This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Oct. 1, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071001.php.
Quest for elegant Oz Shiraz
Here's a funny thing about Shiraz, the Australian name for Syrah: Whenever I've traveled and judged wine in Australia, and when I read tasting reports that Aussie mates post on our WineLovers' forums, Shiraz almost invariably comes across as an appealing drop. It's robust and full to be sure, but it's generally well balanced and nicely structured with acidity and a bit of flavor and aroma complexity to enhance the fruit.
When I buy Shiraz in the U.S., though, the pricey brands very often come across as huge, monolithic blueberry milkshakes for adults, fruit-forward and loaded with oak, very high in alcohol and surprisingly one-dimensional. More affordable labels tend to shed the musclebound character in favor of a fat-and-happy fruit-bomb sweetness.
What's going on here? Are those crafty Aussies keeping all the Shiraz that I would like back at home for themselves?
Well ... it's not quite that simple, and the good news is that it's possible to find Down Under Shiraz of balance and even elegance. But outside Australia, we may have to do some hunting to find it.
That's the goal of the monthly "Wine Focus" in our online forums for October, wherein wine enthusiasts around the world are invited to seek out, taste and talk about a specific wine in the interest of education and, of course, enjoyment.
If you've been puzzled by "gobby" Shiraz and consider it out of balance, we're hoping that this month's discoveries will come as a pleasant surprise. And even if you enjoy the high-points Shiraz style, I invite you to explore a greater variety of Shiraz styles with us.
Discussions are already well under way. For an excellent overview of suggested producers of more elegant Shiraz and wine regions of interest, click
For an initial shopping list, here - listed alphabetically - are a few Australian producers that I've found making wines of good balance and flavor interest: Bests, Leeuwin, Mitchelton, Mount Langhi Ghiran, Plantagenet, Tahbilk, Taltarni, Wirra Wirra and Yering Station.
While the top South Australian Shiraz-producing regions Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale can't be ignored, so much of the wine being exported from those valleys falls into the "points-chasing" style that it's tempting to start looking in other places less known for the blockbuster stuff: Margaret River (and Western Australia in general); Yarra Valley and, a leading region better known for Cabernet Sauvignon than Shiraz, Coonawarra.
For much more about the full breadth of Australian wines, I would encourage a visit to the Website of the Sydney International Wine Competition, where I've been lucky enough to serve as a judge now and then. Wines honored in this noteworthy competition's annual "Top 1OO" are judged first in traditional, analytical flights but then must pass a second test, being judged again in the company of food crafted to match. This approach, which I believe to be unique in international wine competition, celebrates wines meant to go with food in favor of the blockbusters, and its results form as good a guide as you'll find to balanced, food-friendly Australian (and other) wines.
Sydney International Wine Competition,
Even if you haven't participated in online forums before, I hope you'll join us from time to time in what promises to be an exceptionally interesting "Wine Focus" during October.
The Connoisseurs' Series: Showing off the glory of West Coast wines
As regular readers know, I usually offer my notes every month on the current offering from California Wine Club's limited-membership Connoisseurs' Series.
These exceptional wines, selected each month by Connoisseurs' Guide publisher Charlie Olken and California Wine Club Proprietor Bruce Boring, give wine lovers the opportunity to sample the kind of rare, limited-production California jewels that are often available only on tightly allocated mailing lists.
Connoisseurs' Series members may subscribe for monthly, alternate month or quarterly packages. Each shipment includes two to four bottles of California's top wines, with detailed background information. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling. There's no membership charge, no long-term commitment (cancel any time), and every wine is guaranteed.
Visit www.cawineclub.com/connseries or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 to join or learn more about The Connoisseur's Series. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.
Crane Brothers 2003 Crane Ranch Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah ($38 retail [sold out], $34 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
Very dark purple, almost black to the edge. Intense fruit, focused on blueberries, all but leaps out of the glass; a little sniffing tweaks out more complex underlying scents of grilled meat and pepper. Blackberries join the blueberries in a nicely structured flavor; despite its very fruit-forward aromas, this is no mere fruit bomb, but a well-built albeit powerful (15% alcohol) Syrah that pays due respect to the Northern Rhone for all its distinctly New World style. Only 280 cases were made. Winery Website: http://www.cranebrotherswine.com (Sept. 30, 2007)
Vine Cliff Winery 2003 "16 Rows" Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($135 retail, $120 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
Black, almost a patent-leather shiny black in the glass, shading to deep twilight purple only at the very edge. Classic Cabernet blackcurrant aromas lead the big parade, with a complex impression of both dark and milk chocolate close at hand. Well structured flavors follow the nose, filling the mouth with currant and chocolate flavors nicely balanced by fresh-fruit acidity and big but well-integrated 14.4% alcohol. Youthful tannins add a distinct astringent note that calls for aging, but airing and a good red-meat or cheese food match bring it around for current enjoyment. Still, to earn full value from this investment, cellar it well for a decade and you won't be sorry. For a wine at this price, you have a right to expect something special, and Vine Cliff delivers. Just 288 cases made. Winery Website: http://www.vinecliff.com (Sept. 30, 2007)
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Down with the markup? (Sept. 28, 2007)
What rhymes with Orange? (Sept. 26, 2007)
Serious pink bubbly (Sept. 24, 2007)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Italian glossy turkey (Sept. 27, 2007)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: