Nestled in the heart of South Australia lies the Barossa Valley, a region renowned for producing some of the world's finest Shiraz wines. With its rich history going back to the 1850s, diverse geography, and meticulous winemaking traditions, Barossa has earned its place among the top wine regions globally. With over half of the vineyards in the Barossa being planted to Shiraz, you know this grape variety is very important to the winemakers here. I'll delve briefly into the essence of Barossa's Shiraz wines, exploring its geography, vineyards, winemaking techniques, wine styles, top producers, and the art of food pairing. Furthermore, I'll compare and contrast Barossa's Shiraz with those from McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley, highlighting the unique characteristics that distinguish each region's expression of Syrah.
In my opinion, the best Shiraz from the Barossa fit the bill as wines which have a truly "sexy" character!
It's the combination of elegance and a luxuriously soft and mellow texture that coats your palate with glorious flavours of ripe fruit offering perfect balance of acidity and tannin. My mouth is starting to salivate with just the thought.
Is this stuff legal? Thankfully, it is. Let's see why these wines are such a delight...
Geography and Vineyards:
Barossa Valley's geography plays a crucial role in shaping its Shiraz wines. Situated northeast of Adelaide, the region experiences a Mediterranean climate characterised by warm summers, mild winters, and low rainfall. The valley's diverse topography, ranging from gently rolling hills to elevated plateaus, provides a variety of microclimates ideal for grape cultivation.
Within Barossa, several sub-regions stand out for Shiraz production. The Barossa Valley floor, with its deep alluvial soils, yields robust and full-bodied wines, while the cooler, higher-altitude Eden Valley produces more elegant and structured Shiraz alongside fantastic Riesling wines. Iconic vineyards like Henschke's Hill of Grace in Eden Valley and Penfolds' Kalimna Vineyard in Barossa Valley have become synonymous with excellence, showcasing the region's terroir-driven expressions of Shiraz.
A few years' ago, at a London, "Robert Parker" tasting event, I was lucky enough to sample one of the best reds I've ever had in my life. It was a 2006 vintage of "Hill of Grace". Unobtainable on the open market, the wine was shipped in from an Asian collector especially for the connoisseur event hosted by critic, Joe Czerwinski. The bottle would have retailed for around £600-£700. Stunning...simply an ethereal wine. Everything has to be judged against wines like this. A rarity, but an experience I'm happy to have had. My surprise, though, was my second favourite bottle. Standish Shiraz for £70. I bought some of this as soon as I could track down an odd bottle source. Same quality, but a tenth of the price. Now that's a bargain.
Many of the Barossa's top producers source their fruit from dry-grown, ancient vineyards (many exceeding 100 years of age) and the yields from these spectacular old vines are absolutely tiny. Concentrated juice which can produce wines of extraordinary balance and complexity. Wines which can taste so good when young you'll struggle to resist their tempting aromas and flavours, but these wines will age, given the chance. Maturity has its advantages over the first flush of youth!
Winemaking and Wine Styles:
Winemakers in Barossa employ both traditional and modern techniques to craft Shiraz wines that reflect the region's terroir. Hand-harvesting, small-batch fermentation, and oak barrel ageing are common practises aimed at enhancing complexity and flavour concentration. While some producers opt for minimal intervention to showcase the purity of fruit, others embrace innovative methods to push the boundaries of winemaking.
Barossa Shiraz wines exhibit a wide spectrum of styles, ranging from bold and opulent to refined and elegant.
Traditional examples showcase ripe black fruit flavours, velvety tannins, and nuances of dark chocolate and spice. In contrast, modern interpretations often emphasize freshness, with vibrant acidity, floral aromatics, and a more restrained use of oak.
Notable wines like Standish's "The Relic" and Torbreck's "RunRig" (both with an additional Rhone-style splash of Viognier alongside the Shiraz), Two Hands "Ares", Grant Burge's "Meshach", Peter Lehmann's "Stonewell", Yalumba "The Octavius", Glaetzer "Amon-Ra" and Rockford "Basket Press" epitomise the diversity of styles within Barossa's Shiraz portfolio.
