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Australian Reds: Highly Rates from WS

Has anybody tried the Aussie reds that were profiled in the Spectator yet, and what do you think?

I've tried all the Mollydookers, the Duval Entity, the Schild Shiraz, and a few more. I'm getting a little sick of the Mollydooker style, actually, though they seem to be the real crowd pleasers. Would love to hear others who have tried the more obscure wines that were reviewed, or what people thing should have been included but wasn't...

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  1. I can't speak about the WS article specifically, but just a comment on Barossa Shiraz in general and the '02's in particular... great Barossas are some of the heaviest-structured shiraz in the world, from some of the oldest vines in the world too....

    They can benefit from hours of decanting.... the structure on them is incredible.

    I've recently sampled a couple 2002's and I would seriously decant them at this young age for a day if possible, they just keep softening up and developing fruit....

    Imagine that the aussie government at one time had tried to plow these vineyards up!

    It's my opinion that in great years the homogeneity of the great aussie shiraz regions is quite high... there's not a particular reason to reach for the extremely expensive bottles. You can get phenomenal bottles from 20 to 40 bucks, and even the pedestrian stuff is pretty good.

    I recently priced some Grange Hermitage, for example, a Barossa benchmark, and it's just priced ridiculous. Granted it's a great wine but priced in the $400 and up per bottle range it's not 10X better than alot of less "trophy wines" in a great year.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      Just as an aside, Mike, the name of the wine was changed to just "Grange" about 20 years ago.

      1. re: Chicago Mike

        "They can benefit from hours of decanting"

        Doesn't your arm get tired?"

      2. As with Chicago Mike, I cannot speak directly to the Wine Spectator article. Haven't read it.

        As with any wine-producing region of the world, there are some great reds from Oz, and there are some not-so-great wines from Oz.

        As with ANY wine . . . being reviewed by a publication like the Speculator or Parker is a multi-edged sword. It's great if you like the wines. It's also bad if you like the wines, as (perhaps) the wines will now be more difficult to find and will now cost more, due to the increased demand as a result of the press attention.

        The biggest "problem" is that some people will think that *this* is supposed to be a really good wine but they don't like it . . . so what's wrong with them? Such is the power of the [wine] press. (I've seen it happen far too many times.)

        Personally, I've never had a Mollydooker (or Marquis Phillips) wine that I've really enjoyed. But that's MY palate, my personal preference. It isn't that the wines are bad; it's that I don't like them -- and that's two very different things. It's not a "quality" issue; it's a "stylistic" one.

        It's a broad generalization, I know, but if the stylistic-spectrum-of-wine is

        CALIF...................................................................................................FRANCE

        then Australia is California-on-steroids . . . not my prefered style of wine.

        * * * * *

        There are dozens of excellent Australian wines available, and most are indeed reds. Vasse Felix Shiraz, from the Margaret River region in Western Australia, is one of my favorites, but it's much more "Rhône-ish" than "Aussie" (in broad, general terms). The "higher end" wines from such "old school" producers like Lindeman (e.g.: Limestone Ridge Cab-Shiraz), Rosemount (e.g.: their "Show Reserve" Cabernet), and Penfolds (e.g.: Bin 707 Cab and the legendary Grange) are still outstanding wines. So, too, many newcomers are making some excellent wines . . . you just have to like the style.

        Thread drift: When it comes to white wines, Leeuwin Estate makes an excellent Chardonnay and Riesling, and the Gosset Polish Hill Reisling is also excellent. Tabilk, Tyrell's and some others produce outstanding Semilion.

        21 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          "Australia [shiraz] is california on steroids..."
          *************

          How much of this might be due to the old vines in Australia ?

          1. re: Chicago Mike

            Zero. There's old-vines Syrah in California and France, too. What's different are the practices in the vineyards and wineries.

            1. re: Chicago Mike

              Robert's right -- it has absolutely nothing to do with vine age.

              1. re: zin1953

                Well, if "Robert's right", that Barossa Shiraz character has "absolutely nothing to do with vine age".... then Gerry Boyd, wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and Wine News is wrong...

