How the best of Shiraz changes preconceptions

Updated: 2012-05-21 09:47

By Ye Jun (China Daily)

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How the best of Shiraz changes preconceptions

Eight types of Shiraz are presented at the Landmark Australia and Barossa Grape & Wine Association's recent tasting event in Beijing. Photos by Ye Jun / China Daily

Wine review | Ye Jun

Most people have the impression that Shiraz is a strong wine. But a recent tasting of Australian Shiraz changes my mind. At the Landmark Australia and Barossa Grape & Wine Association's recent Shiraz tasting event, I had the rare chance to try eight types of Shiraz from Barossa Valley and Eden Valley, in Barossa - Australia's most famous and recognized wine name in the last three centuries.

All the wines are rated five stars by James Halliday and achieve 94 or 96 points, Howard Duncan, Peter Lehmann winery's export manager, says. They also enjoy high ratings by Langton's Classification V.

The region in southeastern Australia has some of the oldest vineyards Down Under, with some winemaking families in their fifth or sixth generations.

Asia director of Wine Australia Lucy Anderson says the tasting showcases Barossa's "rare and distinguished" wines, which are "the best of the best" from Australia.

The first wine at the tasting was a 2006 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz. The wine combines silky and fruity tastes with complexity, and a gravity that testifies the fact that it is made from dry-grown ungrafted vines that are at least 100 years old.

The Henschke family has been making wine since Johann Christian Henschke planted a small vineyard at Keyneton in the Eden Valley in 1862. The family started planting at the Mount Edelstone vineyard, situated in the Eden Valley, in 1912. The first bottle (as a single-vineyard wine) was made in 1952. It became recognized as one of Australia's greatest Shiraz varieties.

According to James March, promotion manager of Barossa Grape & Wine Association, they call vines between 35 and 70 years old "old vines", while those from 70-100 years old are "survivors". Vines 120-125 years old are "centenarian", and those more than 125 years old are "ancestors".

The eighth wine, the 2009 Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Shiraz, comes from an "ancestor". Langmeil's original vineyard, the Freedom, is believed to have started planting in 1843 and survived until today. The wine uses hand-picked ripe bunches, which undergo gentle crushing, fermentation and basket pressing.

It is a bit still on the nose. But in the mouth, its acidity and fruity flavor have a natural, penetrating appeal. It makes one want to swallow it all, which I did.

While the first and the eighth wines are my favorites, the fifth and the sixth impress me as easy to drink. The fifth is a 2006 Yalumba the Octavius Old Vine Shiraz, and the sixth is a 2005 Torbreck Runrig Shiraz. Both have lovely, pleasant acidity and nice, fruity flavor.

I am used to drinking more tea than wine. So, in my previous tasting, I was a little baffled by the strong tasting tannins. Although I enjoyed the nice aromas and fruitiness, the wines left me with a sense of tightness on the teeth and tongue.

But this tasting was different. Only one or two wines had tannins that seemed a bit too strong in the mouth. Some of the wines had strong tannins but melt in the mouth very quickly, like a good tea. Others taste as natural, smooth and soft as teas from ancient tea trees.

Just like our Australian hosts said before the tasting, the eight Shiraz varieties at the tasting each have unique personalities and taste.

Some Chinese wine critics and business dealers at the tasting liked some of the wines so much that they drank until the last drop.

Lucy Anderson says the eight Barossa Shiraz wines available at the tasting showcase the history and heritage of Australia's fine wine.

China, by volume, is Australia's third largest export market, Anderson says.

In the past year, although export to China by volume has been declining, export in terms of value has been rising because of more demand for high-quality wines. And Australian wines are considered comparatively good value for money.