These are wines at the very top of their game, limited production superstars with prices to match (unfortunately).
Established 25 years' ago by Corey Ryan and Simon Cowham, Sons of Eden, a James Halliday 5 Red Star Winery for eleven consecutive years, is one of my long-time favourite Barossa producers (which, coincidently, offers excellent value for money). Their "Marschall" Shiraz bottling is firmly in the opulently textured, wrap your tongue around the fruit, style of winemaking and their "Kennedy" GSM is equally as good if you also like the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone-type blend of grapes. Shiraz takes a subsidiary role here to the Grenache variety, but who's being pedantic?
Their top-of-the-range Shiraz wine is called "Autumnus" and hails from a single vineyard in the High Eden on the eastern side of the Barossa. Retailing for over £200, there have only ever been two vintages produced in recent years. The 2012 achieved a Parker 99/100 rating. I wish I had a bottle to try in my collection...
"The 2012 Autumnus Shiraz approaches perfection. It marries amazingly complex notes of peppered beef and spices with ripe blueberries in a seamless whorl of aromas and flavours, then delivers amazing density and richness of texture without excessive weight or any sense of heaviness. Great structure and length suggest this wine will still be singing in a decade or so. Wow!"
The Barossa is certainly one place on the planet where the Shiraz grape reigns supreme and produces world-beating wines. Only the greatest northern Rhone Syrah even come close in quality and excitement.
Top Producers in Langton's Classification:
Langton's Classification, a benchmark for Australian wines, recognises the most esteemed producers based on reputation, quality, and market demand. In Barossa, several iconic wineries have earned their place in Langton's hierarchy, affirming their status as leaders in Shiraz production. Penfolds Grange, Australia's most celebrated wine, holds the highest classification, revered for its unparalleled complexity and ageing potential. Penfolds St Henri Shiraz offers a pure, unoaked example of South Australia Shiraz showcasing the mulberry and blueberry fruit, rather than the barrel.
Other esteemed Barossa producers on Langton's list include Chris Ringland, Henschke, Torbreck, Rockford, and Two Hands, each renowned for crafting exceptional Shiraz wines that captivate enthusiasts worldwide.
In nearby Clare Valley, Langton's classification recommends the hard-to-find Wendouree (a producer whose wines I've never even seen for sale outside of Australia) and Jim Barry's 100 pointer "The Armagh". This fabulous bottle is available now from Frazier's for less than half the price of Grange! Certainly, one for the cellar, but don't leave it there for too long because you might get too old for your palate to fully appreciate it. Drink now, or forever hold your peace.
The bold flavours and robust structure of Barossa Shiraz wines make them versatile companions at the table. Rich, meaty dishes such as grilled lamb, slow-roasted beef, or hearty stews complement the wine's depth and intensity, while creamy cheeses like aged cheddar or blue cheese provide a decadent pairing. For a more refined experience, delicate game birds or earthy mushroom risotto accentuate the wine's complexity, allowing its nuanced flavours to shine.
Comparison with McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley:
While Barossa Valley stands as a benchmark for Shiraz in Australia, other regions like McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley offer compelling alternatives with distinct characteristics. McLaren Vale, located south of Adelaide, shares a Mediterranean climate similar to Barossa but with a maritime influence from the nearby Gulf of St. Vincent. The region's Shiraz wines are known for their bold fruit expression, supple tannins, and hints of eucalyptus and mint, reflecting the terroir's influence.
A prime example of the chocolatey style of McLaren wine is the "The Dead Arm" from Chester Osborn's d'Arenberg. With notes of plums, blackberries, pepper and earthy spices, this is a true blockbuster bottle. Not one for the faint-hearted. Enjoy a glass whilst playing beach cricket at Moana on a sunny afternoon in the vale.