                Here's what he says about the distinct depth of flavor of Barossa old vines:

                [start quote]
                Barossa winemakers are equally passionate about the distinct flavors derived from old vines. It is not uncommon to find vines, especially shiraz, that are 60 to more than 100 years old, many of which survived from the 1840s, when German immigrants settled in the valley and planted the first vineyards. Some say because phylloxera did not ravage the Barossa in the late 19th century, that the old Barossa shiraz vines impart a unique style that stands out from other Australian regions such as nearby McLaren Vale.

                Wondrous Reds

                Sometimes described as "glowering," Barossa Shiraz is typically deeply colored, rich in ripe fruit flavors (mainly blackberry); intense and concentrated, with a lot of muscle and firm tannins. Variations on this theme range from the lighter valley-floor wines to the bigger, more concentrated, fuller-bodied wines that hail from old vines and hillside vineyards.

                [end quote]

                Link to article in Wine News is below:
                http://66.218.69.11/search/cache?ei=U...

                Here's another very interesting article on the subject "The New Barossa"

                http://66.218.69.11/search/cache?ei=U...

                Excerpts below:

                [quote start

                ]

                As an aside, there’s the intriguing scientific question of why old vines are preferred to new ones: many scientists suggest that it’s their naturally low vigour that is responsible for the better grapes they are reckoned to produce. Whatever the explanation, there are plenty of fantastic old vine vineyards here, and the good news is that the ambitious young winemakers can get their hands on them. Here’s why.

                [end quote]

                And while there may be "old vines by California standards" in California, do any of the Cali Syrah vineyards come anywhere close to the age of the Barossas ? Not arguing here, I'm just not aware of any.

                And which are the oldest in France if anyone knows... did they survive phyloxera ?

                1. re: Chicago Mike

                  "Well, if 'Robert's right', that Barossa Shiraz character has "absolutely nothing to do with vine age ..."

                  The question was regarding "Australian [shiraz] is California on steroids," which is a matter of style, not location.

                  The age of the vines can certainly make an enormous difference, though less so if the fruit is overripe, the wine is fermented to 15+% alcohol, and then aged in massive amounts of new oak.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Let me just note that "some say" and "intriguing scientific question" are hardly authoritative statements. Nonetheless, I have always generally understood that old vines are associated with more concentrated, perhaps more complex, flavors.

                    Having said that, what's come to be seen as the style of "big Aussie shiraz" (or "California on steroids") often has less to do with old vines and more to do with winemaking style. For instance, I don't believe that any of the Mollydookers come from old vines, rather I think they are all less than 10 years old.

                    Here's a good article on old-vine zin in California; many vineyards are 80+ years old.
                    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi...

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      Zinfandel was the ONLY wine grape variety that actually INCREASED in acreage during Prohibition. Its thick skins made it ideal for shipping to the East Coast for home winemakers.

                      1. re: Frodnesor

                        That's also my (limited) understanding... that the oldest vines in California generally speaking are zinfandel...

                        Which raises the interesting question... if zin reaches such tremendous heights in California, and in DIFFERENT REGIONS of California, why isn't it planted to any great extent anywhere else ?? In good years with thick fruit layers it's as good as any red wine anywhere....

                        1. re: Chicago Mike

                          I thought zinfandel has been determined to be genetically identical to what's grown as "primitivo" in Puglia (and which ultimately trace their roots to a czech grape?)

                          Rusden produes a zin in Australia but it is phenomenally expensive and not of the same level as good CA zin and so I can't understand how to justify the price.

                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            > I thought zinfandel has been determined to be genetically identical to what's grown as "primitivo" in Puglia (and which ultimately trace their roots to a czech grape?)

                            This story behind this is actually a little odd -- it appears that Plavac Mali is an ancient cross of Primitivo with Dobričić, rather than the other way around.

                            Full write-up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinfande...

                            Not that you should rely on Wikipedia for anything except references to the original research, but in this case it's just recapitulating old news in an accessible format.

                            > a zin in Australia but it is phenomenally expensive and not of the same level as good CA zin and so I can't understand how to justify the price.

                            Whatever the market will bear, same as any luxury product!

                            1. re: Frodnesor

                              All of these relatives just aren't widely distributed, and don't reach nearly the same heights as zin in Cali.... is Cali the only great terroir for zin ?

