Luke Richardson is the sommelier at wine bar Le Di-Vin in Edinburgh. In his column for SLTN he shares his thoughts on all things wine-related and answers your questions about wine. If you have a question for Luke email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last time I talked about Old World Syrah/Shiraz, and now we’ll look at the brave New World…
Australia has really taken Shiraz as its national grape variety, and, consequently, it is the country most associated with the grape nowadays – some would say more so than France!
It was first taken to Australia by a Scotsman, James Busby, in the 1830s, and has been grown continually there since.
Over this time, and as the grape became more widely planted, clear stylistic differences became apparent –and most of these hold true today. So I’m going to focus on Australia, and add some short notes about other areas at the end.
So, Australia is huuuuge! And the differences in the regional wines are pretty big too.
I’ll start with the Barossa Valley, around 80 miles NNW of Adelaide – and probably the hottest area where grapes are grown commercially. These are some of the biggest, ripest, jammiest, smokiest expressions of Shiraz that you can find anywhere, with ripe black and red fruits, tobacco, leather and toasty oak flavours in abundance on a rich, ripe, heavy style of wine – often approaching or breaching 15% alcohol! A decent bottle starts at around £7.50 plus VAT, but in my experience it’s best to spend a little more – say £9-plus.
By comparison, McLaren Vale, around 30 miles due south of Adelaide, makes much finer, slightly cooler-style wines well known for their fruit and more elegant body. I have to say I prefer this slightly more reserved style – more focused on red fruit and just a little less alcohol, and great with a juicy steak. Expect to pay £9 plus VAT and up.
For an even lighter style, Victoria, a little further south and surrounding Melbourne, produces the most fragrant, red-fruited style, but with quite the premium price attached for the good examples – £12-plus is not unusual. Within this area, Heathcote would definitely be my favourite sub-region, producing balanced yet sumptuous wines with good body and length – these start around £15 for a decent bottle plus VAT.
Lastly, on a ‘good all-rounder’ style, comes Margaret River, near the South Western tip of the country and just south of Perth. This makes a fruit-driven style, but never really over-extracted or over-oaked, and quite often organic or near as dammit – a safe bet for a mix of palates; expect to pay around £10 plus VAT and up.
Elsewhere, New Zealand produces some pretty noteworthy examples – normally fairly reserved on the fruit, but with a healthy dose of white pepper on the finish; great food wines, but maybe a little spicy for just drinking on their own.
South Africa is making a bit of a name for itself for Rhone Valley blends and varietals, but I generally prefer the blends. These are normally Grenache/ Syrah/ Mourvedre (or GSM) and can offer quite a good bang for your buck – £7 plus VAT and up.
The USA makes a very smooth style of Syrah, with opulent dark fruit and a nice texture, but not much change out of £10 plus VAT for an entry level style, with the sky as the limit for some of the more ‘boutique’ wineries.
My advice? McLaren Vale all the way!