November Wines of the Month: contemporary Australian Shiraz from Gemtree & Luke Lambert

Bagging Wine of Show at this year’s Barossa Wine Show (Saltram 2018 No 1 Shiraz) and McLaren Vale Show (Dandelion Vineyard Lion’s Tooth McLaren Vale Shiraz Riesling 2020), Wine Australia’s spotlight on Shiraz last month came on the back of a fair wind. 

Of course Shiraz is kingpin in these regions, but a couple of producer vignettes during last month’s Wine Australia Shiraz webinar highlighted refinements to the genre  taking place countrywide.  The nine examples shown attested to the variety’s versatility and points of difference depending on provenance.  They rang the changes too.

Tim Duval (John Duval, Barossa) enthused “we want to showcase the fantastic fruit, not winemaking artefact, so we’re doing less in the winery.”  Warming to his theme, he continued “it used to be no wood, no good, but there’s a lot more variation now across the Barossa Valley, with eggs, barrels, old and new….We’re promoting freshness, fruit and our great vineyards” he said, confirming the general trend to picking slightly earlier and “looking to promote freshness straight from vineyard.”

For Melissa Brown (Gemtree Wines, McLaren Vale), biodynamic farming has also impacted on fruit quality, with “a definite change in skin condition.”   Thicker skins better balance the fruit, she said, and there is less sulphide production in the ferment and generally better vine and berry health.  “But it took almost 10 years before we saw these quantifiable changes,” she added, “probably because we had an intensive input regime before we converted to biodynamics and, with lots of super phosphates, herbicides and fungicides, it took a long time to repair the soils.”  

Gemtree Wines – organic/biodynamic certified, sustainability shed and upcycled cellar door; photo credit Gemtree Wines

Explaining how this improved fruit quality translates into the wines, Brown observed “our wines used to be quite heavy, bigger structured with more oak intervention.”  Now much more focused on the fruit, they are “very approachable and easy to drink and really expressive and aromatic…quite a change in our style coming from better flavours and natural balance in the vines.”  Gemtree’s buoyant, floral Shiraz is one of my November Wines of the Month; the other is Luke Lambert’s complex, beautifully structured example from the Yarra Valley.

You can watch Wine Australia’s Shiraz webinar here, which additionally features insights from UK wine writer Jamie Goode (his post about the tasting here), viticulturist Dr Dylan Grigg (who gives insights about Australia’s rich heritage of old vine Shiraz and epigenetics), Kate Webber (Webber Restaurant Group, Massachusetts), Thomas Curtius MW and Wine Australia’s Mark Davidson.

And if you’d like to know more about Western Australian Shiraz, check out my post here and the linked video of  a Western Australia webinar I hosted with insights from three producers about Great Southern and Margaret River Shiraz.

Gemtree ‘Uncut’ McLaren Vale Shiraz 2019 (McLaren Vale)

The fruit was sourced from certified organic/biodynamic estate parcels on sandy loams, red soil with limestone, brown clay and black cracking clay; the vines averaged 30-years-old.  It reveals exuberant bright blueberry and raspberry to nose and palate, with lifted peony, suggestions of sage, bay leaf and a hint of charcuterie.  With a velvety mouthfeel, it has the generosity of McLaren Vale’s Mediterranean climate but, executed with a lightness of touch, the ripe fruit is delivered with buoyancy and detail.  Fine, powdery tannins and saturating, juicy, fruity acidity make for lovely persistence.  With its floral accents and supple fruit, it put me in mind of a sunny-fruited Cru Beaujolais.  Immensely appealing, highly drinkable now, it spent 16 months in French oak barriques (15% new).  14.5%  RRP £19.99; Gemtree Wines are imported into the UK by The Vinorium

Luke Lambert Yarra Valley Syrah 2019 ( Yarra Valley)

Labelling this wine Syrah speaks to the cooler climate site and winemaking (use of foudres and whole bunch ferment), much like Frankland Estate’s Ironstone Ridge Syrah – one of the Western Australian examples reviewed hereLuke Lambert is rigorous in his site selection and hands off in the winery (the wines are naturally fermented, aged in large French and Slavonian oak foudres and bottled without fining or filtration). The Syrah is sourced from Solitude Estate’s elevated ridges in Tibooburra, Yellingbo in the south of Yarra Valley. The vines were planted in 2001 on red/black volcanic soils and are organically cultivated.   A sense of freshness, juiciness, is evident from the off with juicy blood plum and red fruits to the nose, which follow through on the succulent palate, together with blackberry and blueberry.  Ripe, but just.  With accents of lavender, violets and savoury charcuterie, it has a wild yet perfumed edge that’s deliciously embedded deep within the flavour of the wine.  With fine, ripe but present tannins and rolling acidity, it has tremendous carry.  Great length and retro-nasal linger. This wine was fermented with 80% whole bunches and matured in large, old, French oak foudres for 6 months.  13.5% £37.50 at The Sourcing Table.

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