Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

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Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby David Lole » Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:51 am

Long the work horse of the Australian wine industry, Shiraz is widely regarded as the most versatile and ageworthy red grape variety grown in Australia. With its roots firmly planted in Australian wine folklore dating back to the early eighteen-thirties, Shiraz is the most widely planted, profusely produced red grape that's just as likely to be the source of a cheap "Rose'", a remarkable Seppelt sparkling "Burgundy", a good old Penfold's St. Henri "Claret" or even a monumental "Rutherglen Port" and just about anything in between. Not to mention it constitutes the significant proprtion of every vintage of Max Scubert's world famous creation, Grange "Hermitage". Thankfully, all the preceding preposterous generic stylistic references are not used these days (at least Max got the region almost right for grape variety with his precious Grange). Recent international legal agreements now preclude such ridiculous and, what I regard as, insulting label references to the great wines of France and Portugal from gracing Australian wine bottles. But for decades these generic descriptors were used almost "carte blanche" across the local wine industry as some form of "ready reckoner" for the new breed of local "punters" and their choice of, the new kid on the block, red table wine.

For the most part of its long existence in Australia, Shiraz has been put to most use in the production of fortified wine. Even today, if you see a bottle of Australian "Tawny" or "Fortified Vintage" wine languishing on a retailer's shelf, the chances are the predominant grape used as the basis of its construction, will be Shiraz, although, it must be said, even as far back as the nineteen-thirties, Hunter Valley pioneering genius, Maurice O'Shea, produced absolutely magnificent dry Shiraz table wines at the Mount Pleasant winery. Coonawarra, now famous for their Cabernet's, was once home, and for decades almost exclusively, to Shiraz and the great wines of the nineteen -forties and -fifties from Wynns (1955 Michael Hermitage) and Woodley's incredible Treasure Chest Series (1949-1956) bear testimony to this grape's role in forging the region's reputation.

Shiraz flourishes in most areas of Australia, perhaps reflecting its warm-climate ancestry but, almost surprisingly, performs equally well in cooler regions. Aromas and flavours can be detected at either end of the spectrum - sour cherry, redcurrant, pepper, spice and even forest floor at one extreme, graduating through to the sweeter red berry fruits such as raspberry, cherry and plum, moving to the darker fruits of blueberry, blackberry to chocolate and prune at the other. With considerable time (and good provenance) the telltale signs of well-aged leather, cigar box, sweet earth, game and sometimes mushroom appear giving extra dimension and complexity, especially when aged sensibly, in well-seasoned, quality American and/or French oak.

One of the great attributes of Australian Shiraz is its ability to be blended with other great red grape varieties. Although this may be akin to some purists of mixing scotch with ice or water, Shiraz has the amazing ability to fill out and soften the mid-palate and harshness of the more austere Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the greatest mature Australian reds I've encountered over the last two and a half decades have been bleen blends of these two varieties. Blending with Grenache, Mataro (Mouvedre) and, particularly over the last decade or two, Viognier have come into vogue, often in the attempt to mimick the blends employed so successfully over the decades and, in some cases, centuries in France such as Chateauneuf-des-Pape and Cote Rotie. And how could I not mention the great results from the loyal band of Aussie wineries who continue to produce wonderful sparkling Shiraz. Somewhat of an Aussie enigma, Seppelt have the quite envious and foremost reputation of making this unusual wine style since the early decades of the twentieth century and what a fine, ageworthy wine it can be.

So whether it be a big, bold and brassy, top-end South Australian Shiraz from the Barossa Valley (Penfold's Grange), Clare Valley (Jim Barry's The Armagh) or McLaren Vale (Coriole's Lloyd Reserve), a gorgeously fragrantly seductive cool climate Shiraz Viognier (Canberra's own Clonakilla), a New South Wales Hunter Valley legend from Lindemans (e.g. 1965 Bin 6600) or the occasional sensational vintage of Brokenwood's Graveyard, a Victorian blockbuster from Heathcote (Wild Duck Creek's Duck Muck) or Great Western (Seppelt St. Peters) or any of the new breed from Margaret River or Lower Great Southern in Western Australia, there's plenty of variety for the hedonist to get their teeth into. At the other end of the price range, I can heartily recommend some of the bigger corporate's efforts with wines from Burge, Lehmann's Barossa, Saltram, Penfold's, Orlando et al. For the bottom dweller's there is absolutely no need to go to Yellowtail or some forlorn Gobbly-Gunk, purile, sweet crap we're "concocting" for the "sweet-toothed" American market. This is crass marketing at its worst. It's not even clever. It's demeaning to me and so many other lovers of "good value" wine in this country.

