February Wines of the Month – Shiraz-a-mattaz – top flight Australia
Spoiled for choice, Wine Australia’s annual Australia Trade Tasting last month threw up lots of possibilities for this post. And I came back to good ole Shiraz. Who can deny that Australia excels with this Rhône variety and, produced in a great diversity of styles, has made it very much its own. Even down to the spelling which, I fancy, owes itself to this description, from an extract of the journal of James Busby (published 1833), the so-called ‘father of Australian wine’:
This trio of benchmark single vineyard Shiraz, each from a different region, transported me:
Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2015 (Eden Valley)
In September, Wine Australia’s ‘Australia Redefined’ tasting provided a rare and privileged opportunity to taste a mature vintage of Henschke’s most famous Shiraz – the 2005 Hill of Grace and (see below), Jim Barry The Armagh 2010. Both stunning. You’ll find my Decanter Premium write ups here. Hill of Grace was first bottled as a single vineyard wine in 1958. Prior to that, in 1952, Cyril Henschke started bottling Shiraz from the Mount Edelstone vineyard, of which I am a huge fan. Planted in 1912 by Ronald Angas on deep red-brown clay-loam to clay, Mount Edelstone is biodynamically cultivated and, being old and dry-grown, is low yielding. This vintage, described as “fairytale” by the Henschkes (with a record-breaking coolest January in 11 years and mild weather from February through to April), showcases Mount Edelstone and the elevated ‘High Barossa’ (a.k.a. Eden Valley) beautifully. It is wonderfully expressive, with delicious detail. First and foremost, it features signature notes of dried sage, with a certain smokiness (sooty, rather than flinty or oak char) and hint of eucalyptus, just in case you forgot where you were. Notes so fine tuned and delicate, they have an ethereal quality, carrying through the wine. It reveals well-defined, persistent blackberry and blackcurrant on the palate, with a whisper of savouriness – earth, linseed and leather. Long, very elegant, with a (graphite?) smudge of fine, textural, gently yielding tannins, which contribute to the fluidity and sublime quality of this wine. Captivating. The fruit was harvested between 10th – 19th March. It was matured in 78% French and 22% American (22% new, 78% seasoned) hogsheads for 18 months, prior to blending and bottling. 14.5% £119.00/bottle at Excel Wines, £129/bottle at Oz Wines. Speaking of Cyril, the Eden Valley Cabernet named in his honour similarly articulates the strength of the 2015 vintage, with lovely detail of cedar and tobacco to its persistent red and black currant with fleshier plum fruit
Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier 2018 (Canberra District)
Curiously (this being an all time favourite Shiraz), the 2017 vintage left me shaken, not stirred. The 2018 vintage is stirring! It has wonderful tension and lift – as they say, it flies. Gorgeous perfume and piquancy, with red berry and cherry, a savoury rasp of black pepper, piquant pimento and lingering cathedral spices. Incredible length and persistence for such a gossamer palate, with its feathery, barely there, tannins. A lower than average crop (thanks to a hail storm on 9 January) produced fruit with soaring aromas and intense energy through the palate, says Tim Kirk. This co-fermented medium-bodied blend of 94% Syrah/Shiraz , 6% Viognier was fermented for a period of 18 to 21 days on skins with 28% whole bunches, the balance de-stemmed and crushed. The wine was aged for 12 months in French oak, of which 30% was new with the remainder a combination of one, two and three-year old barrels. 14% £81.70 at Q Wines, £460.07 for a case of 6 at Cru World. You can find my report of two vertical tastings of this Aussie icon here. Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2018 also comes highly recommended. This 100% Shiraz is more savoury, a charcuterie/smoked meat edge to its well-defined, perfumed and intense blackcurrant fruit – a great buy at £23.70 at Q Wines.
Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2015 (Clare Valley)
Having tasted the superlative 2010 vintage in September, what luck to encounter the 2015 and 2006 vintages last month. Fortune favours the bold, as they say, and The Armagh 2006 (15.5% alcohol) is a rip-snorter, with cedar and vanilla oak to the nose and on the blackcurranty/creme de cassis palate, with hints of leather, tufa (earth/fresh porcini) and plenty of back-palate carry. Long and lingering and, despite the flamboyant fruit, it has a dry, mineral undertow to the lingering finish. Still plenty of go here. Like the glorious 2010, the 2015 weighs in at a much more restrained 14%. And, like the 2010, it has beautiful, supple black fruit – berry and currant, with vanillin (but not sweet) oak. Perhaps not the concentration of the 2010, but I much enjoyed its strikingly gravelly, touch bloody (iron tang) tannins and a touch of tufa (earth/fresh porcini). The latter perhaps carried over from the 2006? Rich but with serious under-pinning and a terrific track record for ageing, this youthful Shiraz has much yet to show. Great potential. 14% £156.99 at All About Wine
On the topic of Australian Shiraz, click here for my post about beautiful Barossa examples (and a great Grenache) from Alex Head. Twice a finalist in Australia’s Young Gun Awards, it’s good to see Alex Head’s wines now listed in the UK.