Australia is getting out from under Shiraz’s shadow

By Michael Pinkus
Winemaker Ben Glaetzer at his Barossa Valley winery, Glaetzer Wines.

AUSTRALIA… we all know it as the home of Shiraz (which, as we all know, is just Syrah in the witness protection program). But Australia does more than just Shiraz, though it is their most planted red variety. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot would be the next big grapes in the country’s red sphere, followed by Pinot Noir, then varietals like Grenache, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. Even the Tuscan staple Sangiovese is making an appearance in Australian vineyards.

Whites shouldn’t come as any surprise: Chardonnay remains king, with the global favourites Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc also high on the list. But Sémillon is also there — and, let me tell you, aged Australian Sémillon can be one of the most intriguing white wines in the world. And Pinot Gris and Viognier are also in the mix.

The Aussies fully admit that they needed an evolutionary period, one where they came to realize they were no longer top dog and that they needed to change to win back wine drinkers. That need to re-invent themselves has resulted in a revolution: wineries making more than just Chardonnay and Shiraz, but not by phasing out those grapes either. The days of over-oaked wines and big fruit bombs are in the past (and, although that style still does exist, it seems less common among the higher end wines). The focus is now on better styles, more modern approaches and, above all, fruit and terroir. No longer is it just okay to deliver big red raspberry, pepper and chocolate (Shiraz) or vanilla buttery baked apple, oak-laden (Chardonnay) — finesse, depth and freshness are all playing a part in Australia’s revolution and we are the winners for it.

But let’s face facts: Australia is still the home of the big reds — that’s what having all that heat and sunshine will do for you. So, when looking at the new face of Aussie reds, that face still includes Shiraz, but there is so much more from which to choose.


Brad Hickey, creator of the Brash Higgins wine label.

Brash Higgins Nero d’Avola Amphora Project 2015 ($55)

Not what you’d expect from Australia and Nero (first, you don’t expect Nero), but this one is loaded with juicy raspberry, strawberry, white pepper, violets and nice round tannins — it’s a new way to look at Nero.

Soumah Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($34.95)

Fruit-forward in a California kind of way: big raspberry with hints of strawberry course through the mouth, but then it pulls back the reins with good acidity to balance everything off.

Hollick Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($75)

This wine is a “marriage” of their oldest vines and has no relation to the California winery (Ravenswood) except that this wine also delivers rich, ripe dark fruit à la black cherry, with touches of eucalyptus, white pepper and really balanced acidity.

D’Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2012 ($35)

An abandoned century-old vineyard is resurrected in this bottling to great effect with mineral, spice, dark berries and bittersweet chocolate, and a gritty/spicy finish.

Moss Wood Amy’s 2014 ($55)

A blend of Cab Sauv, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot that is just layered with aromas and flavours: mocha, liquorice, black cherry and vanilla, along with touches of smoky and cedary notes on the finish.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($68)

Creamy palate that shows off milk chocolate notes (a real rarity in any wine), plus there’s also raspberry, cherry and blackberry. A total treat.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz 2013 ($36)

Big red fruit kicks things off but then the subtlety of the wine kicks in with plum, white pepper and chocolate — this one comes out of the gate quick but then settles in for a long night of drinking pleasure.

Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot 2013 ($19.95)

A blend with a real pulse: fruit-forward but with vanilla, smoked-cherry and sweet-meat flavours on the finish.

Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2014 ($33.95)

Dark, brooding with wild blueberry, blackberry and smoky dark fruit, and a peppery finish. Sounds typical but there’s finesse behind the power.

Wakefield Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($24.95)

Far from ordinary, herbs and spices mix with smoky black fruit, olive and bay leaf. Quite complex and really enjoyable.

Piping Shrike Shiraz 2013 ($18.95)

Think you know Aussie Shiraz? Think again. Here, we have blue- and blackberry, cassis, coffee bean and white pepper. Some you know, some are new and welcome flavours.

Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage 2013 ($21.95)

Get to know Thorn-Clarke and their lineup of awesome reds, including this 4-grape blend with mocha, blackberry and white pepper flavours.

Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2013 ($21.95)

Always such a delicious wine. This time with chocolate, blackberry, cherry, herb and spice. Rich and flavourful, it’s what you’re looking for in a Shiraz but lifted to another level.

Barossa Valley Estate Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre 2012 ($21.95)

GSMs are standard Aussie fare, but standard in such a good way: silky red fruit, a little white smoke, raspberry, cherry and subtle spice.

Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz/Grenache 2012 ($28.95)

If you see Grenache on the label, be ready for something good, especially from Oz and especially when blended. Fruit-forward raspberry and strawberry, with chocolate, violets and wood smoke, this one’s pretty and very flavourful.

Glaetzer Bishop Shiraz 2013 ($39.95)

Don’t write off Glaetzer for making high-alcohol wines: their wines are layered and luxurious, which is what makes them so good. Blackberry, white pepper, plum, cherry, vanilla and oak feature in this Shiraz. Ripe and yummy.

Stonier Pinot Noir 2015 ($40)

The mid-palate screams cranberry while raspberry and strawberry round it off on the finish — but it’s that hint of sour fruit at the start that makes you stand up and take notice.



Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2015 ($25)

Surprisingly delicate and elegant for Australia, which is sometimes not the most delicate place to find Pinot: strawberry and raspberry with those tell-tale earthy notes that really make this one a winner.

Alpha Box & Dice Apostle Shiraz Durif 2015 ($50)

Durif, or Petite Sirah, really makes this wine and gives it life: mocha, blackberry and black cherry with blueberry skin, violets and pepper in there for good measure.

Alpha Box & Dice Xola Aglianico 2011 ($45)

Another Italian grape exiles itself on Australian shores. Aged 4 years in seasoned oak. Cooked plums and baked cherries mix with floral elements on the nose — the palate shows off some liquorice, herbal and spicy character along with cassis and blackberry.

Mr Riggs Yacca Paddock Tempranillo 2013 ($20.95)

A Spanish staple goes south with great results: chocolate, pepper, cherry, cola and spice, with nice tannins. This one shows real personality in the glass.

Twelftree Greenock Ebenezer Grenache/Mataro 2012 ($23.95)

Mataro (aka, Mourvedre) shows its softer side when you pair it with something big and bold like Grenache. Floral, cherry, plum and vanilla; this one’s quite silky.

Gemtree Uncut Shiraz 2012 ($24.95)

Pretty all the way through, with minerally/chalky, liquorice, cedar and dark chocolate layers, and spiced-raspberry, and elegant peppery goodness on the finish.

Ochota Barrels I Am the Owl Syrah 2015 ($60)

First thing to notice is the name: out with Shiraz, in with the more-worldly Syrah. Meaty, smoky and minerally, along with balsamic strawberries and peppery notes. Very elegant.

Jauma Like Raindrops Grenache 2015 ($60)

Not big and over the top, this Grenache is soft and subtle with raspberry and chocolate, but also shows a lovely juiciness in a sweet-ish (of fruit) not sugar sense. Sexy and pretty style of wine.

Cirillo 1850 The Vincent Grenache 2015 ($30)

A light style of Grenache compared to many coming from Australia: ripe raspberry and plenty of other red fruit but all with a gentle, reserved kind of juiciness that doesn’t mow you down with flavour; it sidles up to you seductively and kisses your taste buds.

Steve Flamsteed from Innocent Bystander
Alpha Box Head Winemaker Sam Berketa

Elderton High Altitude Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($19.95)

The acidity is surprising for an Aussie wine and it is so beautifully balanced. Plus there are layers of floral, anise, plum and mocha. And all at only 13.5% alcohol.

Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($27.95)

Gorgeous and silky with mint, strawberry, cassis, blackberry and a spicy finish.

Ulupana Royal Phoenix Shiraz 2009 ($55)

The vines for this wine are an 1860s-planted vineyard and they really show off their maturity with a big mineral character but also the richness of fruit, with blackberry, cassis, mocha and liquorice, and a really spicy bite to the finish.

Ulupna Late Harvest Shiraz 2012 ($29)

Not a dessert wine but one that gets harvested late and remains dry, yet with such concentrated fruit and other characteristics — like mocha and black cherry — then there’s a pepperiness that sneaks up on you and lingers.



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