The Shiraz of Oz
It’s safe to say that when it comes to Australia, no other grape variety carries more weight than Shiraz, which is almost synonymous with Australian wine.
The grape has been planted extensively in Barossa, Eden Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Riverina and even cooler sites in Adelaide Hills. Plantings of the grape during 2014-2015 amounted to 39,893 ha, accounting for 46% of all red vineyards and almost a third of all vineyards around the country, according to figures from The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory.
So it came as no surprise that Australia dominated the medal chart in our Asian Syrah Masters competition, bagging four out of five Masters (meaning each wine scored at least 95 points), and nine out of 15 Gold medals.
Taylor’s Wines Jaraman Shiraz 2015 from Clare Valley was the best value Master-winning wine we have found in the tasting in the HK$150-HK$199 price band, although most of the Gold and Master medal winners tended to cluster in price brackets above HK$300 (US$38). The same winery’s pricer ‘The Prisoner Shiraz Exceptional Parcel Release 2013’ is yet another delicious and savoury sample that has won a Master but falls in the HK$800+ price bracket.
It goes without saying that Barossa Valley and Eden Valley were most responsible for churning out savoury, dense and rich Shiraz that boasts long cellar potential, as exemplified by the classic sample we found in McGuigan Farms Shiraz 2013. The wine is a rich, structured and bold red that checks off all the boxes of a classic Barossa Shiraz, earning it a deserved Master title.
Penfolds RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz 2014 also showed the wonder of Barossa, while Jackson Family Wines Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Brooks Road Shiraz 2014, Geoff Johnston Wines Ironstone Low Trellis Shiraz 2013 and Jackson Family Wines Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2014 highlighted the brilliance of McLaren Vale.
One exciting development in Australia’s Shiraz scene is the rise of cooler climate Shiraz that proves producers can craft more elegant and refined styles, as shown by Bird in Hand’s Nest Egg Shiraz from Mount Lofty Ranges in Adelaide Hills. Its 2013 and 2014 vintages have both taken home a Gold medal, with the former impressing judge Longworth the most, lauding it as having “lovely depth of ripe fruit, with real elegance, charm and complexity”.
Even in Barossa, more elegant and fresher styles can be found, such as the Gatt High Eden Shiraz 2014, which is a dead ringer to Northern Rhône Syrah. “The wine was a highly savoury, spicy, earthy style which reminded me of Northern Rhône wines. I was very surprised to find out it was from Eden Valley. It’s a style I don’t necessarily associate with this region, so it was really interesting. It stood out for its stylistic difference compared to much of what we tasted. Much more elegant and fresh in style than most with great concentration, complexity and length,” Martin explained.
Lesser examples of Shiraz from the competition are found in both hot and cool climates when the grape’s growing conditions are either too hot in places such as Riverina where it lost its fragrance, or when, too cold, it struggles to ripen.
Outside of Australia, another Master title went to Chile, where Vina Ventisquero Pangea Apalta Vineyard Ultra Premium Syrah 2013 from Colchagua Valley proved that the text-book ideal red wine growing region has what it takes to craft world-class Syrah. “Its quality of fruit, regional expression and the attention to detail throughout the winemaking process that was clearly evident shows us what Chile can achieve with this grape variety at the very highest level,” lauded Jude Mullins, international development director of WSET. There are a few samples from Leyda Valley as well, showing the potential of cool climate Shiraz in Chile, although they failed to win the top Gold medal this time.
Another exceedingly encouraging example came from Switzerland’ sun-trapped Valais, where its warm climate and ample sunlight can produce bright and juicy Syrah, harking back to the classic Northern Rhône style, as we’ve found in Domaine Jean-René Germanier Cayas Syrah du Valais Reserve 2013. The wine left a mark on judge Darrius Allyn MS, as it “expressed not cool climate qualities of Syrah, which stood out from most all the rest in our flights”, he pondered.
Among the Gold medal winners, two Shiraz from South Africa – La Motte Syrah 2014 and Distell Alto Shiraz 2015 – are two delicious samples, while back in the Rhône Valley, Ogier AOP Croze Hermitage – Heritages 2015, AOP Côte Rôtie – Heritages 2015 and Doamines Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage ‘La Petite Chapelle’ 2012 are prime examples of Northern Rhône’s strength when it comes to crafting savoury, layered and complex Syrah. Wines from Côte-Rôtie, the ‘roasted slope’, generally show more elegance and restraint with the aim of Viognier while Hermitage tends to go down the power path.
Finally, there are more Gold medals from Australia worth seeking out including Bird in Hand MAC Shiraz 2013 and Gatt Shiraz Barossa 2013 to name a few.
Although there are a few high Silver medal winners came close to winning Gold, a trove of Syrahs from Sicily in Italy deserve a nod for the wines’ minerality, balance and bright fruitiness, as shown in a Sallier de la Tour Syrah 2015, for instance.
Overall, more than 90% of samples at the competition were awarded with a medal, representing an impressive breadth and depth of Syrah, which goes out to affirm the grape’s quality and the wide array of stellar choices out in the market for consumers.