Premium Shiraz

October 19, 2010

Reported by Alexandre Desbarats

This much-anticipated event featured a selection of 11 wines from the Vintages Classics Collection and Vintages Exclusives line-up assembled over the last two years by Guild Director Robert White. Many of the wines in the line-up were quite rare, being made in microscopic quantities, and 9 of them scored over 90 points with the experts. The wines were tasted in three flights, roughly in order of increasing alcoholic heft. As usual, all wines were tasted blind.

Tasting premium shiraz from around the world.
Tasting premium shiraz from around the world.

The first flight provided an interesting overview of Syrah-Shiraz geographical diversity, featuring wines from Greece, Chile, Spain, and, as a benchmark, the Barossa Valley. The group homed in on the lone Aussie, Kalleske Greenock Shiraz 2005, as the favourite. No fooling them! Jay Miller liked it also, giving it 93 points. A lovely deep ruby-garnet, with a bit of sediment, the wine displayed an intense and complex nose of ripe cherries with notes of coffee and oak spice. It was dry, medium full-bodied (despite the 15.5% alcohol) with silky tannins and a long elegant finish. The wine was aged 18 months in French and American oak. The close runner-up was the Chilean Pangea Apalta Vineyards Syrah 2006. Jay Miller gave this wine a 93 also. It showed an attractive nose of cherries, vanilla, menthol and spice from 18 months in French oak. Medium full-bodied on the palate, with well-integrated oak, fruit and tannins in harmony, the wine glided to a long finish. Also-rans were the Marques de Griñon Syrah 2004 from the Toledo region of Spain and the Alpha Estate Syrah 2005 from Macedonia, in Greece. While pleasant, the Spanish wine did not receive a single vote, perhaps because it lacked distinct varietal or geographical character. The Greek wine was unusually tart although one Guild member optimistically ventured that it would go well with food. Julia Harding rated it 17.5 out of 20. Go figure.

With palates now calibrated, the tasters hit their stride in a second flight focusing on wines of Barossa Valley with one from McLaren Vale thrown in for comparison. The favourite, from Barossa, was the Schild Estate “Ben Schild” Reserve 2004. The Wine Enthusiast gave it a 94. A clear dark ruby, it had an intense nose of dark fruit, with notes of vanilla, caramel and spice likely imparted by 17 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak. On the palate, the wine was dry, quite full-bodied, with velvet tannins deftly balancing ripe fruit, well-integrated oak and a medium finish. The runner-up, also from Barossa, was the First Drop “The Cream” 2005, which Parker rated at 93+. This full-bodied wine displayed a heavenly nose of plums, cocoa and spice. Despite its 15% alcohol, it was quite fresh on the palate thanks to nicely balanced acidity. Several Guild members remarked on the elegance of this wine. The Barossa Valley Estate “Ebenezer” 2002 (Wine Spectator 91) had a pleasant nose of plum with smoky notes. Bringing up the rear, was the sole contender from McLaren Vale, the Two Hands “Lily’s Garden” 2006. Nonetheless, Wine Spectator gave this wine a 93. Some Guild members detected cork notes although they dissipated quickly. The wine also showed some “heat” although its 15.2% alcohol content was similar to that of the other wines of the flight.

To spit or to swallow? That's a good question!
To spit or to swallow? That's a good question!

The final flight of three wines provided a grande finale to the evening. Favourite of the distinguished trio was the Glaymond Wines “Distinction” 2004 from Barossa Valley which Parker rated a 94. An inky ruby in the glass, the nose of this elegant wine showed intense plum and blackberry aromas with a lovely hint of fresh violets. It was very full-bodied but dry despite the 16% alcohol. Nonetheless, some heat was creeping in. The dark fruit carried over to the palate, with some added cola flavours. The tannins were caressing and the finish was long. Made from old vines planted in the 1960s, fewer than 100 cases were produced. The wine was aged 24 months in 300 L hogsheads of which 50% were new French oak and 50% 2-year-old American oak. First runner-up, also from Barossa Valley, was the Torbreck “Descendant” 2005, rated 97 by Jay Miller. In an Australian salute to the Northern Rhône, this wine was composed of 92% Shiraz and 8% Viognier fermented together. The grapes were sourced from a relatively young vineyard and the wine was aged for 18 months in 2-year-old barrels of French oak previously used to age Torbreck’s “Run Rig”. The wine was dark. It had an incredible nose of plum compote, hot tar and Chinese tea. Wow! Bitumen was not everyone’s cup of tea, though. The wine was dry, very full-bodied, with firm tannins, a good flavour replay and a longish finish. At $156, this was also the most expensive wine of the evening. The very respectable second runner-up was the McLaren Vale Clarendon Hills “Onkaparinga” 2005, rated 95 by Jay Miller. Grapes for this wine were sourced from a single vineyard, with 82-year-old vines. Wild yeast was used in the fermentation and it was aged for 18 months in 85% new French oak barrels. The wine was a lovely dark ruby with garnet hues. It had an intense nose of dark fruit with whiffs of dry cocoa. At 16.3% alcohol, it was full-bodied but dry, with no noticeable heat. On the palate, it tasted of cherries and menthol kept in check by firm tannins in a velvet glove. Many attendees thought the wine understated, but classic nonetheless.

And so concluded a wonderful evening of tasting which fully lived up to expectations. These were wines to tell your grandchildren about. Guild members warmly thanked Director Robert White for organizing and leading the tasting, and for sharing the selection of rare treats that he collected.

The Wines

First Flight

  • Alpha Estate Syrah, 2005, Macedonia, Greece, 14.5%, #115295, $39
  • Pangea Apalta Vineyards Syrah, 2006, Colchagua, Chile, 14%, #49833, $49
  • Marques de Griñon Syrah, 2004, Toledo, Spain, 14.5%, #149708, $45
  • Kalleske Greenock Shiraz, 2005, Barossa, 15.5%, #39040, $49

Second Flight

  • Schild Estate “Ben Schild” Reserve Shiraz, 2005, Barossa, 15%, #58727, $59
  • First Drop “The Cream” Shiraz, 2005, Barossa, 15%, #107607, $69
  • Barossa Valley Estate “Ebenezer” Shiraz, 2002, Barossa, 15.3%, #971705, $40
  • Two Hands “Lily’s Garden” Shiraz, 2006, McLaren Vale, 15.2%, #683086, $66

Third Flight

  • Clarendon Hills “Onkaparinga” Syrah, 2005, McLaren Vale, 16.3%, #64154, $106
    Torbreck “Descendant” Shiraz-Viognier, 2005, Barossa, 14.5%, #724021, $156
    Glaymond Wines “Distinction” Shiraz, 2004, Barossa, 16%, #64915, $126