WHEN we think of Australian wine we think of Shiraz.
This was not always the case and many producers ripped up their Shiraz vines in the 1980s to plant fashionable Cabernet Sauvignon, something many of them have lived to regret.
Shiraz was first planted in Australia in the 1830s by a Scotsman called James Busby and quickly established itself, as a workhorse grape in the production of fortified wine. By the late 20th century it was clear that Shiraz was the showcase grape for the Australian quality wine industry and all of Australia’s most famous (and expensive wines) such as Hill of Grace or Penfolds Grange are based on Shiraz.
The grape is now grown in all 64 wine regions and is used to make everything from complex reds to rosé to fortified wines. At a tasting recently I got the chance to taste my way through around 20 Shiraz-based wines from every corner of Australia which was a useful reminder of just how much a grape variety can change depending on where (and how) it is grown.
The Barossa near Adelaide is where the grape is at its most dense but just up the road in the cooler Clare Valley or Eden Valley you will find more elegant wines that have touches of mint and eucalyptus.
In Western Australia it can depend on whether you are more influenced by the Indian Ocean to the west or the Antarctic Ocean to the south but either way the Shiraz from these regions is usually fresher tasting with a distinct spicy edge.
Cooler regions such as Coonawarra or the Yarra Valley near Melbourne can offer pepper and spice and produce wines that taste closer to those of the Northern Rhone which is Shiraz/Syrah’s ancestral home. The Shiraz-based wines below are on the more subtle end of the scale and all are worth trying.
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BEST VALUE UNDER €10
Grant Burge “Benchmark” Shiraz 2010 — €9.95
Independents, O’Donovans, Carry-Out
Another gold star winner in the National Off Licence Association awards. Plum and damson aromas and flavours of plums and blackberry on the palate and a nice lingering finish. Excellent value Shiraz and a good introduction to the grape.
False Bay Shiraz 2010 €9.95
Independents, O’Donovans, Next Door, Gala
South Africa can often grow Shiraz just well as Australia and this is one of my favourites. This is spicy, juicy and fruity with a lovely lingering cherry flavour mixed with plums and a hint of tobacco.
2011 Jacobs Creek Cool Harvest Shiraz Rosé — €10.49
Dunnes, Tesco, O’Sullivans Ballincollig
I realise this is not actually under €10 but I hope you can afford the extra 50 cents. The grapes are harvested at night to ensure they retain their maximum freshness. Fresh raspberries and sherbet touches on the nose with a light fruity dry finish.
BEST VALUE UNDER €20
Tim Adams Clare Valley Shiraz 2009 €16.95
Although it doesn’t mention it on the label this contains a small injection of Viognier to add a lighter touch to the wine. Blackberry aromas with a hint of mint and a palate packed with fruit and a noticeable spicy finish. Delicious.
Ferngrove Shiraz 2008 €15.99
Stacks Listowel, Deveneys Dundrum,
From the Frankland River area of Western Australia around 90kms from the coast. Ripe juicy fruit on the nose with blackcurrants and clean fruit flavours on the palate. This is a rare thing: an elegant subtle Aussie Shiraz.
Innocent Bystander Shiraz 2009 €15.99
World Wide Wines Waterford, O’Donovans and Florries Tramore
The Yarra is one of Australia’s cool climate regions and that is reflected in this wine which has nice clean fruit flavours and noticeable acidity, but also generous fruit and a touch of oak influence.
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