There’s nat­u­rally a de­gree of hes­i­ta­tion in ex­press­ing an opin­ion about wine, wine re­gions and wine­mak­ers. Af­ter all, opin­ions are rather self-in­dul­gent and of­ten ill-con­sid­ered, half-baked and formed in ig­no­rance of the facts. So when I was re­cently asked for my view as to which re­gion pro­duces the best shi­raz in Australia, I baulked. How do you com­pare ap­ples and or­anges and why should one style or pro­file nec­es­sar­ily be con­sid­ered su­pe­rior to an­other? And how can it be fair to com­pare shi­raz from cool or high-altitude cli­mates with those from a warmer or Mediter­ranean zone? Well, I guess it’s just an opin­ion and I’m up for the dis­cus­sion. But I’m go­ing to of­fend my good friends in South Australia. And also those in New South Wales’ Hunter Val­ley and Victoria’s Yarra re­gion. And I apol­o­gise un­re­servedly to the Tas­ma­nian pro­duc­ers who do a ster­ling job of craft­ing fine reds in their cool cli­mate. But for the mo­ment at least, I reckon that some of the best shi­raz in the coun­try is born in the rather re­mote Fran­k­land River re­gion in south­ern West Australia. The Fran­k­land River district is part of the Great South­ern re­gion sit­ting in­land from Man­jimup, about four to five hours from Perth. The cli­mate is rather Mediter­raneanesqu­e as long, warm sunny days and cool nights pro­vide an ideal en­v­i­ron for pro­duc­tion of plump, ripe berries that en­sure op­u­lence of juice while al­low­ing re­gional character to ex­press it­self in the glass. With about 1600ha un­der vine, the sub-re­gion is one of the largest in Western Australia as well as be­ing one of the old­est in the state. The first vines were planted in the late 1960s and these days, Fran­k­land River ries­ling and shi­raz is gain­ing in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for its fi­nesse and flair. Per­haps the dis­tinc­tive­ness of the lo­cal shi­raz comes not from its el­e­va­tion (which is only about 200 – 300m above sea level), but from the iron­stone-based granitic and grav­elly soils that de­fine the re­gion. For me, the beauty of the re­gional shi­raz is the power of the fruit, the dis­tinc­tive black pep­per char­ac­ters on the con­clu­sion, and its pres­ence and charm on the palate. One of the largest and old­est winer­ies of the sub-re­gion is Alkoomi, which was first planted in 1971. The cus­to­di­ans of the Hallett fam­ily’s op­er­a­tion are third-gen­er­a­tion vi­gnerons Sandy and Rod Hallett, who work the prop­erty and win­ery along­side their three daugh­ters. Their range in­cludes ries­ling and mul­ti­ple shi­raz but it’s their 2011 Jar­rah Shi­raz that re­cently cap­tured my at­ten­tion. At $45, it’s far from their top-end prod­uct yet de­liv­ers all of the de­light­ful Fran­k­land River idio­syn­cra­sies at a price point that doesn’t raise eye­brows at the cel­lar door. The depth of fruit is tele­graphed by the deep crim­son colour in the glass be­fore lus­cious pre­served plums and dark cher­ries emerge the mo­ment it passes your lips. The fruit in­ten­sity reaches a crescendo on the mid-palate, mo­ments be­fore gen­tle acids and fine tan­nins es­cort the Jar­rah through a pep­pery and finely-tuned con­clu­sion. The magic is per­haps in the bal­ance be­tween ripeness of fruit and fi­nesse of the fin­ish. I don’t pre­tend that the Fran­k­land River shi­raz will ap­peal to ev­ery­one’s palate – es­pe­cially those who pre­fer the jam­mi­ness of a full, ripe and high-al­co­hol style from warmer re­gions such as the Barossa. But at least for now, I’m proudly a card-car­ry­ing and flag-wav­ing mem­ber of the Fran­k­land River shi­raz fan club. Travis Schultz is the prin­ci­pal of Travis Schultz Law but he has been moon­light­ing as a restau­rant re­viewer and wine writer for the past 15 years.

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