Session 3: Shiraz and blends  
Landmark Australia Tutorial 

Shiraz is Australia’s classic red variety. First imported into Australia in 1832, it spread throughout the wine growing regions of the time. For table wine, it is now the most widely planted variety, with 441 950 tons planted in 2008, compared with Chardonnay’s 428 082, and up from 65 595 tons in 1978.

Stephen Pannell (above), the guest tutor for this session, posed a question. ‘Does regionality exist in Australian Shiraz? Is it more important than the variety?’ He answered his own question by choosing wines that he felt reflected their regional origins, and added that, ‘we have a responsibility to make these wines in a way that doesn’t hide where they come from.’

‘From my work around the world it is obvious that anyone, anywhere can make the currently popular modern style of very ripe, high alcohol, high oak, added tannin, micro-oxygenation and/or sweet wine,’ he continued. ‘However, no one can copy the style and characters of the wine that comes from your region.’

Gerard Potel of Burgundy once told Stephen that ‘in winemaking it is harder to do nothing than something.’ But Stephen points out, ‘I’m not a minimalist: I believe in doing something to a wine where it makes it taste better. I go for a balanced approach.’

He thinks that Australia is ‘tannin phobic’ because of the wine show system. ‘Tannins have a flavor, and we need the savoury cut that they bring.’ Andrew Caillard pointed out that the tannins in the Wendouree wines never seem to change. Commenting on the first few wines we were tasting, Paul Henry added that ‘the weight and delivery of these wines is almost Claret like. I wonder where this obsession with weight [big] has come from? It is the single biggest issue we have to overcome.’

‘You have to blame us to some extent,’ said Tony Jordan, referring to winemakers. ‘The message for commercial reds over the last 15 years has been make it big, make it bold.’

Pannell reckons that the big upside for Australian Shiraz in the future will be viticulture. ‘The area we are weakest is in clones of Shiraz. Luckily Mr Busby [James, the Victorian pioneer of Australian viticulture] grabbed a good clone that doesn’t mutate easily.’ This clone is 1654, which is almost exclusively the clone used in Australia. ‘There is not much difference in heritage clones, just the Tahbilk clone with a longer bunch. We have been complacent about Shiraz clones: there are more clones in Tuscany than in Australia.’ Pannell recounted working in Priorat where the new clones were planted. ‘They were amazing, especially 840. I want to get these.’

But clones are about 1.5 years away from approval, 3 years away from trial cropping and 12 years before they’ll produce something acceptable.

The problem with 1654 is that it has uneven ripeness across the bunch, so you can get green berry syndrome. ‘This is part of the reason why we get superripeness.’ The new clones may deliver more even ripening and could therefore bring alcohol levels down.  

So is the region or the variety most important? Pannell challenged the audience by presenting some blends. Typically, blends are seen as left overs from varietal wines by consumers. But the great Australian winemakers of the past were master-blenders of both wines and varieties. Pannell cites Maurice O’Shea, Colin Preece, Roger Warren and Max Schubert as cases in point.

1990 Craiglee Shiraz, Sunbury, Victoria
Refined, evolved, spicy earthy nose with some minerality. Very refined and stylish. The palate is medium bodied and restrained with some earthy spicy notes. Smooth with a bit of gravelly structure. A light style that is harmonious and elegant. Pure, showing finesse. 93/100

1991 Plantagenet Shiraz, Mount Barker, Great Southern
Warm, meaty, earthy nose with a hint of medicine, and phenolic germoline character. The palate is rich, meaty and earthy with ripe, sweet medicinal notes. Interesting but quirky, and not ageing in a linear way. 89/100

1991 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley
Warm, sweet, spicy nose. Quite pure and harmonious with sweet red fruits and a pastille quality. The palate has spicy red fruit qualities and some vanilla and cocounut notes from the oak. Mellow and quite complex like a traditional Rioja. 91/100

1991 Wendouree Shiraz, Clare Valley
A serious effort: smooth and quite pure red fruit nose with a hint of tar and spice. The palate is fresh and focused with pure, well balanced red fruits and some nicely resolved tannic structure, as well as some savoury earthiness. This is elegant, pure and evolving nicely. 94/100