An old favourite of mine, Some Young Punks (based in the Clare Valley), had a wonderfully "dodgy" label on their "Naked On Rollerskates" blend of Shiraz & Mataro. Now named "Naked by Punks", the McLaren Vale sourced fruit was used to make a sublimely deep and rich wine with a lot of bang for your buck. Some prudish customers wouldn't buy it purely because of the label. Their loss! Still available, this wine needs to be covered up before taking it to a dinner party. You don't want to be pulled over by the no-fun wine police, do you? This one's definitely still a sexy beast.
The perfect 100 point 2010 "Astralis" from Clarendon Hills, Mollydooker's "Velvet Glove" and Hardy's "Eileen Hardy" Shiraz are also wines to experience if you can. Please don't waste your hard-earned money on their cheap and nasty, generic "Stamp" & "Crest" ranges.
If you partake in eating meat, I have a personal tip for drinking the delicious "Eileen Hardy" wine. Get yourself a freshly prepared BBQ Kangaroo burger and chips. It's legal in Adelaide to eat a roo, so do as the locals do and indulge. A very sustainable source of protein!
In contrast, Hunter Valley, situated north of Sydney, experiences a subtropical climate marked by high humidity and summer rainfall. Shiraz wines from Hunter Valley are notably lighter in body and more herbaceous in character, with pronounced acidity and savoury undertones. The region's sandy loam soils and unique viticultural practises, such as early picking to retain acidity, contribute to the distinctive style of Hunter Valley Shiraz.
The savoury, black olive, meaty-tasting "Graveyard" Shiraz from Brokenwood is definitely worth trying along with the lighter style, tangy red fruit and rose petal Tyrrell's "Vat 9" and their new, 98 point rated, single vineyard bottling "Four Acres" from a vineyard planted in 1879.
In the 1960s, Lindemans was the name to look for if you wanted to drink "Burgundy" (as Shiraz was then sold) from the Hunter Valley, but these vineyards are long gone now and the brand name's reputation is much diminished on the world market. During my first visit to Australia, in 1992, I did get to taste some museum bottles of their "bin numbered" wines. They were remarkable. The museum release Semillon whites were also excellent.
Another region, with small pockets of excellent Shiraz is Victoria. Wines such as Giaconda's biodynamic Estate Shiraz (Beechworth) and Best's Great Western "Thomson Family" with its dry-grown, 150 year old vines (from The Grampians) also make the Langton's classified list for the finest of Australia.
In conclusion, Barossa Valley's Shiraz wines embody the essence of Australian winemaking excellence, showcasing the region's rich heritage, diverse terroir, and unwavering commitment to quality. With its top producers, diverse wine styles, and unparalleled food pairing potential, Barossa remains a beacon of innovation and tradition in the global wine landscape. While McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley offer compelling alternatives, each region's Shiraz wines stand as testament to Australia's unparalleled diversity and depth in winemaking prowess.
If you think that buying great Barossa (or McLaren) Shiraz is out of your price range, think again!
Frazier's can offer you both "Stockyard" and "The Farms" Shiraz from the Barossa Valley Wine Co for £20-£30 a bottle. Seductive and silky, rich blackberry & brooding plum fruit, olive tapenade, leather, white pepper and Christmas spices. Looks like these two easily fit into the "sexy wine" category.
A recent addition to the McLaren winemaking scene, Grounded Cru, also offer a deep, inky coloured Shiraz with intense flavours of blackberry, currants and spice all wrapped in creamy oak for only £15.
Rated a "5 Star" winery in the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion, so, as you can imagine, it's pretty good stuff!
If you don't believe me, ask cru chief Geoff 'Joffa' Thompson, or winemaker Matt 'Jacko' Jackman. As typical, no nonsense Aussies, they'll put you right.
You won't find these exciting bottles in supermarkets, so stock up from Frazier's Wines now, you sexy beast.
(No, no, no, I didn't mean YOU!!!)