Miles From Nowhere Shiraz
Shiraz has long been Australia’s biggest selling red wine with the vineyards of South Australia being the biggest contributor to the annual national Shiraz crop. In recent decades, the world has fallen in love with our voluptuous, ripe and jammy Shiraz that is undeniably mouth-filling, palate-pleasing and popular with wine drinkers both domestically and internationally.
However, I have drifted away from the juicy sweet and luscious styles of Shiraz and now find my palate craving the more elegant, linear and sophisticated versions of the wine made famous in France’s Rhone Valley. As for beer, forget it.
To my palate, the more refined styles of Australian shiraz tend not to come from the warm and hot climate regions that produce prolific consumer-friendly wines found on the shelves of bottleshops. More often (though certainly not exclusively) the moderate and cool climate areas seem to produce shiraz that has all the fruit and finesse, without the stewed fruit ripeness that I no longer enjoy.
When I use the terms “cool and moderate climate”, I’m not intending to enter the debate as to the definition of a “cool climate”. After all, experts around the world openly disagree on the appropriate way to categorise a climate. Whether it’s growth in a day, hours of sunshine, latitudinal location or the barometer of vineyard chill – what I’m really talking about is the style of wine, rather than the vineyard’s average temperature.
When it comes to Shiraz, Australia is certainly blessed with a wide range of regions and terroir that are neither “hot” or “warm”, yet still suited to the shiraz grape. From the high altitude of Mt Canabolas near Orange, the Mount Tumbarumba district near Canberra at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, the Grampians Range in Victoria or even the picturesque Adelaide Hills in South Australia, there are plenty of sites that make delightful shiraz that are true expressions of their terroir. Think wines like Clonakilla Shiraz, Mount Langi Ghiran and Tapanappa shiraz – all world-beating quality yet each distinctive different cloaked in personality, poise and grace.
While the cool climates produce elegant shiraz, that’s not to say that warmer regions can’t produce similarly lean styles. The secret is to pick slightly earlier so the fruit has a lower Baume (sugar content). With careful viticultural management, even warm and hot climate producers can make shiraz that is more concentrated than candied, more stylish than stewed.
One region that I suspect is still under-rated for its shiraz is the Margaret River in Western Australia where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the vineyard and is the toast of the town. The Margaret River climate is rather maritime in nature – with high rainfall during winter, a dry and warm summer enhanced with cooling ocean breezes all year round to minimise the sweltering heat. There is already some outstanding Shiraz from the region with a stellar reputation on the world stage – wines like the Howard Park Leston Shiraz, the Sandalford Prendiville Reserve Shiraz and the Peccavi Syrah, all of which sell at well over $50 a bottle.
The “Best Blocks” Shiraz is, as the name implies, uses fruit from a range of different sites across the region. It’s full-bodied, and despite its depth and concentration of fruit, maintains balance and elegance thanks to natural acidity. The nose is highly perfumed with lavender, violets and a hint of spice. On the front there are blueberries, mulberries and dark fruits that wrestle with cardamon and savoury cassis as the wine edges towards the vanilla-laced back palate. The finish is graced by fine tannins and a clovey spiciness yet tightens as it lingers on the finale, courtesy of good natural acidity. At $24 a bottle, it’s proof that you don’t need to pay ridiculous money for a perfectly palatable shiraz.