The real beauty and secret of Australian Shiraz is that somewhere between the best and the worst you'll be able to find an ocean of more than decent juice at not too high a price that will be approachable as a youngster and should improve and probably last for a lot longer than most would expect. My cellar has been built on a platform of low- to mid-priced Australian Shiraz and I'm still drinking wines dating back to 1990 that have not only held for many years but will go for some appreciable time to come. And when I drink 'em masked, I invariably give them one helluva good rating to boot.
Last edited by David Lole on Thu Oct 04, 2007 5:39 am, edited 4 times in total.
Cheers,

David
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:15 am

Great post, David. Thanks.

Oz Clarke has a canned piece on Shiraz and how it got to Australia: from a presentation in Boston a few years ago:

His description of the journey of Shiraz from Persia to Australia is wonderful. He gives the various theories, including the theory that St. Patrick brought them – hard to credit, except perhaps in Boston on a snowy day. He then launches into his own description: Romans putting vines in their bags, carrying them from Persia to Italy, then invading the south of France and moving up the flat and broad Rhône until they find the first hill – “Bacchus loves the hills” and “Plant them here boys.” Then the Friesians looking for a boat to California and being persuaded to go to Australia instead, carrying “Hermitage” with them, a generation before phylloxera devastated the vineyards. (The louse, of course, immigrating to Europe from California, a bit after the vine immigrated to Oz.) And no phylloxera in South Australia’s sandy soils – and so today that ancient Persian vine can grow on its own roots, but only half way around the world from its origin. A great story, told with verve and style and worth the price of admission.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby David Lole » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:21 am

Now that I've got that off my chest, the tasting notes will commence shortly. I can't thank Jenise and co. enough for getting this subject up - I hope there's plenty of members who feel as enthusiastic as moi.

Thanks for your kind words, Bob.
Cheers,

David
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:36 pm

Thanks for this excellent write-up David! I have never seen so much enthusiasm at the start of the month on Wine Focus, myself included. The choices here in Alberta are varied but many "good" shiraz wines are on allocation so tough to pin down. It results in many phone calls and running around town. There are possibly two dozen specialized wine stores in Edmonton so fill up the tank before heading out!
Some of the prices are not too bad and one can find a nice shiraz for around $25/30 Cdn.
My only concern is the high alc in many of the wines! Just finished a Paracombe Shiraz/Viognier at 16.5%alc. The staff at the Grill were bemused by the wine, some loved it, others grimaced. The female waiting staff were the most impressed by the wine, the guys not so sure. Interesting eh?
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:51 pm

David Lole wrote:Now that I've got that off my chest, the tasting notes will commence shortly. I can't thank Jenise and co. enough for getting this subject up - I hope there's plenty of members who feel as enthusiastic as moi.

Thanks for your kind words, Bob.


I know it is early David, but the dreaded word "terroir" has not raised its head yet! I feel sure this plays an important role in shiraz wine production etc. Many of us are familiar with Coonowarra and the influence of the earth and climate but what about some of the other regions? Adelaide Hills, Margaret River for example. Maybe there is a website out there that could help?
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian

Postby Otto » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:23 pm

Thanks David, excellent read! Though Bob is dreading the "T" word, I would love to see a primer on the different regions for Syrah in Australia. Anyone have a link or is industrious enough to write a few lines?

-O-
I don't drink wine because of religious reasons ... only for other reasons.
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:39 pm

Otto, I have been googling but not too successful so far. Chelsea v. Valencia #1 priority right now!!
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Robin Garr » Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:54 pm

Outstanding post, David! I'm sorry to be a little late responding, but I didn't want to let this one pass without thanks and applause. It's a keeper, and the Australian perspective definitely adds weight.
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:11 pm

David,

Pleasure to read - As an Australian I don't think I could have conceived of a better way to sum up Aussie Shiraz, and with it, the Australian wine industry.

Hit for me on all points made! Bravo

As for Terrior, had I the time, I could write thesis's on most wine regions in Australia and why they can produce good Shiraz - including why most regions are very different from any other - so let me do a little research and see if we can condense it down a little just as David has done above.

