Big and bold

This article first appeared in Cellar Press, 2009
Tyson Stelzer

Australian wine first shot to international stardom on the back of full-bodied reds, and no variety has done more for its reputation than shiraz. All manner of wine varieties have come our way since then, but shiraz continues to set the pace.

No other grape has adapted itself so effortlessly to the style of virtually every wine region in the country. From the cool spice of Western Australia to the savoury elegance of the Hunter Valley and scores of diverse regions in between, there is a style for every taste.

The biggest, boldest expressions of shiraz hail from South Australia’s McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Clare Valley and Langhorne Creek, where warm, dry summers create inky-black, brooding wines with rich blackberry and plum fruit intensity. In Central Victoria, the Grampians, Pyrenees and Heathcote bring out flavours of pepper in cooler years and Christmas-pudding-like spice in warmer seasons.

Australian shiraz has traditionally married well with the sweet vanilla and coconut flavours of American oak, but in recent years a trend has emerged toward the more subtle style of French oak. This has been particularly successful for makers seeking savoury complexity and refinement in place of the “sweet fruit and high alcohol” styles of the past.

Alternative varieties may be the flavour of the month right now, but when it comes to consistency of quality, year in, year out, nothing comes close to threatening the reign of Australia’s most famous grape.