Tag: Shiraz

Wine Review: 2006 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz

Wine Review: 2006 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz

It’s hard to describe what it was like back in the day, back when Australian wines were totally new to us in America. Think about it: tasting new styles of wines, new expressions of grapes for the very first time. At a time when many varietals and regions were well known by the trade and by consumers, the immersion into an unknown world of tastes and aromas was the enological equivalent of diving into a pool with blinders on from the high board, just less scary.

That’s what it was like when two wines from Victoria arrived that disrupted the notion of what a peppery syrah could be. The 1994 Mount Langi Ghiran shiraz from the Grampians west of Melbourne and the 1994 Craiglee from Sunbury, a suburb just a short drive from Melbourne’s airport showed pepper with power and precision. This was no elusive whiff of spice that appeared and blew away that could be found in some wines from the northern Rhone. There was no mistake with these wines. There was full-on pepper in abundance here. The phrase I used at the time was “It was if they took a pepper grinder and dumped it into the vat.” I still use it.

These guys do good wine science

Over the years, personal, anecdotal and scientific research have revealed interesting facts and observations about the role of pepper in Aussie shiraz which might be of interest. Scientists at the Australian Wine Research Institute in Australia have identified that rotundone is the chemical component that accounts for peppery aromas in wine and more interestingly, that about 20% of people are unable to smell pepper in wine. This raises an interesting point that wine writer Jamie Goode has mentioned: If you can’t smell pepper and you come across a Mount Langi shiraz in judging a wine show, does that mean your score is incorrect? Personal experience at The Jug Shop when these wines first arrived into the market had less to do whether someone could smell it. Quite the opposite, some consumers just plain didn’t like pronounced pepper aromas in their wine and saw them as unpalatable!

The question arises as to why some wines show more pepper than others and specifically, why it’s more noted in wines from Australia’s cooler regions. For the life of me, the E+E Black Pepper shiraz from the warm Barossa Valley was so named because of the supposed relationship between the grape and the scent but in over 30 years of tasting Barossa shiraz, it’s not something I have encountered much at all. Or much anywhere else in South Australia. This is a Victorian thing.

Some winemakers believe that the pepper component in shiraz appears at a certain point in the grape’s ripening cycle and then disappears as the grapes mature. If a winemaker wants to capture that flavor, the fruit must be picked during that window which is relatively brief. In warmer areas, once the grower readies his crew to pick the fruit, it’s too late as the window is closed. In cooler appellations, the period when pepper appears lasts longer which enables growers to capture the elusive spice.

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Stuart Bourne, head winemaker at Barossa Valley Estates back in the day with a rare vertical of E+E Black Pepper sparkling shiraz. Not peppery. Stuart, however, is quite the spicy character.

As many folks know, or should know, Australian sparkling shiraz is one of the country’s unique contributions to the world of wine. Over years of experience, it’s become clear that fizzy shiraz reflects its viticultural origins just as clearly as the flat stuff. And nowhere is that found more clearly then in Craiglee’s rare Sparkling Red No. 6 which had loads of pepper aromas accurately reflecting it’s cool Victorian origins when it was released.

And not only can the pepper in shiraz come through in its bubbly state, it can remain in a wine over time as seen clearly in the 2006 Mount Langi shiraz tasted just last week. Clearly apparent as a black pepper aroma mixed with some earth and savory elements, it also showed clearly on the palate as it complemented the more mature textures and flavors there as well.

2015 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz

But just as pepper is more elusive in the northern Rhone and California syrahs, it’s not always easy to find in Australia either. It takes just the right vintage conditions: too hot and you’ll get a classic shiraz with soft fruits. And so it was with the 2015 Langi. Too cold and the grape can’t ripen leaving a green, vegetal aromas. Some Aussies in the trade can discern the difference between white and black pepper! A rough guide in my experience is that wineries like Mount Langi and Craiglee capture that perfect aroma 3-4 times a decade. Here’s hoping for more, I love pepper in Aussie shiraz and its clear that there are fans here in the States. I hope to find more examples for readers in the future.

Wine Review: 2006 Rockford SVS Hoffmann Shiraz and 2006 Rockford SVS Flaxman Valley Shiraz

Wine Review: 2006 Rockford SVS Hoffmann Shiraz and 2006 Rockford SVS Flaxman Valley Shiraz

For those with an interest and passion for Australian wine generally and shiraz from South Australia particularly, these are interesting and exciting times. Wineries are taking a deeper interest in the subtle differences that occur within the regions that represent the focus of their work. At the same time, a more focused understanding of the subregions within these appellations are increasingly showcased in new releases that are limited in production and availability but unlimited in education and enjoyment. Some wineries are taking the final step and going even further by bottling wines from single sites to showcase their unique attributes.

This more mature and discerning look at a wine region is an exciting development that mirrors the way Burgundians look at their villages and crus. The ability to show the diversity of wines within many of South Australia’s wine regions is crucial in fighting the stereotype that all Aussie shiraz is big, bold and interchangeable. Plus, it’s just plain fun to explore and understand the differences, some drastic and others more nuanced, that exist within wine regions that we are just beginning to understand.

