Are Aussie producers doing enough in the sub-£20 category? Read the debate from the June 2017 issue of Decanter magazine...

A divisive panel tasting of value Australian Shiraz between £7.99 and £20, that praised drinkable, balanced wines but criticised many average, dilute ones that did not try hard enough in this value price bracket.

The scores:

91 wines tasted

Exceptional – 0
Outstanding – 0
Highly Recommended – 21
Recommended – 54
Commended – 12
Fair – 4
Poor – 0
Faulty – 0

The judges:

Alex Hunt MW; Roger Jones; Anthony Rose


Click here to view the tasting notes and scores for all 91 Australian value Shiraz


The judges all found ‘succulence, regional interest and varietal identity’ in the top wines, as well as much less over-extraction than there might have been five years ago.

That there were no wines averaging above 94 points from this tasting was irrelevant, said two of our experts, as in this price category you’d not be getting the finest wines in the market that warranted such scores.

But Roger Jones was vocal in his disappointment. ‘The £10 to £20 category should not be an excuse to make average wines. Swartland in South Africa and Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand make Shiraz in a different league to the wine we tasted, priced at the same level.’

‘We had 10% of old-school, ripe Aussie Shiraz at one end, 10% of that cool-climate, peppery Rhône style at the other and then in between the two a bunch of confused wines: they were aromatically old-school but with the pedal taken off the winemaking. You can’t just dial down certain aspects of a wine and hope that what’s dilute will be perceived as finesse’.


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The six highest scoring wines from the value Australian Shiraz panel tasting:


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Three main styles

Broadly speaking, there are three main styles:

The traditional hot-climate inland region and Barossa style with powerful, super-ripe fruit and high alcohol

The more restrained, spicy reds of the milder regions like McLaren Vale and Clare Valley and slightly cooler Yarra,
Heathcote and Coonawarra

The perfumed, peppery intensity and blackberry elegance of Mount Barker in the west, Adelaide Hills, Canberra and the Grampians, verging on white pepper and stalky in ultra-cool zones.

Regional performance

McLaren Vale was the biggest disappointment, with the largest proportion of ‘bland, unremarkable’ wines, while Clare Valley stood out as the leading sub-region, showing a distinct, elegant style. The disappointingly few Hunter Valley and Orange wines also impressed, as did those from Margaret River and Victoria.

Trends

The latest trends reflect the objectives of creating both more refreshingly drinkable Shiraz and wines that express their origins. In the vineyard, green harvesting, hand-picking based on flavour ripeness and sorting are key, while selective machine harvesting technology could be a game changer.

In the cellar, whole-bunch and whole-berry, small-batch fermentation in open fermenters is on the increase, along with hand-plunging, as is blending with other varieties like Grenache and Mourvedre.

One of the biggest changes giving greater aromatic restraint, superior texture and length of flavour is the ongoing conversion of American to French oak combined with using different sizes and ages of barrel.

Conclusions

‘Australia isn’t trouncing the Rhône for value any more either,’ explained Hunt. He said that at under £20 there are St-Josephs and Crozes-Hermitages ‘offering more nuance and harmony than the majority of the line-up here’.

Jones said: ‘Australia invented Shiraz as a commercial term, and 10 years ago that’s what everyone was drinking. There are amazing Shirazes at £60 to £80, but the quality isn’t there at under £20 and that’s a shame.’

Rose disagreed: ‘We know there are wines with greater character, intensity, expression and interest, but is it fair to ask these producers to sell them for £20 or less?’


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