                              1. re: Chicago Mike

                                ttriche - on the Aussie zin, I meant justify it to myself; can't fathom paying $70+ for an Aussie zin when that's more than I'd pay for just about any stateside and not as good.

                                CM - I've had some fine and enjoyable primitivos but nothing close to the level of the best Cali zins, though they are pretty widely distributed now.

                                1. re: Chicago Mike

                                  Dr. Carole Meredith did most of the original research as to Zinfandel and its origins. (Let's not forget that it originally appeared in California as "Black St. Peter's.") Check out her article at:

                                  http://www.zinfandel.org/uploads/Look...

                                  I'm sure, Mike, there *are* other great locations where Zin can be grown, but clearly no one has put the effort into Zinfandel as Calfiornia has. I think it's that simple.

                                2. re: Frodnesor

                                  Primitivo and Zinfandel are both descended from the virtually extinct Solvenian grape Crljenak Kastelanski.

                                  http://www.croatia.org/crown/articles...

                                  The best non-California Zinfandel I've had was from South Africa.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    With the flavors of this grape, if there's good terroir outside of California I just don't understand why it's not more widely planted... so much more interesting than Merlot, for example, IMO.

                                    1. re: Chicago Mike

                                      Think "Fiddler on the Roof" . . . . TRADITION!
                                      +-+-+-+-+
                                      Tradition #1 -- Planting:

                                      Aside from some Italian producers who have actually labeled their Primitivo "Zinfandel" for sale in the US market, where in the EU would you plant it?

                                      (I think the answer is "nowhere." TRADITION!)

                                      As far as places like Australia are concerned, Zinfandel (like Petite Sirah/Durif) is a tiny fraction of the total vignoble. Shriaz is *their* "indigenous" red, just like Zinfandel is California's "indigenous" grape.* So there must be areason to overcome the inertia of TRADITION.

                                      New Zealand? Being a lover of cool climate, I personally think there are some great spots for Zin here, and in fact a friend of mine is indeed planting some, but as a whole, NZ is too focused on PN and SB for Zin to have much attraction to growers/vintners there.

                                      South Africa? Substitute Pinotage for Shiraz, and you have the same problem as Australia.

                                      Israel? A lot of American emigrees, coupled with American-trained winemakers make this a possibility. So, too, Lebanon.

                                      South America? Perhaps -- the wine industries of Chile and Argentina are so export-driven, they might consider Zinfandel some day. (See below.)
                                      +-+-+-+-+
                                      Tradition #2 -- Consumption:

                                      Who else, besides Americans, is really interested in consuming Zinfandel?

                                      There was, back in the 1970s, the "Zinfandel Club" in the UK, but that long since disbanded. It's not necessarily a grape with a "world-wide following." It could be, but in order for that to occur, California wineries must do a far better job of EXPORTING their Zinfandels to other countries and CREATING such a demand.

                                      The brand "Marcus James" (then imported by what is now known as Constellation Brands) solds thousands of cases of low-end "White Zinfandel" in the US during the 1980s. The wine was from Brazil . . . until it was "discovered" that there wasn't really any Zinfandel planted in Brazil. (Today, Marcus James is an Argentine label.)

                                      Cheers,
                                      Jason

                                      * Clearly Zinfandel did not originate in California, any more than Shiraz originiated in Oz, but no Vitis vinifera cultivars are more associated as being uniquely Californian or Australian as Zinfandel and Shiraz, respectively. Of course, it's a different matter once you call the grapes Primitivo and Syrah, but . . . .

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        <South Africa? Substitute Pinotage for Shiraz, and you have the same problem as Australia. >

                                        Except that Pinotage generally sucks. Let's tear it up and see if the zin is any better.

                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                          Well, my problem with Pinotage is that I *have* had some good ones. That makes me dumb enough to keep trying 'em (and keep being disappointed in them).

                                          Clearly, however, many people do love Pinotage, as it's still planted and still being produced. For me personally, however, it's more like that old aphorism: "Eat $#!+ -- 50 billion flies CAN'T be wrong!"

                                      2. re: Chicago Mike

                                        >>> so much more interesting than Merlot, for example, IMO. <<<

                                        Merlot can -- and does -- produce a number of OUTSTANDING wines throughout the world.