2006 Shaw + Smith Shiraz, Adelaide Hills
Fresh, pure, focused blackberry and dark cherry fruit nose with lovely definition. The palate is pure and focused with a lovely meaty, peppery edge to the pure smooth red and black fruits. Sweet but fresh with elegance and nicely focused structure. Lovely cool climate style. 94/100

2006 De Bortoli Reserve Release Shiraz, Yarra Valley
Wonderful freshness to the nose. There’s a spicy, sappy, green edge to the meaty black fruits with some plum and herb notes, as well as a touch of white pepper. The palate shows a really European style: savoury, sappy, spicy, herby flavours, with some meaty notes. Flirts with greenness. Beautiful. 94/100

2006 Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Beechworth
Intriguing, smooth dark focused nose with sweet fruits, a bit of meatiness and some complex spicy notes. The palate is fresh, vivid and really pure with lovely well balanced blackberry and cherry fruit. Really elegant and expressive. Ripe but restrained. 95/100

2006 Mt Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, Grampians
Brooding sweet, pure blackberry fruit nose is lush but not jammy. Just a faint hint of black pepper freshness. The palate is lush and pure with beautiful sweet dark fruit, brilliant focus and a hint of dark pepper spiciness. Brilliant wine. 96/100

2006 Seppelt Mt Ida Vineyard Shiraz, Heathcote
This is the first vineyard that was planted in Heathcote. Smooth, pure, sweet blackberry fruit with a lovely spiciness. Intense and smooth; lush but fresh. The palate is fresh with some bright plum and blackberry fruit, and grippy tannins. Dense, focused and spicy with good acidity. 93/100

2006 Clarendon Hills Astralis Vineyard Shiraz (Syrah), McLaren Vale
Very sweet dense nose with distinctly meaty, soy notes and a bit of tarriness. Very meaty, like a barbecued steak. Lush palate is superconcentrated with mouthfilling sweet fruit, and meaty, spicy notes. A bold wine of real intensity. Unusual, but it works. 94/100

2006 Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz, Barossa Valley
Meaty, minty, dark and lush with a spicy edge to the rich blackberry fruit. The palate is nold and broad, generous and spicy, with super-sweet fruit backed up by some creamy, spicy notes. Some oak evident. A dense wine in a more traditional Barossa style. 93/100

2006 Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier, Canberra District [tasted blind]
Very sweet lush, fruity nose is lifted with lovely aromatics: floral, black cherry, plum. Sweet and enticing. The palate is ripe and lush with sweet, smooth fruit and a hint of meatiness. Bright and smooth. 93/100

2006 S.C. Pannell Shiraz/Grenache, McLaren Vale [tasted blind]
Firm, spicy and slightly meaty nose with some sweet fruit. The palate is structured with nice sweetness and a savoury, spicy finish. Quite a serious effort with nice density and good tannins. 92/100

2006 Spinifex Indigene Shiraz/Mataro, Barossa Valley [tasted blind]
Smooth, dark, lush nose of spicy dark fruits with some oak evident. The palate is lush, ripe and broad with sweet blackberry fruit and a lingering spicy finish. Good structure here. 92/100

2006 Wendouree Shiraz/Malbec, Clare Valley [tasted blind]
Ripe and lush with an iodine character. Dense and firm. Spicy, firm, slightly odd palate with a strange savoury character. Unusual but striking, with firm tannins. 93/100

2004 Penfolds Grange Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon, Multi-region South Australia [tasted blind]
Very sweet nose with ripe, rich fruit and some coconut and vanilla notes from the American oak. Intense, concentrated palate with lovely density of fruit as well as a creamy oak character, finishing quite tannic. Bold and lovely. 93/100  

Landmark Australia
Visiting the Australian Wine Research Institute
Session 1 - Regional Classics
Session 2 - Riesling 
Session 3 - Shiraz and Blends
Session 4 - Historical Perspective
Session 5 - Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Blends
Session 6 - Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
Session 7 - An Alternative View
Session 8 - Chardonnay
Session 9 - Pinot Noir
Session 10 - Blending the rules
Session 11 - Sparkling
Session 12 - Fortified

Wines tasted 06/09 
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