WBW #3: Australian Shiraz
November 03, 2004

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Margan [This is my contribution to Wine Blogging Wednesdays, a virtual event that you can find out more about here.  This month's assignment was to taste and report on an Australian Shiraz.]

Australia's Hunter Valley is not well-known to American consumers and retailers. The Australian export market to the U.S. is dominated by South Australian Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which consumers of mainstream California wines can easily identify with stylistically.  The less familiar (and perhaps less instantly appealing) approach of the Hunter Valley to these grapes results in them getting squeezed out of the American market, and if that is true then there is almost certainly no room in for the highly distinctive (some would say eccentric) Hunter Valley Semillon or Chambourcin.  The Hunter's wines are often considered to be second-tier with respect to its southern cousins, and the area is often reduced to a footnote in many magazine articles on Australian wines. As a result, very little Hunter Valley wine is exported, and almost none from its many interesting smaller producers.

But the dominance of South Australian wine can't be blamed completely on incompatibility with mainstream tastes.  Truth be told, it can be difficult to make wine in the Hunter.  Temperatures often get too hot during the summer, and the area is notorious for getting the sort of early rains which are the bane of the winemaker's existence.  (This is one reason that the Hunter is better known for its whites than its reds -- the white varieties tend to ripen earlier and can likely be harvested before the rains start.)

I'm no wine critic, but I did have the opportunity to work on a winery in the Hunter Valley for three weeks last year.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, Shiraz from the Hunter is less fruit-forward, less alcoholic, less forceful, and more restrained than its South Australian counterparts.  Hence, when it is done well, it can be more elegant.  Hunter Shiraz often exhibits red fruit flavors instead of the black fruit flavors that dominate South Australian Shiraz, and sometimes -- though not always -- has a stronger acid profile.  The best wines of the valley (in my opinion) also have pleasant spice flavors and a dusty earthiness.

In San Francisco, we did find one of our favorites from the trip: the Meerea Park "The Aunts" Shiraz at The Jug Shop, which has a fantastic selection of Australian wines.  (Even so, they don't have that much Hunter Valley wine.) Other than that, we haven't run across too many Hunter Valley bottlings.

But because we wanted to share a bit of Hunter Valley with WBW folks, we took a look around Orange County to see what we could turn up.  Almost immediately, we ran across Southern Hemisphere Wine Center, a mere fifteen minute's drive from where we live.  They have a fantastic selection of Australian wines, including a few from the Hunter Valley.  They do most of their business via mail order, but the small staff at the storefront was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.


1999 Margan Hunter Valley Shiraz    ($14.99)

Strong kirsch aroma.  Palate is dominated by rich raspberry flavors.  This Chambord-like taste is nicely offset by a pleasant tartness.  Smooth, velvety texture.  Good concentration for Hunter Valley Shiraz in this price range.  The finish isn't strong, but strangely, it lasts quite a while.  This is a fairly good value.  While it paired acceptably with filet mignon topped with stilton, this wine would really shine with duck or goose.  Keep it in mind for Thanksgiving!

November 3, 2004 in wine | Permalink


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