What a better way to start your grape education than with Australian Shiraz? Sure you can call a bunch of friends over and have them bring obscure bottles of Müller Thurgau or Agiorgitiko, but you’ll just end up confusing the shit out of them and scaring them away. It’s like bringing John Donne to your first poetry club session – yeah, you romanticized about him during your useless four-year English studies, but that doesn’t mean that Dave over there should be shunned for “resting his eyes a bit”. Start out slow and then jump into your occult fantasies a few months in or you’ll have people concluding that their 9-dollar bottle from 7Eleven is not that bad after all.
Shiraz (yes, it’s the same grape as Syrah) is commonly popular among both winemakers and wine drinkers. A general misconception points out that it was brought to France from Persia, then brought to Australia. A much more probable theory indicates that James Busby, the father of Australian winemaking, gave the government his collection of clones gathered across France and Spain, among which were – you guessed it – clones of Syrah. Some hundred years after, the winemakers wanted to show the world what they were good at, so they dedicated themselves full-on to this grape. The climate did them a huge favor and as a result, the hot days, cool nights, and long growing seasons made Shiraz the main driving force of Australian winemaking. If you come upon a wine labelled with Shiraz, you should know that it will tend to taste richer, riper and more full-bodied than it’s French counterpart Syrah.
During the 1960s, the food and wine scene in Australia wasn’t overly exciting. There were no culinary icons. There was no gastronomic diversity. Fortified wines were in the spotlight. Things started slowly changing with the so-called French Paradox – a health phenomenon that got people drinking tons of red wine “because it was good for the circulation”. That opened the door for the Aussie Shiraz that is loved today (James Suckling & Bob know it best) – soft, fruity and not overly tannic, with loads of black fruit richness, good affinity to oak (predominantly American, but French is being introduced at a rapid pace) and an easy-going sweet spice character. If you’re looking for an appealing beginner’s wine, you’re definitely getting bang for the buck here. But can Australian Shiraz be more than just a jammy, super-ripe fruit bomb? The question you have to ask yourself is – can Margherita be more than just frozen supermarket pizza? Of course it can, but most people love Dr. Oetker after a 12-hour work day more than they love themselves. Following this example, it has to be admitted that the wine world is still un-woke and will follow any fad (except blue wine, that’s just shit), so how to expect somebody, whose wine knowledge is limited to weekend getaways to Bali and cheap wine on the beach, to be aware of the various different expressions of Australian Shiraz? One word – persistence. Our wine brothers and sisters need to keep fighting the good fight and selling the good stuff. Change is going to come. Or just switch to Pinot, it’s much more appealing anyway. HAHA.
According to WineSearcher, 27% of the total wine production in Australia is Shiraz. The major regional expressions include the iconic Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawara, Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley and Victoria. Surprisingly, a ton of shops in Singapore carry only Barossa and McLaren, so it was quite the struggle to find something out of the box. At a laidback picnic tasting (we quite obviously named House Pour), we had six wines from four regions. Hunter Valley was the first up. The reds here have a much leaner and fresher character than their southwestern counterparts, very reminiscent of the Rhone Valley in France. This is due to the local mesoclimate where cloud cover and sea breezes cool the region and contrast the extremely high temperatures. Travelling to Adelaide, we come to the most important wine-producing area in the Fleurieu zone – McLaren Vale. With only 200mm of annual rainfall, you get the point why high altitudes and bodies of water act as the main cooling factors. Besides this, it’s important to mention that the vines here have the honor to be some of the oldest in the country. The Shiraz tends to be more plump, but still staying in the “appropriate” zone. Going to a bit riper representative, Victorian Shiraz stands proud shoulder to shoulder with Barossa, due to similar climatic conditions. The issue with winemaking here is that there is a huge bloom of boutique wineries displaying an endless number of Shiraz styles, from lean to voluptuous, from savory to sweet, while Barossa remains classic and highly recognizable.
THE RAY OF HOPE
Kaeslar ‘Stonehorse’ Shiraz 2016
Barossa Valley, South Australia
The Kaesler family was one of the pioneers of Barossa winemaking, planting their first vines in the 1890s. Even today, after almost 130 years of hard work in the fields, the team dedicates its all to discovering how the dirt works in symbiosis with the plants, to get the best out of both worlds. Nobody expected much from this Shiraz since trying Kaesler’s entry level wines a few weeks back wasn’t too exciting, but boy did this change the scores. Inky violet in the glass with ripe dark fruit grabbing attention and teaming up nicely with hints of earth and baking spice. Startlingly crisp and juicy acidity. The oak played its role perfectly in the background, almost untraceably. 10/10 would drink again.