                                        California nearly managed to "kill the proverbial golden goose" by overplanting this variety (as it periodically does with every grape variety) and overcropping it so much as to flood the marketplace with innoccuous, insipid swill. That said, there are still a number of truly excellent Merlot wines produced in California and Washington State.

                                        But re: Merlot overall, it's worth mentioning that there is more Merlot planted in Bordeaux than there is Cabernet Sauvignon, that while every château in Bordeaux uses at least some Merlot, not every château uses Cabernet Sauvignon; while no château is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, there is (at least) one that is regularly 100% Merlot; and that, while the wines from the Haut-Médoc are generally Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, it is the rare St.-Émilion and Pomerol that is *not* overwhelmingly Merlot-based. (Off the top of my head, I can think of two.)

                                        1. re: Chicago Mike

                                          It's not the grape, it's California's one-size-fits-all winemaking style. The best Merlot and Merlot-dominated blends I've had (none from CA) were exponentially better than the best Zinfandels (all from CA). And I've had some great Zins (Ridge Pagani Ranch ... the first Nalles ... early Buehlers ... Edmeades made by Dr. Donald Edmeades ... 10-year-old Joseph Swans made by Joe Swan ... )

                                          I think Zinfandel has not caught on big outside of California primarily because people in other countries don't see why we like a relatively mediocre grape so much.

                                          It has some fans in Australia:

                                          http://www.vinodiversity.com/zinfande...

                              2. re: Chicago Mike

                                Mike, the character of the Barossa is the character of the Barossa . . . it doesn't matter if the vines are 15 years old, or 115 years of age. The location is different . . . the raw material is different . . . the style of winemaking in Australia is different . . .

                                Before you jump to conclusions, YES, old vines DO make a difference! No one has said they don't. But old vines, in and of themselves, do NOT explain my "Aus = Calif on Steroids" comment by any stretch of the imagination! That comment is directed to Australia as a whole, and not solely to the Barossa. Barossa grapes/wines are as distinct from, say, Margaret River grapes/wines, as Napa Valley floor wines/grapes are distinct from wines/grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

                                * * * * *

                                On other points . . .

                                1) To the best of my knowledge, very little Syrah exists today (2007) that pre-dates Prohibition. There was some pre-Prohibition Syrah planted in California as late as the early 1980s, but -- IIRC -- it was replanted then, and again after Phylloxera hit Napa again in the 1990s.

                                2) Yes, there are a handful of parcels of Syrah in the Rhone that are on their own roots, that survived Phylloxera.

                                Jason

                        2. I've been off the big Aussie Shirazes for a while but maybe that's because it's summer and they're even more overwhelming in hot weather. Reactions to the Mollydookers fascinate me. I drink plenty of big wines but the Boxer Shiraz was just way too much even for me. But on the other hand, folks I know who are not big wine drinkers almost universally love it. I found the Cab/Shiraz blend (Maitre'd?) a little more drinkable and really enjoyed the white - a Verdelho. I had a taste of the higher end Carnival of Love Shiraz at a tasting and it was a little more elegant than the Boxer, but still quite powerful stuff. Haven't tried any of this year's releases yet.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            with regard to both mollydooker and the debate about old vines vs. how wine is made in Australia...check out how Sarah and Sparky Marquis do their irrigation and water management. They quite deliberately starve the vines of water, then flood them with water, then starve, then flood, to extend the growing season by a few weeks longer than other McLaren Vale folks, which accounts for their almost 17% alc in many cases. I personally enjoy their blends more than their single varietal wines. But I prefer the old world style of producers like d'Arenberg who seem to have fallen somewhat out of favor with the critics.

                            1. re: domaine547

                              Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz is a nice bottle at around $18 (and should be easy to find). I also think The Razor's Edge is a nice Shiraz at around $13.

                          2. I just picked up a half case of the Two Hands Lilly's Garden Shiraz 2005 WS 94 and it is outstanding. Going to cellar 5 bottles for enjoyment over the next couple of years. Also tastes a JJ Hahn Shiraz Barossa Valley Shiraz 2002 WS 91 and thought it was quite good. Will probably buy a few bottles to enjoy in the near future