Franklin River – the best Shiraz producing region in Australia
There’s naturally a degree of hesitation in expressing an opinion about wine, wine regions and winemakers. After all, opinions are rather self-indulgent and often, ill-considered, half-baked and formed in ignorance of the facts. So when I was recently asked for my view as to which region produces the best Shiraz in Australia, I baulked! How do you compare apples and oranges and why should one style or profile necessarily be considered superior to another? And how can it be fair to compare shiraz from cool or high altitude climates with those from a warmer or Mediterranean zone?
Well, I guess it’s just an opinion; and I’m up for the discussion, but I’m going to offend my good friends in South Australia. And also those in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley and Victoria’s Yarra region. And I apologise unreservedly to the Tasmanian producers who do a sterling job of crafting fine reds in their cool climate. But for the moment at least, I reckon that some of the best Shiraz in the country and born in the rather remote, Frankland River region in southern West Australia.
The Franklin River
The Frankland River district is part of the Great Southern region sits inland from Manjimup, about four to five hours from Perth. The climate is rather Mediterraneanesque as long, warm sunny days and cool nights provide an ideal environ for production of plump ripe juicy berries that ensure opulence of juice while allowing the regional character to express itself in the glass. With about 1600 hectares under vine, the sub-region is one of the largest in Western Australia as well as being one of the oldest in the state. The first vines were planted in the late 1960’s and these days, Frankland River Riesling and Shiraz is gaining international acclaim for its finesse and flair. Perhaps the distinctiveness of the local Shiraz comes not from its’ elevation (which is only about 200 – 300 meters above sea level), but from the ironstone based granitic and gravelly soils that define the region. For me, the beauty of the regional shiraz is the power of the fruit, the distinctive black pepper characters on the conclusion, and its presence and charm on the palate.
Alkoomi Wines, Jarrah Shiraz 2011
One of the largest and oldest wineries of the sub-region is Alkoomi, which was first planted in 1971. The current custodians of the Hallett family’s operation are third generation vignerons Sandy and Rod Hallett, who work the property and winery alongside their three daughters. Their range includes Riesling and multiple shiraz but it’s their 2011 Jarrah Shiraz that recently captured my attention. At $45 it’s far from their top end product yet delivers all of the delightful Frankland River idiosyncrasies at a price point that doesn’t raise eyebrows at the cellar door. The depth of fruit is telegraphed by the deep crimson colour in the glass before luscious preserved plums and dark cherries emerge the moment it passes your lips. The fruit intensity reaches a crescendo on the mid-palate, moments before gentle acids and fine tannins escort the Jarrah through a peppery and finely tuned conclusion. The magic is perhaps, in the balance between ripeness of fruit and finesse of the finish.
I don’t pretend that the Frankland River Shiraz will appeal to everyone’s palate, especially those who prefer the jamminess of a full, ripe and high alcohol style from warmer regions like the Barossa. But at least for now, I’m proudly a card-carrying and flag-waving member of the Frankland River Shiraz fan club!