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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:18 pm

That would be awesome, Jackson. Thanks in advance. Bob
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:00 pm

As this could turn into an extremely long post, I will keep to the more popular regions and include a lot of very general information - all with a focus on the Australia workhorse - Shiraz.

An Intro:
Firstly - as far as modern vineyards go, one of the first considerations is rainfall. As a winegrower too much rain is disastrous. It results in swelled, split berries, higher disease pressure, less sunshine hours resulting in slower ripening and probably a poor wine - particularly if it comes at the wrong time. So as I am taking 'terroir' by the french meaning (the entire growing conditions, not just the soil) this has to be a consideration discussing Australian terroir, we are the driest continent on earth! While in Australia at the moment the effects of drought have been extensive, it can be controlled in part by irrigation. A choice between flood and drought, I choose drought as a winegrower.

Now the specific regions.
Vic:
Victoria is my home state and Tasmania aside is the coolest of the winegrowing regions. It's also very diverse So I'm going to be very general.

Near the Ocean are the Geelong (Belleraine Peninsula) and the Mornington Peninsula. With the Ocean providing cooler temperatures (particularly night) the vines generally ripen later. they will have higher acidity, lower sugars and higher tannin content (studies have shown that cooler night time temperatures increase the tannin level in some red wines). In light of this it's not suprising that these areas also produce a lot of Pinot noir and that the Shiraz is on the low alcohol, elegent styles that we might desire more than others. The flipside of this is that if it's not a good year the fruit can be green and have harsh unripe tannins.

Compare this to the Goulburn Valley or Heathcote areas and your looking at minimal rainfall and months of Very, very hot weather (an example of how hot can be seen in the average harvest date. Mid April in Geelong/Yarra Valley compared to Mid/sometimes early March in the inland areas) What happens here is that the vine respiration is controlled by irrigation (normally a lot of irrigation) and a very high level of ripeness is achieved. More often than not winemakers in these areas are not looking for such high sugar levels but they just can't do anything about it. The sugars get high (as it's hot even at night) while the seeds, stems and actual flavors don't have the time to ripen properly.

At this stage I haven't mentioned soil, aspect or micro-climates and I now have to go out and play softball so you'll have to excuse me and allow this to be continued...

Before anyone gets to worked up - this is general and broad, each vineyard has it's own micro-climate which I'll hopefully touch on (as well as some of the rest of the country) in the next installment
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:51 pm

Great, that is a good start! Learning month here for sure.
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:45 am

So, we are in Victoria - The cooler of teh states in this discussion (Tasmania is not really part of Australia anyway :wink:)

We've distinguished between coastal and more inland (in very broad terms) and now I want to spend a little bit of time on the Yarra Valley (a favorite region of mine.

The Yarra Valley is about 1 to 1.5 east out of Melbourne. The area boasts so many microclimates that it is difficult to make any sort of generalisations. Some specific vineyards ripen anything (Yarra Yering reputedly produces a dry red that surpasses Grange) while others sometimes struggle to get ripe Pinot noir. Having explained the difficulty here I'll try to continue. The Yarra Valley lately has been dry, but traditionally has a little more rainfall the other areas. The ripening occurs a little later than most and can be quite cold at night. Some of the Shiraz from around here is great, others not ripe enough. The Yering Station Shiraz Viogner is worth a look.

To conclude, a north facing slope in the Yarra Valley can be fantastic for Shiraz, other areas would not get the sunshine hours, or the warmth to ripen it fully, in recent years these areas may well have produced some very good wines.

To Continue onto South Australia.
The Barossa is hot, it's dry, it's full of sunshine and it's full of old vines. This is arguably the oldest vinegrowing region in Australia an dboast some of the oldest and best vineyards - however it is hot. The night are hot, the days are hot, the summer is hot. Irrigating is not an option - it's a requirement.

What happens in these areas is the sugar production happens at an alarming rate (dependant on temperature).

