Quality does come at a price, no question, but in the case of Australian shiraz these days that price can actually be extremely fair. In fact, some of the highest-rated wines in my recent International Wine Cellar survey of current Australian releases can be had for $40 or less—even far less if you shop carefully. While the very best Australian shirazes that I tasted mostly sell for $100 or more a bottle, a handful of overachievers like the ones highlighted below are offering wines that are just about as good at prices I consider to be bargain-basement.
The image problem that Australian shiraz is suffering right now in the American market is mostly attributable to two factors: too many cheap, candied wines that sully the image of all Aussie shiraz for many people, and a history of producing too many over-the-top, high-alcohol monster-truck wines that were flat-out difficult for most wine lovers to handle. That last issue is actually to some extent the fault of the U.S. market, which for a time placed a huge premium on bombastic shiraz, inspiring wineries to produce them, importers to bring them in, and retailers to flog them. Some critics even loved these mostly unlovable mutants. But yankee winos turned their collective back, hard, on the wines a few years ago and one could argue that no single wine category is less fashionable here now than Australian red wine, especially shiraz.
That’s a pity for those who appreciate bold, full-flavored, balanced shiraz, as the American wine trade now approaches Australian shiraz warily, if at all, which has limited consumer exposure to many of the most elegant renditions of the variety. But they do exist, and there are more of them out there than many wine fanatics realize. With the downturn in demand for upper-tier Australian red wines in general, prices have been rolling back across the board, making many of the best examples real values.
The 2010 John Duval Shiraz Entity Barossa Valley (Old Bridge Cellars; $40) displays sexy black raspberry, cassis and Indian spices and an impressive marriage of power and finesse, with no rough edges. For all its depth there’s impressive freshness as well, and it has the tannic structure to suggest that it will age positively for some time. For many years Duval was the chief winemaker for Penfolds, Australia’s most iconic winery, where he oversaw the making of Grange, which has long been the country’s most famous and expensive wine.
Look too for the 2010 Massena Shiraz The Eleventh Hour Barossa Valley (Epicurean Wines; $37), a densely packed, intensely flavored wine that offers rich, spice-accented dark fruit, cola and floral pastille flavors and a seamless texture. Its fleshiness and smooth tannins make it appealing now but I’d hold off on drinking mine for at least another five years.
The bright, lively 2011 Passing Clouds Vineyard Shiraz Bendigo (Southern Starz; $30) offers energetic, palate-staining raspberry and cherry flavors, with exotic spice and floral nuances that reminded me a lot of a high-class syrah from the northern Rhône Valley. The same producer’s 2010 Shiraz Reserve Bendigo ($40), which is raised in American oak hogsheads, offers deeply pitched aromas and flavors of black and blue fruit preserves, licorice, mocha and vanilla, with intense spiciness and impressive power. Made from a yield reportedly under a ton per acre, it’s a serious cellar candidate.
Sourced from vines that range from 35 to 120 years of age, the 2010 Glaetzer Shiraz Bishop Barossa Valley (Epicurean Wines; $36) is a strikingly powerful wine that displays spice-accented dark fruit preserve, cola and floral character, with a subtle vanilla accent. At once potent and lively, it finishes smooth and alluringly sweet, with lingering licorice and floral qualities. Ben Glaetzer is one of the country’s most highly respected winemakers and this, his entry-level wine, offers an excellent example of his talent.
Although the 2010 Tait Wines Shiraz Basket Pressed Barossa Valley (Southern Starz; $40) clocks in at a heady 16.3% alcohol, it’s a surprisingly energetic, even elegant wine. Offering aromas of dark fruit liqueur and candied flowers, with accents of vanilla and cocoa, it’s lush and sappy, finishing with impressive clarity and floral persistence.