Syrah, Shiraz, so good they named it twice: Wine Australia Landmark tasting, London

Focusing exclusively on cool climate examples, Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk confounded his audience (me included) when he presented his Shiraz masterclass at the Landmark Tutorial, Australia in 2010.

As his students’ brows alternately raised or furrowed, another provocative example was brewing up a storm in barrel. That wine was Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz 2010, an uber-cool climate Tasmanian Shiraz co-fermented with a dash of Pinot Gris (3%) which the Chair of the Royal Melbourne Wine Show (Oakridge’s Dave Bicknell) described as having “lobbed a hand grenade into the wine industry” when it bagged the 2011 Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy (click here for an interview with its maker, Nick Glaetzer).

I was reminded of Kirk’s session (specifically discussions about ripeness) when I hosted Wine Australia’s Landmark Shiraz tasting in London last night (reported in The Drinks Business here).  This time, De Bortoli Reserve Release Syrah 2010 from the Yarra Valley catalysed the debate.  With 60% whole bunches (something of a marmite issue anyway – see Jamie Goode’s article here), discussion hotly focused on whether the stems were ripe or not.

For me, they were on the right side of the cusp of ripeness, which loaned energy and crackle to the wine, as well as classic whole bunch spicy lift and earthier undertones.  Candid as ever, winemaker Steve Webber had already shared with me his mixed feelings about the amount (not ripeness) of whole bunch used in this vintage saying, “[I]f I had my time again, I would have used a little less whole bunches but we are all cleverer in hindsight. It may also end up being the best wine [2008 & 2005 were also shown].”  Time will tell….I’m in the latter camp.

What was abundantly clear from last night’s tasting was the sheer diversity of Australia’s lead grape. Syrah, Shiraz, so good they named it twice, the wines (most labelled Shiraz, some labelled Syrah) broadly split into savoury and sweeter fruited examples, with two excellent Jimmy Watson Trophy winners to exemplify it – Tasmania’s Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Père Shiraz 2010 and Geoff Merrill Reserve Shiraz 2004, McLaren Vale.

And speaking of McLaren Vale, you could say that the contrasting Battle of Bosworth The Puritan 2012 – a no added preservative ‘joven’ style – was yet another hand grenade.  But equally, it’s bang on trend and, like Gary Mills’ Jamsheed La Syrah 2011, showcased a growing interest in drinkability over sheer power.

As for sheer power, much pleasure (and balance) was to be found in the vertical tastings of the Mitolo Savitar Shiraz 2009 and savoury’ing up nicely 2006 & 2004 and, especially, McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz 2010, 2009, 2007 (something of a bargain at just over £20) and Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2008 (yet to be released and wonderfully aromatic and fresh for the year), 2004 and 1998.

The Shiraz tasting is one of a series of Wine Australia London Landmark tastings (trade only) designed to showcase Australia’s regionally-defined wines as they have stylistically evolved over the years and to demonstrate how they evolve and improve with extended bottle age.  Next up Cabernet Sauvignon (14 February 2013) and Riesling (14 March 2013).   Contact to register your interest.

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  1. Yvonne May

    Where are thou archetypal Shiraz?!

    This varietal romps in a massive 26% of the grapes planted across Australia so perhaps no surprise to see the stylistic diversity given a land mass the size of Europe, with all its climatic and topographical nuances. Its ‘Not one flat paddock’ as you quoted the winemaker from Peter Lehmann saying of the Barossa alone.

    Terrific kick-start to this new series of tastings. Liked the controversy too.
    Heres to more whole bunches of wines like this, if not whole bunches of grapes in their making?
    Thanks Sarah

  2. Becky Fisher

    The De Bortoli Yarra Valley Reserve Syrah 2010 caused some controversy regarding the use of whole bunches with some people questioning whether the stems were unripe, leading to green methoxypyrazene characters in the wine.

    We’ve asked the winemaker Steve Webber to shed some light on this..

    “2010 was a lighter vintage and the fruit was picked at about 12.8° Be. We felt the fruit was mature and we included 60% whole bunch in the ferment. We normally do a small parcel from this vineyard as 100% whole bunch and bottle a little for interest. We decided in 2010 that it would be interesting to bottle this quantity as the Reserve.”

    Hindsight is a funny thing and Webber reflects that “perhaps the whole bunch was a little too much? Time will tell. The wine is quite young and I will be curious how it looks in another 5 years.”

    Webber also points out that the 2005 and 2008 vintages “had similar characteritics when young.” How were these vintages (2005 & 2008) showing? Any thoughts/comments would be much appreciated!

    • sarah

      Thanks for posting Steve’s take Becky. As he and I discussed at the Landmark Tutorial in 2010 in the context of Chardonnay, there’s a need to review perceptions about when Australian wines are ready to drink too – where the aim now is not simply to flatter with oak, sweet fruit etc, wines need longer to really show themselves. Interestingly, I loved the 2010 Estate Syrah when I tasted it at De Bortoli in February, but I was less certain about the gawkier Reserve Syrah 2010. Some 10 months later, tasting it this week, I thought it had really come into its skin and looked great, so it’s interesting what Steve says about how the 05 and 08 looked in their callow youth. Incidentally, both showed well on Tuesday though personally, I was entranced by the 2010 Reserve!

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