The Biggest Kahunas in Australian Shiraz
How Good Are They?
I’m here to state the obvious. They’re good.
In my pursuit of context, and made possible by the 2016 Grange release sample bottle, we put together of five of Australia’s most premium shiraz. We were shooting for prestige and price point, knowing that there are stellar, standout, amazing shiraz at $100-250… but this is a different set altogether.
This tasting was not about saying one wine was better than another. It was about saying “WE THINK THESE WINES ARE EXCPTIONAL, BUT HOW DO THEY DIFFER?” Because they do differ. Wildly. They each speak of place and they express themselves in different ways.
2017 Powell & Son Flaxman’s Vineyard, Eden Valley Shiraz
The nose has a bacon fat, maple, malt sort of thing going on, there is an abundance of savoury red fruits, liquorice, juniper berry, clove, pepper and aniseed happening there too. The palate is elegant, with a purity about it that makes it an incredible drink. A pure core of cassis, pomegranate and berry on the mid palate takes me to an unexpected place and holds me there. It has a fixation about it. Modern and layered this speaks of the Eden, it speaks of Australia, and it speaks of Shiraz – all in equal measure…
Fruit went to Lehmann and Rockford in the past
2016 Penfolds Grange
The power on the palate here is something to behold. It is expansive and richly textured with a fete of flavour and layers. The oak lends an almost sweet hand to the fruit, which in contrast doesn’t assert itself like I expected that it would. Prodigious length of flavour. The palate rejects any suggestion of ‘lightness’ and ‘featherweight’, this thunders along like a tropical storm front. The flavours occupy the eye of that storm, in a space of relative zen and calm. It is silky and succulent and it could be nothing other than Grange.
Black pepper, liquorice, clove bud, nutmeg.
So, I opened this again and looked at it several days after opening above (I gassed it to maintain freshness). Its true nature is now revealed – the oak has sunk into the fruit and the rolls Royce has swung around to pick us up. This is svelte and complex, inundating my palate with intense fruit and spice. The oak still retains a coconut calypso sort of character to it, but it’s more toned down and more integrated. Mulberry, raspberry, blueberry… lashings of spice and luscious texture. A very classy, very high quality shiraz. One of the greats.
Drinking window: 2022-2050+
2015 Torbreck The Laird, Barossa Valley
More than anything, this wine speaks of place. It speaks of the Barossa. I have some early memories of the Barossa, in summer… the breeze that blows there picks up the dust and the dirt, it licks the tops of the vines, and it eddies around the streets in a lazy kind of fashion… it is fragrant and warm and it has an incredibly evocative, incredibly located sense of being. Sunshine, earth and sky, somehow. This wine smells of those things… it is also mulberry, black berry, strawberry, it is ironstone, ferrous, hints of kelp and brine… it is full bodied and intense, but it has a restraint there, too. This is unapologetically Barossa, and I love that about it. This is the style of shiraz that made Australia famous, albeit through the lens of a more refined, more restrained winemaking style.
Drinking window 2020 – 2050
2015 Henschke Hill of Grace, Eden Valley
From a single vineyard in the Eden Valley, wherein the original ancestor vines are over 160 years old. The nose is curious and laden with interwoven spices and flavours like freshly ground coffee, nutmeg, dried star anise, black pepper, whispers of cinammon sticks, lashings of cassis, raspberry, grilled blueberry, crushed slate (moving to a cap gun minerality space) and so much more. A myriad of different colours, flavours and spices here… they morph and change with the more swirling and sniffing that I do. On the palate the wine deep dives into the depths of ripe berry fruit, charcuterie, salted red tomatoes and saturating, quenching raspberry concentrate. This moves into pomegranate and mariposa plum, glides over salted and grilled Adriatic figs and settles on something elegant, salty, fine and exciting. This has finesse and power, energy and restraint, all couched in this most intense capsule of flavour and concentration. The acidity laces all these characters together, weaving in and out of the fruit and sutures the spice, oak and texture as one. A remarkable wine for now and for 50 years hence. I cannot get over how it marries lightweight body with power and concentration. It’s unbelievably impressive. Perfect? Probably.
Drinking window: 2020 – 2050
2015 Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah, McLaren Vale
There is a sweet, blackberry pie creaminess to the nose and palate of this wine. Luscious and luxurious in its abundance of berries and spice, this is incredibly pleasurable and satisfying. It is the archetypal McLaren Vale Syrah, and exhibits both balance and poise within the framework of that saturated fruit profile. A full bodied yet balanced wine that is irresistible in its delivery of pleasure – it leaves no corner of my mouth without flavour, and is midnight ink both in countenance and colour. As the wine is open for longer, it develops a peak of cassis in the midpalate that endures through the finish… a remarkable wine. Hints of raspberry leaf tea in the aromatics, too. Red liquorice and the peppercorns are playing the Szechuan/ pink space. Marvellous big, round and luxuriant.
Drinking window 2020 – 2040+