Top Kiwi shi­raz leaves in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors in the shade

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - INDULGENCE -

SHI­RAZ seems to have fol­lowed me like a shadow in the past eight weeks, the most in­ter­est­ing oc­ca­sion be­ing a blind tast­ing of 24 highly rated wines from Aus­tralia, New Zealand, the US (Cal­i­for­nia) and France, each coun­try with six rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the 2005 or 2006 vin­tages.

There was a dis­tinct feel­ing of deja vu when the iden­ti­ties of the wines were re­vealed. The first, third, sev­enth and 11th-placed wines all came from the Gim­blett Grav­els sub-re­gion of Hawkes Bay in NZ. The feel­ing in­ten­si­fied when Craggy Range Le Sol and Trin­ity Hill Homage Syrah, both ’ 06s, were first and third, backed up by sev­enth equal ’ 06 Uni­son Syrah and 11th equal ’ 06 Villa Maria Gim­blett Grav­els Se­lec­tion Syrah.

The con­sis­tency of the ex­cep­tional qual­ity of the Le Sol and Homage wines in the past four years puts be­yond doubt the en­ti­tle­ment of the Gim­blett Grav­els to be ranked as one of the great shi­raz re­gions in the world. This rat­ing is re­in­forced by the ever-widen­ing range of Gim­blett Grav­els winer­ies with top-qual­ity shi­raz, as wit­nessed by this tast­ing.

The irony is that Hawkes Bay and Gim­blett Grav­els were for a long time seen as caber­net sauvi­gnon and caber­net blend pro­duc­ers, with shi­raz a slightly ec­cen­tric odd­ity. It causes trans-Tas­man blood pres­sure on the Aus­tralian side to rise know­ing it was the world­wide suc­cess of Aus­tralian shi­raz that led to the fol­low-the-leader chase by wine­mak­ers in all the other key wine-pro­duc­ing coun­tries of the world (other than France’s north­ern Rhone Val­ley). The Gim­blett Grav­els wines share sin­gu­larly bright and in­tense fruit ex­pres­sion, a spicy vi­brancy that rip­ples across the typ­i­cally long palate. Th­ese are el­e­gant, medi­um­bod­ied wines that seem to ef­fort­lessly cap­ture all of the best fea­tures of cool-cli­mate shi­raz.

At the other end of the spec­trum, the French wines — four from Cote Rotie, one from Her­mitage (th­ese five from the Rhone Val­ley) and one from the AlpesMar­itimes (which had won an im­por­tant award in France) — came equal 11th, 18th and then four of the last five places. It is true that 16 judges’ points be­ing col­lated (and there be­ing no dis­cus­sion) com­pressed the av­er­age points for each wine, but most of the judges had con­sid­er­able knowl­edge about the wines and styles of the north­ern Rhone Val­ley, and the out­come for the French wines was a blood­bath.

The Rus­sian River sub-re­gion of Cal­i­for­nia’s Sonoma Val­ley is best known for its pinot noirs, re­flect­ing its de­cid­edly cool cli­mate. But shi­raz has in­sin­u­ated it­self here as quickly, and as con­vinc­ingly, as in Hawkes Bay. The ’ 05 DuMol Jack Roberts-run Syrah (an idio­syn­cratic use of cap­i­tal let­ters) is deep crim­son, with po­tent, rich dark berry-plum aro­mas and a mas­sive palate with mul­ti­ple lay­ers of inky, juicy black fruits. All it needs is time.

The ’ 05 Pax Lauter­bach Hill Syrah has even bet­ter colour, with spicy black fruits and qual­ity oak ef­fort­lessly achiev­ing a di­men­sion of aroma and flavour on a par with the DuMol, and in no par­tic­u­lar need of pa­tience. Three Aus­tralian wines fol­lowed, all from the ’ 06 vin­tage: Col­lec­tor Re­serve Shi­raz and Yer­ing Sta­tion Re­serve Shi­raz Viog­nier tied for fourth place. They were just in front of ’ 06 Shaw & Smith Shi­raz, vivid crim­son, with plum, spice and black cherry on a very in­tense and fo­cused palate, which has great length and line.

Clon­akilla Shi­raz Viog­nier was ninth and Paringa Es­tate 14th. If it seems strange they didn’t fare bet­ter, their av­er­age scores (us­ing the 20-point scale, not the 100) were 17.72 and 17.44 re­spec­tively, com­pared with 17.97 for Col­lec­tor and Yer­ing Sta­tion.

The last-placed Aus­tralian shi­raz was the ’ 06 De Bor­toli Yarra Val­ley Re­serve, with an av­er­age of 17 points. I gave it 18.5 on the 20-point scale and used near-iden­ti­cal words to de­scribe it as I did in the 2009 WineCom­pan­ion (where I gave it 96 points). It is an im­mac­u­lately crafted wine with per­fect line, length and flow cour­tesy of su­per-fine tan­nins. For in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­sons, it po­larised opin­ions: I was one of five judges who gave it 18.5, while oth­ers gave it a much lower rat­ing. The take-home lessons are that Aus­tralia can­not rest on its shi­raz lau­rels (the bad news) but that high­qual­ity shi­raz is no longer an odd­ity (the good news), thus at­tract­ing wine lovers across the world.


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