The changing face of Australian Shiraz

The Australian wine industry is today very keen to have consumers buy in to their diversity. Wine Australia, the organisation representing Australian winemakers throughout the world, have put a lot of effort into marketing the regional aspect of their offering, but equally, the influence of the winemaker remains a hot topic.

Years ago many Australian winemakers, and indeed those of other New World countries, would have scoffed at the French term “terroir”. For the French this ‘sense of place’, essentially where the grapes are grown, is the biggest influence on the quality of the wine as each individual plot of land displays its own subtle characteristics in the final product. Nowadays I believe Australia and the rest of the New World are much more respectful of this concept and the best winemakers have wholeheartedly embraced it.

An article by Matthew Dukes in the latest issue of Decanter (May ’11), entitled “The Many faces of Australian Shiraz”, says much about this change in attitude and how it has affected the style of their signature grape variety.

“The modern Shiraz producer is looking to impress with regionality, not volume. We don’t produce a single Australian style but a multitude of regional styles”.

Rob Mann, Cape Mentelle

And it is a more elegant, savoury Shiraz where everyone is now heading according to Andrew Margan of Margan Wines, despite the US palate still yearning for the blockbusters. This is where the winemaker can really make his or her own personal stamp. By picking at a particular time and by using certain winemaking techniques, they can achieve that elegant, fruit-driven, multi-layered, sophisticated style with the good structure and finish to complement. There has also been a shift from American oak to French oak, the latter of which provides a touch more restraint whilst helping to soften tannins further.

Ben Glaetzer claims that Shiraz offers a wide spectrum of flavour because of its extraction potential. In other words, depending on the region and the winemaking technique, Shiraz can go from a light, spicy, drink-now proposition, to a full, rich, fruity blockbuster, and anything in between.

“rather than maximising extraction, as has historically been the intention, many winemakers have become – or are becoming – aware that cooler fermentation, less cap management*, and extended skin contact after fermentation all contribute to a more savoury style of Shiraz.”

Ben Glaetzer, Glaetzer Wines

Jammy, ripe and high in alcohol. That’s all we once knew about Australian Shiraz. Now it is time to formally welcome the new generation.

(*cap management involves pushing down the skins that float to the top of the wine)

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