Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blinded by Shiraz

Australian Shiraz has been criticized, especially outside the boundaries of the island continent, as having a sameness, of being big, blustery fruit bombs, high in alcohol but low in regional expression and not long in life. Its very easy to dispel this myth, all you have to do is gather together a few quality shiraz from several regions and taste them. That’s the easy part. Putting together a blog post that would do the wines justice is more difficult. I’ve been haggling with myself for months about how to approach the content of this blog post, especially the title. There was a point when I was going to call it “Top Gear” and describe the wines in terms of exotic, or not so exotic, cars from the BBC program of the same name. After all wine has been likened to everything else, so why not describe New Zealand Syrah like an Audi R8 - “Meet the new everyday superwine”, or Rutherglen Muscat like a Maserati Quattroporte ;“Quite possibly the most beautiful and desirable wine in the world”. How about the Renault Laguna “has the same old anonymous character” for cheap Bordeaux?

But no, it wouldn’t work simply because I haven’t driven any of those cars, so I would be clueless about comparing them with wine. And besides there are too many wines that could be described the way my car is “Not the most practical, but distinctive, fun-ish”. Even some cheap Bordeaux fits that label. More to the point the wines in this tasting were Aussie Shiraz or blends and exotic foreign cars just didn’t seem to fit the different styles. Still, in hindsight, there was one that you could think of as the new Aussie Supercar, the Bolwell Nagari. “Ahhhh, that’s really good”.

The Shiraz tasting was organized by Chris Davis, a relative and long time wine enthusiast, who feels there is need of improvement in the appreciation of fine wine in the central west of NSW. And he’s determined to do something about it, even if it costs him quite a bit of money and hardly anyone turns up to the tastings he plans. And that is exactly what happened on this evening. Chris turned out an outstanding group of wines, and very few turned up.

The format of the tasting was to be based around my leading the description of a group of wines in the company of a dozen or so wine lovers ranging from neophyte to several serious palates. But as the day drew closer more and more people found something else to do! Maybe it was because there was going to be someone from America leading the tasting of Aussie Shiraz or perhaps it was because the tasting was to occur during the last hectic two weeks before Christmas. Either way, if you didn’t show you, you missed a worthy celebration of Australian wine.

The wines were wrapped in paper and carried different colored dots so that we could match our notes to individual bottles. For all intents and purposes a blind tasting. Well, almost. In a weak moment, Chris had told me that there would be a couple of older wines including a Penfold’s Bin 389 and a Hunter Valley wine. And, maybe one from the Mornington Peninsula. Prior appointments and the favor of the wine Gods meant that only three of us tasted the wines blinded; Chris, Mike(2) and myself. The others who showed up quite a bit later got to pick and choose from the uncovered bottles.

On to the wines First up -
Deep, dense cherry red with red edge. Lovely fruit flavors together with vanilla, pepper and oaky notes. A hint of nail polish (ethyl acetate). Full bodied with very firm tannins and juicy acidity. The latter detracts from the palate appeal. Will need loads of time to come together. 2, 2, 3.5, 9.7=17.2/20, 86/100.

Difficult to tell. Big, so it could be Barrosan. Mike(2) thought Victorian and probably Mornington Peninsula but I’d not tasted a Mornington wine with such firm tannins. So if it was Victorian it was probably more northerly.

Much older wine, very orange/brown at all levels. Nice notes of leather, caramel, a little spice, smoked meats and a touch of earthiness. Palate is soft and supple with great balance and excellent length. Very nice old wine. 2, 2, 3.9, 10.0=17.9/20, 90/100.

Mike(2) was very firm in his opinion that this was Hunter Valley and I was inclined to agree but I knew that there was an aged Bin 389 in the tasting, so I wanted to wait until I’d tasted all the wines.

Dense, deep, dark cherry. Intense color. Very expressive nose of dark fruits, oak and pepper (probably from the alcohol). Beautifully flavored and not adversely affected by a little menthol note coming up with time. Very powerful on the palate with outstanding presence of flavors and great length. Beautiful wine. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.6=18.9/20, 95/100.