Price: S$53 (€34)
Purchased: The Straits Wine Company
You might also like: Rockford ‘Basket Press’ Shiraz, Two Hands Zippy’s Block Shiraz
Charles Cimicky ‘Trumps’ Shiraz 2014
Barossa Valley, South Australia
Czech immigrant Karl Cimicky founded this winery back in the early 1970s (then called Karlsburg Wines). Today, his son Charles calls the shots and strives towards making wines as organically as possible. Or just as much as he wants to go down the organic rabbit hole. This Shiraz was named after the term “come up trumps”, which means to gain unexpected success (usually used in gambling). Sorry Trump-lovers. This one ain’t for you. Aged in small barrels, the wine offers aromas of ripe black fruit, mocha, vanilla and cloves. Medium-bodied with grainy tannins and mellow acidity. Alcohol is high af (15%) and is well-detected on the last few seconds of the finish, but nothing major. There was a feeling in the group that this could have been sharing the throne with BEB if the winemaker was a bit more careful in the cellar. Oh well.
Price: S$36 (€23)
Purchased: The Oaks Cellars
You might also like: Langmell Valley Floor Shiraz, Kalleske Greenock Shiraz
THE EASY SIPPER | TIE
Tyrrell’s ‘Brokenback’ Shiraz 2011
Hunter Valley, New South Wales
A pioneer of Hunter Valley winemaking, Tyrrell’s is mostly known for world-class Semillon (you’ve probably heard about Vat 1 at some point of your drinking career). They have a humongous range of wines, so good luck finding that taste profile you like without anyone’s help. The Brokenback is Vat 9’s baby brother and is put together from various high-end vineyards. Each parcel is treated and matured in old casks ranging from 3 to 10 years. Light aromas of dried plum, roasted coffee, licorice and lavender. Not showing any fresh fruit character on the palate. Goes more on a kind of well-aged Côte-Rôtie style with less concentration. Notes of dried cherry, mocha, leather and a bit of musty hints. Not overly tannic with a short finish. The acidity snatches all the fame here and if it was more balanced with the alcohol and sweetness, we would have a different case on our hands.
Price: S$49 (€31)
Purchased: Vini Vino
You might also like: Yalumba ‘The Octavius’ Shiraz, Elderton ‘Command’ Single Vineyard Shiraz
Fourth Wave Wine ‘Speak No Evil’ Shiraz 2017
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Not a lot is said about this winery on the internets except that it’s boutique, organic and small-batched focused. Aren’t we all? It’s basically a winery (No Evil) that’s part of a company called Fourth Wave Wine. Capisci? On the other hand, “no monkey business” definitely applies to the quality of this Shiraz. Blood red in the glass with violet hues. Heavily spiced nose that blends in with the dark fruit after some time in the glass. Don’t hurry with this one, it keeps on revealing itself. We tasted this right after Tyrell’s, so it gave off an impression of a much denser, warmer and dare I say, creamier wine. The black pepper-blackcurrant combo persists long into the finish, which everybody liked since it didn’t overwhelm. Pair with some hard cheeses and you’re good to go.
Price: S48 (€31)
Purchased: P.S. Cafe
You might also like: Grant Burge Meshach, Izway ‘Bruce’ Shiraz, Glaetzer ‘Amon-Ra’ Shiraz
Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz 2016
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Mollydooker’s wines have landed on the Wine Specatator Top 100 eight times already, with their Carnival of Love Shiraz being in the Top 10 three times. Not everybody can casually afford a $160 Shiraz, so that brings us to its cheaper alternative – Blue Eyed Boy, named after the winemakers’ son (who is on the label). “Thought of you as my mountaintop, thought of you as my peak, thought of you as everything I’ve had, but couldn’t keep”. Damn right, Velvet Underground. You can’t keep something that everybody wants. And everybody wanted this gem of a wine. Big black fruit character, smooth tannins, 15.6% abv (sha-zam, son), superb balance. If you come upon this bottle at a dinner, run. Run with it into the hills, leave your loved ones behind and don’t look back for a second.
Price: S60 (€38)
Purchased: Water & Wine
You might also like: Two Hands Ares, Clarendon Hills Piggott Range Vineyard Syrah
Shinas Estate The Executioner 2014
Greek family migrates to Australia in the 1950s with no intention to make wine, but wine becomes so popular that Greek guy decides to open a winery in 2002. Greek guy (now Australian) starts practicing law in the meantime, but continues to make badass wine, naming it after various legalese terms – Guilty, Innocent, Verdict…Class act, this George fella. ‘Executioner’ is the Judge’s take on a ‘reserve’ wine, made from the oldest plantings of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate. This was the only blend we had in the tasting (85% Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Viognier) to prove how much power could two immense varieties give together. Maybe too much power here, since the wine tends to go overboard with its ripeness at times and masks a lot of everything else. When paired with spicy Hungarian food under other circumstances, we had ourselves a different animal. Choose wisely.
Price: S56 (€36)
Purchased: 1855 The Bottle Shop
You might also like: Mollydooker Enchanted Path, Glaetzer Anaperenna
House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at email@example.com.