Sorry another chore calls continue with Barossa soon...
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Sue Courtney » Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:31 am

Jackson Brooke wrote:So, we are in Victoria - The cooler of teh states in this discussion (Tasmania is not really part of Australia anyway :wink:)

That's perhaps because they can actually make decent Pinot Noir in Tas. :lol:

David. Congrats on the topic. As a long time drinker of Aus Shiraz, I applaud what you have to say.
As for Yellowtail .... a American came into a wine shop where I just happened to be browsing . He saw some Yellowtail on the shelf for about $60 a bottle and just about had a heart attack as he spluttered out something about how could Yellowtail be so expensive. It was, of course, the Premium Shiraz 2003 - The Stoddart Trophy winner. In the Cabernet section of the shop, there was also the Jimmy Watson winning Yellow tail Premium Cabernet Sauvignon. I think the mass production of cheap wines to the Americans has kind of ruined some of the brands and I'm not sure if the Yellowtail Premium wines could ever been seen as serious by a heck of a lot of people.
The other thing that kind of ruined our relatively 'cheap' prices of Aussie Shiraz was when Wine Spectator rated Grange as the Wine of the Year. The prices shot up after that.
Fortunately we have wines like Saltram Mamre Brook and other sub-$20 wines that continue to deliver year after year. And always deliver when 'masked'.

Cheers,
Sue
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:10 pm

ouch!javascript:emoticon(':cry:')
Crying or Very sad but well deserved.

Back to the Barossa - The sugar production happens very quickly due to the heat and sun. As such the actual flavor maturation of the berry cannot keep up and so the fruit has excessive sugar, which the winemakers often don't want, but can do very little about (the alternative are wines of reasonable alcohol with green tannins and flavors). The M'Claren Vale is very similar in Macro climate to the Barossa, it's just a little closer to the ocean making it slightly cooler at night.

Coonawarra is South from Adelaide and actually very close to the Victorian border. We are all at least a little aware of the terra rosa soil, which is great for growing vines, the macro climate is also very suitable. It's dry and warm, sometimes hot - a few hours south of M'Claren and Barossa it's not quite as hot as these regions.

WA as far as I'm concerned for this splurge only has one real regiong 'The Margaret River. This is very coastal, about 4 hours south/east from Perth. I have not yet been but know WA to be a very dry area and to have long, moderate summers. With the cooling of the ocean breezes this area grows some very fine wines of many varietals (an exception perhaps Pinot!)

NSW - I also have not spent much time in The Hunter, but understand this area to have the highest rainfall and disease pressure of the regions so far. With growing season rain common and harvest rain a risk, ripening does not proceed as quickly allowing time for the maturation to continue and keep up with the sugar. This also puts pressure on grower's to take the fruit off as soon as it's ready rather than wait in the hope of extra sugar (I believe there are still a few wineries that pay by a sugar count, not many but a few).

Now that I have done an extremely condensed and short take on each macro climate, I like to take a brief time to explain micro climate and therefore put forward my view on the 'T' word.

Elevation, orientation, soil and management all play huge roles in a vineyard (just to mention a few). For every 100m of extra elevation the temperature drops about half a degree. So if there are hills in the region your neighbor a km up the road may have a totally cooler sight than yours. The direction of a slope (if planted on a slope) also plays a vital role. In the Southern Hemisphere a N facing slope will receive more sunshine, for longer each day - therefore in cooler regions this may be required to ripen the fruit fully. Soil, which some wrongly believe 'terroir' to mean also plays an important role, very important. Acidic and basic soils behave very differently, heavy and light soils, retain water and release ions differently, different color soils retain heat and cold differently. Unfortunately aside from a few famous areas, the terra rosa, the Gimblett Gravels, the Champagne Lime - knowledge of the soil and its effects are very vineyard specific. Generally though vines like basic soils (hence the application of lime a lot of the time), good drainage (particularly if it's a wet area) and enough organic matter to keep the soil alive and full of organisms. A lot of the time nutrition deficiencies can be fixed by management. Which is the last part of this short terroir spill.
Management must have an understanding not just of growing vines, but growing vines on their vineyard - it's different from the one up the road. This is why even in some regions where ripening shiraz can hard (The Yarra Valley, or Mornington) with the right site and good management great wines can spill forth. Vice Versa in a region that may seem perfect and generally produces great shiraz - an overzealous growers can leave too much fruit on the vine and it doesn't turn out as well as it should.

To conclude, I think I've got accros the point that I haven't touched the surface here. There are regions I didn't even mention (Clare Valley, Pyrenees, King Valley, Mudgee - Tasmania!) and there are factors I could have spent many more pages writing about. Generally in a quest for elegant, low alcohol Shiraz, the Barossa is too hot and dry, as is McLaren Vale and some parts of Victoria but in any of these, I nicely managed site - up on a high hill somewhere, could produce something special. Vice Versa, Geelong produces some a the best Shiraz I've tasted (at reasonable prices too) but there are sites that would produce gobly gunk.

