Ask any red wine drinker which grape they would most associate with Australia and the answer would almost certainly be “Shiraz“. This big blockbuster of a red wine grape has become synonymous with the Australian wine industry, despite the fact that it only started being taken seriously in the 1990s.
Until the 1990s the Shiraz grape was grown largely to produce cheap table wines and fortified wines and to bulk up other red wine blends. However, thankfully for all those Shiraz fans around the world, Australian wine makers began to realise they could produce some fine varietal wines from the grape. Production has boomed and Australia’s now signature varietal red wine is enjoyed all around the world.
Australian wine makers have access to some wonderful old Shiraz vines, particularly in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions, which are now producing some of the country’s iconic red wines. However, there are plenty of more recently planted Shiraz vines producing excellent quality wines which are readily available in supermarkets and off licences and by mail order or through wine clubs. Some wine makers are blending Shiraz with Viognier which tends to give the resulting red wine a softer, smoother edge.
Shiraz is produced in many of Australia’s wine areas but the most famous is undoubtedly the Barossa Valley, where the hot conditions produce an amazingly big and intense red wine with hints of blackcurrant and spice. This is where most of the Shiraz grapes are sourced which make up Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most famous wine.
A bottle of Grange will set you back by a few hundred pounds but Penfolds produce a range of excellent Shiraz wines, most of which are more affordable. You would be unlikely to buy a bad bottle of Shiraz with a Barossa Valley label, but other producers to look out for include Peter Lehmann, Turkey Flat, Two Hands, Charles Melton, Grant Burge, Torbreck and Langmeil. Also keep an eye out for Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, a big favourite amongst South Australian red wine drinkers. The neighbouring Eden Valley is less well known for its Shiraz wines but is home to Australia’s second most iconic red wine, Henschke’s Hill of Grace.
South Australia’s McLaren Vale region is also renowned for its Shiraz wines, which are big and chocolaty with a mocha and warm earth character. Thomas Hardy & Sons is one of the oldest wine producers in this region and its Eileen Hardy Shiraz is the iconic Shiraz of the McLaren Vale region. Another favourite with South Australians is D’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz although the winery’s much cheaper Shiraz, The Footbolt, is excellent value for money. Other McLaren Vale Shiraz producers to seek out include Wirra Wirra, Fox Creek, Geoff Merrill, Glaetzer, Hugo, Shingleback and Rosemount.
Western Australia around the Margaret River and Great Southern regions is producing some top quality Shiraz wines too. Shiraz wines from this region tend to be full of cassis flavour with hints of mint and eucalyptus. Cape Mentelle is one of the best known Margaret River wineries and it produces a wonderful full-bodied Shiraz with plenty of plum and spice characteristics. Other producers to look out for are Capel Vale, Evans & Tate, Cape Grace, Chalice Bridge, Goundrey, Houghton and Voyager Estate.
Some of Victoria’s cooler climate wine regions are producing some outstanding peppery Shiraz. The regions to look out for on the Shiraz labels are Grampians, Pyrenees, Heathcote and Goulburn Valley. Top Shiraz producers include Best’s, Dalwhinnie, Mount Langhi Ghiran, Seppelt, Taltarni, Carlei Green Vineyards, Heathcote Estate, Mitchelton and Mount Ida.
The Hunter Valley in New South Wales is one of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions and Shiraz used to be the only red wine grape grown in the region, producing a huge leathery wine with a sweaty aroma which earned it the description of “sweaty saddles”. These days the sweat and leather characteristics have been toned down somewhat leaving a soft, earthy and spicy red wine. Labels to look out for include Brokenwood, Chateau Pato, Mount Pleasant, Rothbury Estate and Tyrrells.
Whilst these regions are Australia’s prime Shiraz-producing regions, there are many wineries in other red wine regions which are producing impressive Shiraz wines. There are also many small wineries in the regions named above and elsewhere in Australia which are producing limited runs of high quality Shiraz but have not been named as they may be difficult to get hold of outside of Australia. It is hard to buy a bad Australian Shiraz – most are at worst reliable but at their best they are a real red wine drinking experience.
Image by Mike the Mountain.