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Rockford Winery’s Cellar Door

Rockford Winery is one of the Barossa Valley’s cult wineries known as much for their rather rustic, or some would say romantic, approach to winemaking as for their wines, particularly their Basket Press shiraz. A visit to the winery is required to bear witness to the winemaking methods of the past and see how they are still harnessed to make world class wines today.

The Basket Press shiraz is a tribute to the many growers that owner Robert O’Callaghan believes are the foundation of the winery’s purpose as well as the cultural heritage of the Barossa Valley. As such, the wine is a classic representation of how wines were made in the past, a blend of grapes from growers all over the valley. And he claims that this “provides consistency and reliability that is not possible from a single vineyard.”

While single vineyard shiraz bottlings have a lengthy history in Australia going back to 1952 and the first bottling from the Hill of Grace vineyard by the Henschkes, the focus on wines from various subregions within districts like the Barossa Valley is a fairly recent phenomenon. Wineries like Yalumba (2005), First Drop (2005), and St. Hallett (2009), were among the first to release a range of wines, typically 3-5 different wines, that highlighted the subregional differences of the Barossa much as AVAs like Oakville and Rutherford perform the same function for Napa Valley. Today, most websites increasingly highlight the names of growers that supply fruit from the many small towns that are part of the Barossa’s matrix of vineyards.

A recent visit to Rockford’s cellar door provided a chance to taste a few of the winery’s 2006 single vineyard releases, a shiraz from the Hoffmann vineyard in the Ebenezer region and another bottling from the Flaxman Valley, a small subregion emerging from the diverse microclimates that comprise the Eden Valley. The “SVS” wines are typically available only at the cellar door and are produced in amounts of 100-300 cases and released after 6-8 years in bottle. The vineyards also very from year-to-year but the Hoffman and Flaxman bottlings have been made most frequently.

2006 Rockford SVS Flaxman Valley Shiraz

Both wines showed particularly well with the broad, soft textures and diffused flavors of dried cherries atop soft earth notes that can only come from older Rockford wines. Most importantly, the wines showed their origins clearly. The Hoffmann shiraz was a bit more compact in shape and bolstered by fine tannins as one would expect from Ebenezer. The Flaxman cuvee is based on fruit from the same Chris Ringland vineyard that is the foundation for his acclaimed shiraz and possesses the ripe blackberry core that is the trademark of the site.

For being such staunch traditionalists, it came as a shock to me to find out that Rockford’s first SVS shiraz bottlings came from the 1996 vintage, almost a full decade before other wineries followed their lead. At that time in the US, the debate about Barossa shiraz was more about American vs. French oak. Understanding region and site was way off in the future. It seems that in their quest to honor the traditions of the Barossa Valley, they played a major role in creating a new one. Hat’s off to that!

Wine Review: 2013 Mount Pleasant B-Side CF13 Dry Red (Hunter Valley)

Wine Review: 2013 Mount Pleasant B-Side CF13 Dry Red (Hunter Valley)

Over the past decade or so, the Hunter Valley has really revealed itself, not only as a bastion of youthful energy that has transformed the region as a locus for contemporary wines but also in resurrecting respect for the vines and vineyards that came before them. New bottlings highlighting individual plots of ancient vines are weaving compelling wines into the fabric of the Hunter. All of this after a decade or so that has seen Hunter semillon and shiraz reach new heights of quality.

The renewed respect for the older vines that are the backbone of the Hunter has led to many folks to take an even deeper look at what is actually planted there. While Australia does not compare when it comes to the wide variety of varietals grown in California, there are plots here and there that contain some pretty interesting stuff. McWilliams, one of the Hunter’s oldest wineries and owner of Mount Pleasant Winery, home to legendary winemaker Maurice O’Shea, is home to a rarity named montils. The grape recently found a home in their new wine program entitled B-Side which is devoted to experimental, small batch winemaking.

The original home for montils is in the Cognac region of France where it’s also used to make eau-de-vie. It ended up in the Hunter as part of the Busby collection of grapes that contributed to the foundation of Australia’s wine industry back in the 1830s. Prized for its ability to maintain a low pH in warm climates, it has fallen out of favor in France.

13332915_10153670472171149_3571934894324661444_nNew plantings of the grape have been recently arranged from the original vines that were planted in the 1920s at the winery’s home vineyard. Winemaker Scott McWilliams decided to round up some shiraz planted by O’Shea in his Rosehill vineyard back in 1946 and co-ferment the two grapes as was done back in the day. Because there was so little montils available, only 800 bottles were made.

The result is a translucent, pale red wine that is a perfect wine for those desirous of a lighter styled wine. Fresh and crunchy red fruits fill the palate but resonate lightly thanks to some crisp acids. Bits of spice and light tannins frame the whole experience, both aromatically and texturally, thanks to a bit of stems in the ferment and old Hungarian oak. A couple of years should see this wine pick up a bit of weight and the acidity mellow.

This is a great window into Australia’s movement towards lighter, fresher red wines that are also seen in wines like 2015 Te Mata Gamay Noir and 2015 De Bortoli La Boheme Syrah/Gamay. These local products are starting to populate the hipster wine bar scene there and could easily make a splash in the States. Quaffable and refreshing, one can feel the mustache grow and the tats form a sleeve on your arm as you quickly polish off the glass and reach for another.