Anyone who has read all that deserves congratulations and thanks, sorry it's been disjointed, hope someone got something out of it.

Jackson

p.s any comments or specific questions welcome
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:51 pm

Overview, spot on!! I hope others will gain as much as I have Jackson. I have always bsed about the Pyrenees so maybe sometime you could enlighten me about this region? How big an area is it and so on, cheers!!
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Ross » Thu Oct 04, 2007 11:03 pm

David and Jackson, thanks so much for a very interesting overview of Australian Shiraz -- I learned a great deal and appreciate the time and effort you both put into such high quality posts.

Thanks. Bob
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Oct 05, 2007 8:00 am

I found this article which deals with the blending of shiraz with a little viognier..........!

http://www.theage.com.au/news/Epicure/D ... 89150.html
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Fri Oct 05, 2007 2:14 pm

Overview, spot on!! I hope others will gain as much as I have Jackson. I have always bsed about the Pyrenees so maybe sometime you could enlighten me about this region? How big an area is it and so on, cheers!!


Would love too David, look for it over the next few days.
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:59 pm

Jackson, I am one of the Bobs! I am also known as Doris...but never mind that!!!!
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Jackson Brooke » Sat Oct 06, 2007 9:15 pm

Bob,

Extremely sorry - don't know what happened there!

The Pyrenees:
This wine region is about 2-2 1/2 hours North and West of Melbourne and includes the towns of Avoca, Moonambel and Lexton.

It's not a large area by Australian standards (probably 30 minutes drive from one side to the other) and actually doesn't host all that many wineries (less than 20 total).

What I think are important factors for wines coming out of the Pyrenees is specific site location. These 'mountains' would be better described as rolling hills and the perfect vineyard site will be on a N facing, rolling hill that has a reasonably high elevation and a good dam nearby to supply water in the summer.

Once the site and the management of that site (vineyard and winery) are in place (and a good place) then high quality wines can spill forth. The climate is generally hot and dry during the summer (it is Australia) but being as it is, the last part of 'The Great Dividing Range' (along with the Grampians a little further west) and slightly more elevated the nights are a little cooler than other inland areas of Australia (particularly SA).

The ranges and there foothills provide different soil structures and microclimates - making the note above about site particularly important and making it hard to generalise on these parameters but I do know that furhter south and west in areas such as Henty and The Grampians the general soil structure is ancient volcanic gravel (given an old volcano at Penshurst in that area).
It would not suprise me in the slightlest if this volcanic gravel was prominent in the Pyrenees as well and it makes for almost perfect vine root housing. Free draining with good airation and high organic matter (depending on previous farming).

One final note I'd like to make is that the Pyrenees is surrounded by Australian forest, which is eucalypt. If you've not smelt a gum leaf after rain then your missing out. A dominant characteristic of central victorian (not just Pyrenees) wines is the presence of a eucalypt mintiness which when not overpowering is a great complexity. However it can be too much, and recently plantations in the area have caused a stir amongst local vineyard managers who are trying to control the eucalypt and feel they have enough already with the natural forests.

Hope this is helpful Bob, I grew up for the first 8 years (years with no interest in wine) in a small town on the border of the Pyrenees region. My parents have explained about going to places like Dalwhinnie and Redbank, talking to the Winemakers and then buying a case of wine for $20 because it had no labels!!!
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Oct 08, 2007 3:49 am

Thanks Jackson. The Winorama blog talks about the classic taste of Claire Valley Shiraz, what is the writer getting at I wonder?
The notes I have put together over time talk of soft wines, ripe, velvety, fine tannins etc. Any comment appreciated?
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Dave C » Tue Oct 09, 2007 11:57 am

Robin Garr wrote:Outstanding post, David! I'm sorry to be a little late responding, but I didn't want to let this one pass without thanks and applause. It's a keeper, and the Australian perspective definitely adds weight.


Thanks from me as well - I drink a lot of Australian Shiraz - and your insights will help greatly.

Cheers, Dave C
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Re: Shiraz: An Introduction and Overview from an Australian Perspective

Postby Dave C » Tue Oct 09, 2007 12:05 pm

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:Overview, spot on!! I hope others will gain as much as I have Jackson. I have always bsed about the Pyrenees so maybe sometime you could enlighten me about this region? How big an area is it and so on, cheers!!


Yes - all the above - cut & pasted - and kept for reference!

Cheers, Dave C
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