No doubt a recent vintage from the Barossa, and (this is cheating) from the bottle weight it has to be Trevor Jones Wild Witch.

Mahogany, great depth of color with a dense browning on the edge. Great complexity with coffee and chocolate predominate. Fuller bodied with wonderful depth and a core of firm tannins, and a lengthy, lengthy finish. The only weak point is that it faded too quickly with time. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.4=18.7/20, 94/100.

OK, this is the Bin 389. That makes the Red dot wine a good candidate for the Hunter.

Dense cherry red with red edge. A little sulfur stink and then it opens to cherry and other red fruits, but presenting a little green in this company. Nice clean acidity focuses the balance in this excellent little wine. 2, 2, 3.4, 10.1=17.5/20, 88/100.

Hmmm, this could well be Mornington Peninsula Shiraz. Its certainly a cooler climate wine.

Deepest color, black at its core with a dark red edge. A big, overpowering, wine with olives, oak and a little chocolate. With time some coffee and tomato paste. Soft and supple on entry but its mouth filling and expressive with great length. Lacks a little on the mid-palate but the flavors carry and the depth and concentration is excellent. It just needs time to fill out a little. 2, 2, 3.7, 10.0=17.7/20, 89/100.

Clearly Barossa but the olive note suggest that its not something I’m familiar with because I don’t find that in Shiraz all that often. (EDIT: Nothing is ever simple with wine. In the last few weeks I’ve had two wines from the Barossa that have had aromas of olives. The 2005 Rusden Ripper Creek (a 60/40 blend of Cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz) and the 2005 Glaymond The Distance Shiraz.)

The wines-
Pink: 2004 Langi Shiraz, Mount Langi Ghiran, Grampians, Victoria, 15% alcohol.
Red:1991 Maurice O’Shea Shiraz, Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley, NSW. 12.5% alcohol.
Yellow: 2005 Wild Witch Reserve Dry Grown Shiraz, Trevor Jones, Barossa, SA. 14.8% alcohol.
Green: 1996 Bin 389 (Cabernet/Shiraz), Penfolds, SA. 13.5% alcohol.
Orange: 2005 Reserve Shiraz, Paringa Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. 14.5% alcohol
Brown: 2004 Shiraz, Glaetzer, Barossa, SA. 14.5% alcohol.

A tasting like this leaves little doubt that Shiraz is truly Australia’s top gear of wine. Wines from four different regions, each of which show distinctive character. And two showing how gracefully these wines, from both little (Hunter Valley) and well (Barossa Valley) known regions can age. Aussie Shiraz is simply not all the same, all the time. The next time someone tells you that all Australia does with Shiraz is produce fruit bombs, hit them with a bottle of Maurice O’Shea from the Hunter Valley, and as they reel from that give them the coup de grĂ¢ce with a heavy weight, the Trevor Jones Wild Witch.

1 comment:

JohnP said...

I am always amused by how wine tastings are typically poorly attended. I am not sure there is a simple answer, as we all have differing reasons why we attend. I go, to the limited number that I can, because I am interested in trying the wines, but then wine is also a 'hobby' for me and as such I have more interest than most. If you consider that most people who drink wine would feel out of place at a tasting, then most people will not go to one, unless ...? There has to be something that entices them, something non-threatening, something for nothing (preferably that is, unless you are tasting 10 years of Grange). The ideal would be a tasting where each attendee can take home a bottle of the wine they liked best - expensive but educational for the host. Random door prizes, prizes to those who buy, etc. will work to some extent. The only tastings I have seen that work really well are those that involve a wine dinner with the wine maker(s) with clients from their mail order list. Already captured audience, of course it works. But hey what a great place to start - you get names and contact details, permission to invite to future events, then u can move to bring a friend options (magnum to who brings the most friends) to a non-winemaker night. Attracting people is not so much about the lecture and having to really 'taste' as it is about incrementally exciting people to attend.