843 at Langmeil, 1847 at Turkey Flat and 1860 at Tahbilk, and today it’s grown in every Australian wine region. Having different names for the same grape on either side of the Tasman is actually a good thing because our different climates, soils and winemaking techniques create vastly different wines, so there’s no point comparing them.

However our judging team have all been massive fans of Aussie shiraz since aeons ago, so we were amping to see the differences between the best warmer-climate examples and the best from the cooler climes.

We wanted to see shiraz, shiraz-dominant blends and sparkling shiraz
(and believe me, when I’ve spent a hot, dusty day in the outback fending off goannas and rabid tree-bunnies all day, a chilled glass of sparkling shiraz is pretty much corka, rippa, bonza and grouse).   

Seventy-six entries poured in from importers across the country and our team were looking for pure red fruit characters, defined yet exotic spices, well-managed alcohols (shiraz can typically run to 14.5% or higher), expertly-integrated oak and refreshing textures. And did we find them? Fair dinkum we did, with warm climate Barossa and McLaren Vale dominating our Top Ten and the cooler Eden Valley contributing two very fine examples indeed.

Pepper Power

Ever wondered why some syrah and shiraz wines have strong black pepper aromas and flavours? That’s because the grapes contain the same compound that gives black pepper its spicy kick – a compound called rotundone. Fruits, vegetables and organic matter share the same DNA all the time, so why should the grapes that make our wines be any different?

Top of the Tasting

1. Grant Burge Filsell Barossa Shiraz 2019, $33 - Gold Medal

Grant Burge Filsell Barossa Shiraz 2019

It’s impossible to overstate how powerfully delicious this beauty from the Barossa is to drink. Inky-dark in the glass, crammed with cranberries and cream on the nose alongside blackberries and pepper, and generously plumped up with gum-swelling tannins, Ric was taken by its sweet fruit attack and gripping tannins, while Cameron commented,“Warm, generous and bold, this wine is classic and well made.” glengarrywines.co.nz

2. Dune Mingsha Shan McLaren Vale Shiraz 2020, $25 - Gold Medal

Dune Mingsha Shan McLaren Vale Shiraz 2020

It was the incredible floral lift of this wine which wowed our judges from the first swirl. Co-fermented with a splash of fiano (an Italian white grape) to elevate the aromatics, Yvonne loved how it burst with rosehip, redcurrant, peppered cherries and exotic spices. Ric was delighted with its dense mouthfeel and clever complexity, while Cameron applauded it’s well-proportioned acidity and subtle textures. Outstanding stuff. fineowine.co.nz

3. Grant Burge McLaren Vale Ink Shiraz 2019, $19 - Gold Medal

Grant Burge McLaren Vale Ink Shiraz 2019

Straight out the gate, this wine had our judges nodding heads in agreement and murmuring things like ”yum”, “blackcurrant”, “red cherry”, “ripe acidity”, “fleshy” and “fruity”. “This is spice-driven, elegantly proportioned and huge,” said Yvonne, while Cameron enjoyed its sweet oak notes and beautiful balance. Exceptional value for money. glengarrywines.co.nz

4. Wolf Blass Gold Label Regional Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2018, $30 - Gold Medal

Wolf Blass Gold Label Regional Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2018

Originally produced by Wolfgang Franz Otto Blass exclusively for Qantas First and Business Class back in 1985, this drop has become iconic in fine wine circles. Sourced predominantly from low-yielding vineyards across the Barossa Valley floor, with a splash of Eden Valley fruit, Yvonne loved its deliciously dusty spices on the nose and powerfully punchy blackcurrant characters in the mouth, while Ric noted its density and completeness. Richly structured and expertly crafted.  thegoodwine.co.nz

5. Thomas Goss NV McLaren Vale Sparkling Shiraz, $25 - Silver Medal

Thomas Goss NV McLaren Vale Sparkling Shiraz

This superb sparkling shiraz ticks all the boxes for ripe, red fruits and dark berries combined with cocoa, smoke and exotic spices. Yvonne loved its concentrated plum, cocoa and dark berry notes combined with intensely rich yet refreshing length, while Cameron enjoyed its rich, smooth, spritzy core texture and robust, fruity finish. Chilled down, it’s a summer’s day stunner. beerandwine.co.nz

6. Pepperjack Barossa Shiraz 2019, $25 - Silver Medal

Pepperjack Barossa Shiraz 2019

From the Saltram stable, it’s highly savoury and showing plush pepper and dark fruit characters alongside a pronounced, meaty note. Our judges felt this wine was very well made, with notes of sweet, ripe berry fruits, bold chewy tannins and a solid, spice-centric finish. A small splash of cabernet sauvignon in the blend helps bring dried herb notes forward too. thegoodwine.co.nz

7. Langmeil Valley Floor Barossa Shiraz 2019, $38 - Silver Medal

Langmeil Valley Floor Barossa Shiraz 2019

“A very nice wine with plenty of dark fruits and spice contrasted with texture and crispness,” noted Cameron, while Yvonne was wowed by its palate awash with pomegranate, blackcurrant and spices. “Sublime tannins and outstanding balance, freshness and character,” she added. caros.co.nz

8. Brockenchack Zip Line Eden Valley Shiraz 2018, $26 - Silver Medal

 Brockenchack Zip Line Eden Valley Shiraz 2018

With its sweet vanillin oak, dark berry intensity, tobacco and roast plum complexity, this shiraz impressed straight away. “Fresh, lovely palate weight and very, very well made,” noted Cameron. “With berry blossoms on the nose, a gently plump, plummy palate and tannins prickling under your front lip, it’s rather fabulous,” agreed Yvonne. brockenchack.nz

9. Gibson Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2018, $89 - Silver Medal

Gibson Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2018

Erupting with bright florals and red berry aromas, this Barossa beauty is deliciously generous in the mouth, elegantly styled and super-juicy to drink. “I love it!” wrote Yvonne. Cameron and Ric added it had youthful acidity, toasty, oaky complexity and excellent length of flavour. unitedcellars.com

10. Brockenchack William Frederick Eden Valley Shiraz 2013, $160 - Silver Medal

Brockenchack William Frederick Eden Valley Shiraz 2013

Nine years on from harvest and this shiraz is maturing into something rather special. “With its smoky, vanilla oak and soft, suede-like textures cloaking its toffee, coffee and dark, charred fruit notes, it’s still carrying fresh acidity and buckets of character. Such an exciting wine,” commented Yvonne. brockenchack.nz