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Grape varieties Australia


Shiraz grapes


by Toni Paterson Master of Wine

Shiraz is the most widely planted grape variety in Australia. It currently represents 40% of the total red grape crush and constitutes one fifth of all wine grape production in Australia. It is without doubt Australia's favourite red variety, both domestically and internationally.

However Shiraz has not always enjoyed the popularity that it does today. Until the mid-1900s, Shiraz was grown purely for fortified wine production. Its ability to get very ripe, along with its inherent rich flavours made is perfect for this wine style. When the red table wine boom began in Australia, Shiraz was overlooked whilst the refined and sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon became the wine of fashion.

Shiraz reached its lowest point when the South Australian government implemented a vine pull scheme to replace old, low yielding Shiraz vines with the more fashionable Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Thankfully, some growers resisted, giving us the iconic old block Shiraz styles that Australia is now renowned for.

Shiraz underwent a renaissance when the international world began to focus on Australia. Never before had Shiraz as opulent, as powerful and as seductive been seen. Ripe fruit, a fleshy mid palate, soft tannins and a kick of American oak became the template for Australian Shiraz. And the regions of focus were the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the Hunter Valley.

The beauty of Shiraz is that it can flourish in a range of climates and slowly cool climate Shiraz came into focus. The cooler regions of Central Victoria, Coonawarra and Padthaway became known for structured wines that had black cherry, pepper and spice characters rather than the chocolate and stewed plums found in warmer climates.

Shiraz can be made into a range of styles, defined by the terroir of the region and the winemakers' artistry. In an attempt to allow for regional characters to be expressed, many winemakers are moving away from 100% new American oak, preferring the use of older barrels and/or French oak. The result is a plethora of new styles with finesse and complexity.

Never before has Shiraz enjoyed such stardom. With its soft ripe tannins, it can be crafted into wines suitable for immediate consumption. However it real character is seen in wines with longevity that show layers of intoxicating complexity with age. Shiraz deserves is status as Australia's flagship grape variety. Find yourself a 10-year-old Barossa Shiraz and you will easily see why.

© Toni Paterson 2002