Shiraz is Australia’s best-known and most widely planted wine grape. The country ranks second (behind France) in the production of this grape varietal. Some of its oldest vines date back to 1843.
Shiraz is the same varietal that other countries call Syrah. It thrives in both warm and cool climates in Australia. This red grape produces dry, full-bodied wine with high levels of alcohol, tannin, and acidity. It is often paired with grilled or barbecued meat or strong hard cheese.
Exploring Australia Shiraz Wines
Wine Australia, in conjunction with the San Francisco Wine School recently hosted a guided virtual tasting of some of Australia’s world-renowned Shiraz wines. Although Shiraz is grown in virtually all of the country’s wine-growing regions, this tasting focused on four of the most renowned regions: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, and South Australia.
How Shiraz Develops As It Ages
The tasting was set up to help us understand how Shiraz develops as it ages through a comparative tasting of a recent vintage (2017 and 2018) vineyard-designate wine with an aged (2010 and one 2013) version from the same vineyard.
The powerful rich dark fruits take on more savory and complex characteristics as they age.
- At 10 years old they retain some dark fruit while taking on more tobacco and leather notes with smooth tannins.
- At 20 years old, they are smooth and mellow and show cedar, tobacco and leather notes.
The wines (and their SRPs in early 2022) consisted of:
- Penfolds Bin 28 “Kalimna” 2008 ($40) and 2010 ($60) from South Australia;
- Wakefield “St Andrews” 2017 ($60) and 2013 ($65) from Clare Valley;
- D’Arenberg “The Dead Arm” 2017 ($65) and 2010 ($65) from McLaren Vale;
- Kay Brothers “Hillside” 2017 ($60) and 2010 ($60) from McLaren Vale; and
- Torbreck “The Facto” 2018 ($110) and 2010 ($85) from Barossa Valley.
Winemakers from each winery guided us through the tasting of their wines. They talked about the region’s soils and climate, the weather of the vintage years, their approaches to making each of their two wines, and how aging typically affects their wines.
These overviews were followed by tastings and interactive discussions of each of the two vintage wines and how they were affected by aging. Although we enjoyed most of the wines, we generally preferred the more integrated, more subtle, more savory older vintages, particularly enjoying the 2010 Penfolds and Kay Brothers wines to the more fruit-forward tastes and tannins of the younger wines. The exception was Torbreck’s “The Factor” where we had a slight preference for the more recent vintage.
A Great Bonus
The tasting ended with a bonus: a taste of the fruit, nut, and caramel notes of a Seppeltsfield 1999 Shiraz- and Grenache-based 21 Year-Old Tawny Port.
Overall, it was a wonderfully instructive session on the wines, specific regions, vineyards, and wineries. The speakers also talked about the broader trends in Australian winemaking, such as the rapid move to more sustainable practices, moving from American oak to tighter-grained French oak, and how they were dealing with and planning to deal with climate change.