Six winemakers on the diverse styles of Australian Shiraz

Six winemakers on the diverse styles of Australian shiraz

By Halliday Promotion
5 Mar, 2021

Whether grown in cool, moderate or warm climates, Australian shiraz remains as iconic as ever. These six winemakers discuss the country’s diverse styles.

The syrah grape originated in France’s northern Rhone and was remodelled as shiraz when it arrived in Australia in the 19th century. Old World style shiraz – like the syrah produced in France – is a medium-bodied, cool-climate wine with a restrained and peppery palate. By comparison, local examples have traditionally been defined by intense, fruit-forward wines hailing from warm climates.

These days, shiraz grows all around the country in warm, moderate and cool climates and is produced in many diverse styles. Here, six producers from various regions delve into the iconic Australian variety and how they make theirs.

Brendan Hawker – Yering Station, VIC
H. How would you describe shiraz from your region?
B. Shiraz from the Yarra Valley is diverse – between the upper and lower Yarra, they could almost even be confused as different varieties. Our shiraz blocks around the valley floor tend to be a more medium-bodied and luscious style, showing blue and black fruit, pepper and five spice, as well as purple florals. The higher up into the hills you go, the more the fruit spectrum and body becomes lighter, spicier, and even more fine and elegant.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
B. We don’t follow a recipe for our winemaking, but rather follow our instincts as the vintage conditions play out. We generally co-ferment a small percentage (2-5%) of viognier with our shiraz as the thick skins add lots of lovely phenolic material to the wine, help stabilise colour and provide a silky and luscious quality to the mid-palate – plus lifted floral aromatics. The time of year determines how much viognier we add. For example, in cooler vintages it could be closer to 5% compared to less in warmer years or on rare occasion, none at all.

Darryl Catlin – Sidewood, SA
H. What do you love about shiraz?
D. The beautiful dichotomy of powerful, expressive flavours and seamlessly elegant tannins and acidity, all in perfect balance. Shiraz is the quintessential Australian icon and a truly versatile variety which highlights both terroir and winemaking artefact. Our Sidewood Shiraz is a blend of 12 unique clones from multiple sites across the Adelaide Hills – including our vineyards at Oakbank, Echunga and the winery block in Nairne. Each parcel is meticulously selected and fermented separately to allow the perfect, balanced final blend.

H. What is unique about shiraz grown in your region?
D. Sidewood makes quintessential Adelaide Hills shiraz, showcasing the perfect balance of cool-climate spice, violets, white pepper and plums. But unlike warmer climate wines, a persistent line of vibrant acidity is what makes Sidewood Shiraz different from most. Due to its relative elegance and approachable tannins, our style can be consumed when young, by itself or with red meat, mushrooms and game – It also improves with age and rewards those patient enough to cellar them for 7-15 years.

Craig Stansborough – Purple Hands, SA
H. How would you describe shiraz from your region?
C. ‘Luscious’ would sum up a lot of Barossa shiraz styles – but like all wine regions, one size does not fit all. The Barossa Valley is known for rich, extravagant wines, while the Eden Valley is known more for spicy and elegant or juicy and bright early drinking styles. It really does reflect what a versatile variety this is and how it is so suited to this part of the country. The vast majority of the time we get ripe tannins and good flavour with generous aromatics, soft, ripe tannins and sweet luscious fruit.

H. How has your winemaking process evolved?
C. Winemaking is an evolution and the way we make and grow Shiraz now is very different to 10-15 years ago. These days, we are much more focused on soil and vine health because uniqueness ultimately comes from the vineyard and site – no one else grows wine from our vineyard! Our grapes are organically grown and I would like to think that helps the quality of what’s in the bottle. As a grape grower and winemaker, you feel a hell of a lot better knowing you’re producing a product that is not destroying the land.

Gwyn Olsen – Pepper Tree, NSW
H. What do you love about the variety?
G. I love shiraz’ versatility and complexity – it can change from region to region, cool climate to warm climate. Hunter shiraz is the perfect combination of medium-density, ripe red fruits, complex spice and fine tannins. Hunter shiraz is more about focusing on the fruit with oak maturation playing a supporting role. Drinking exceptionally well now in its bright fruit stage, it will continue to drink well for the next twenty years as it moves into it’s darker, complex, brooding stage of old Hunter shiraz.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
G. We pick at good flavour and as much natural acidity retention that we can. I prefer wines to speak to their sense of place – thus winemaking is about ensuring the fruit is front and centre rather than any winemaking interplay. My process has evolved to pair back the tannin extraction and the new oak amount in these wines. We have moved to no more than 12 months maturation in oak to help maintain brighter, fresher fruit characters.

Corrina Wright – Oliver’s Taranga, SA
H. Why do you love making shiraz?
C. It is an honour to be able to work with Shiraz grown in McLaren Vale. Ours is from the great old vines of the Taranga vineyard, made by the sixth-generation family to farm this land. The McLaren Vale region goes hand in hand with the variety – I love how the wines develop from the fruit on the vine into the winery, in bottle, and most importantly, into the glass. The best thing about shiraz from our vineyard is the super fine and long natural tannins in the grape skins. I just love their effect on the palate.

H. How would you describe your winemaking approach?
C.  I am very hands-off winemaking-wise. I use indigenous yeasts and don’t add anything to the grapes or wine at all if I can help it. Our vineyard is the core of our family and brand, so I am merely trying to represent that in a glass. With experience, I have moved more towards indigenous ingredients and have also dialled back the percentage of new oak, moving to larger-format oak over the years. I have learnt the personality of each of our 19 different blocks of shiraz, and how to bring out their strengths.

Adam Louder – Mount Langi Ghiran, VIC
H. Why do you love making shiraz?
A. I love the versatility of shiraz the most – depending on the climate, soil type and winemaking, you can experience such diverse expressions. While working at Langi as a young cellar hand I was introduced to the beauty of the variety by one of the country’s most revered cool-climate wine pioneers: Trevor Mast. He taught me the importance of respecting the vineyards to create elegant and long-lived wines thanks to our climate in the Grampians. Bringing this to fruition now as Chief Winemaker at Mount Langi Ghiran is pretty special.

H. How would you describe shiraz from your region?
A. Shiraz from the Grampians region contains a silkier, smoother, more seamless flavour profile versus your traditional big-bodied, warmer-climate wines. For Mount Langi Ghiran in particular, the soil type is comprised of granite sands that have permeated red clay loam through natural erosion of the nearby cliffs. This contributes to the unique berry fruit and pepper spices that make it so distinctive.

This article was produced in partnership with the featured wineries.

Top image credit: Wine Australia

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