Difficult as it may be to imagine now, Australian shiraz not too long ago was a target of American wine lovers in a range of price categories. High-end bottlings had cult-like followings and were strictly allocated by retailers, and internet wine boards buzzed with praise for dozens of producers. But that’s all changed now. Among America’s label-fondling crowd, Australian shiraz is now widely ignored, the country’s vinous reputation here soiled by way too many cheap imitations that are caricatures of the truly great wines produced there.
The good news is that American importers have responded to Australian shiraz’s diminished stateside allure with more carefully curated portfolios. And today, aggressive pricing makes many under-$25 bottlings among the world’s great wine values. During this year’s annual tastings for The International Wine Cellar’s in-depth report on new releases from Australia, I came across a good number of shirazes that deliver superb bang for the buck. The ones that I most preferred exhibit the flamboyant fruit character for which the country is known, but with a degree of restraint that allows them to work well with a wide range of foods. Make no mistake, these are mostly big, intensely flavored wines that few will confuse with restrained Rhône Valley syrahs, but they are far removed from the stereotypical ooze-monster stereotype that has given the Australian wine industry a black eye. If morbid curiosity compels you to experience what such wines taste like, I have one word for you: Mollydooker.
Hewitson (Frederick Wildman & Sons) is a highly regarded small producer of deeply flavored but well-balanced red wines produced from vineyards planted to old, low-yielding vines. Their 2010 Ned & Henry’s Shiraz Barossa Valley ($25), which includes 10% mourvedre, is a juicy, powerful wine with superb energy and spicy complexity. It comes close in quality to Hewitson’s top shiraz bottling, which is pushing the $100 price point, by the way.
A highly consistent producer of full-flavored but balanced wines, Bremerton released their elegant, polished 2009 Bremerview Shiraz Langhorne Creek ($24; Southern Starz) this spring and it’s a winner. With a silky, seamless texture and vibrant berry flavors, it delivers great immediate appeal but has the depth to reward at least a few years of bottle aging.
I’d also look for the 2009 Elderton Shiraz Estate Barossa ($25; World Wine Headquarters), which is produced by one of South Australia’s most famous estates. It’s a rich but lively wine that offers sweet dark fruit qualities and energetic spicy nuances, with no obvious tannins to get in the way of immediate enjoyment.
One of the more elegant shirazes I tasted this year, regardless of price, was the 2010 Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz Coonawarra ($20; Old Bridge Cellars). It exhibits the stony character and balance for which this region is known, with intense red and dark berry character complemented by suave floral and spice accents.
D’Arenberg is a relatively large and extremely reliable producer of a vast range of wines, but they really excel at the entry level, where their red wines match up well with plenty of others that cost twice as much. Their 2010 The Footbolt Shiraz McLaren Vale ($20; Old Bridge Cellars) is a delicious hearty wine that shows surprising vivacity to its berry compote and dark chocolate flavors. Gentle tannins add shape and grip and will help this wine last for at least a few years in bottle, if you’re the patient type.
Perhaps the best value in shiraz that I tasted this year, the 2010 Spring Seed Wine Company Scarlet Runner Shiraz McLaren Vale ($18; Epicurean Wines) is a rich yet nicely focused wine that offers powerful dark fruit and spice qualities and a plush, seamless texture. A refreshingly bitter nuance adds bite, and tangy acidity lifts the wine’s potent flavors and makes it very food-friendly.