Region/Appellation: South Australia
Country Hierarchy: Australia
Food Suggestion: Beef and Venison
Wine Style: Red – Rich and Intense
Alcohol Content: 13 – 14%
- Decanter World Wine Awards, 2008: Silver
- International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2008: Silver (Best In Class)
- International Wine Challenge, 2008: Silver
South Australian Wine
South Australia is one of the Australia’s six states, located (as the name implies) in the south of the vast island continent. It is the engine room of the Australian wine industry, responsible for around half of the country’s total output each year. But the region isn’t just about quantity – countless high-quality wines are made here, most of them from the region’s signature grape, Shiraz. These include such iconic wines as Penfolds Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace, Torbreck The Laird and d’Arenberg The Dead Arm.
From east to west, South Australia measures roughly 745 miles (1200km), and borders every other Australian state except the island of Tasmania. Its measurements from north to south are less neat and man-made, as its southern border is formed entirely by the arching coastline of the Great Australian Bight. It is at the eastern edge of this arch, as the coastline plunges southwards into cooler latitudes, that the vast majority of South Australian wine is produced.
Coonawarra, South Australia © SAWIA
The south-eastern corner of South Australia is significantly cooler and less arid than further north, which is simply too hot and dry for viticulture. The climate is moderated by two large gulfs, which bring the cool waters of the Southern Ocean hundreds of miles inland from the main coastline. Between the eastern side of the Gulf of St. Vincent (the smaller of these two) and the Murray River is a belt of green about 50 miles (80km) wide, clearly visible on satellite images. Here, the famous Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions are to be found. For in-depth descriptions of all the South Australian wine regions, see the menu (left).
South Australia’s wine portfolio is heavily focused on powerful red wines, most of which are made from Shiraz. Another variety which thrives here is Cabernet Sauvignon, the best examples of which come from the Limestone Coast in the state’s far south-eastern corner (particularly in Coonawarra, Padthaway and Robe). Grenache has also proved well-suited to the South Australian climate and wine-making style, particularly when combined with Shiraz and Mourvedre to create the classic Australian GSM blend. Such diverse European varieties as Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Petit Verdot are also to be found in South Australian vineyards, but only in small quantities.
White wines are not South Australia’s strong suit, with the notable exception of the world-class Riesling that has emerged from the Clare Valley in the past few decades. Almost inevitably, Chardonnay is grown widely here, but rarely produces top-quality wine outside the cooler climes of the Adelaide Hills. Among the less common white-wine varieties are Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and Verdelho.
Given the size of South Australia, climate and topography vary significantly across the state. Even within the main winegrowing regions in the south-east, the distances are significant; Coonawarra lies a full 275 miles (445km) south-east of the Clare Valley, and 350 miles from the state’s northernmost wine region, the Southern Flinders Ranges. To put this into context, this is an area larger than Portugal.
The winegrowing regions cover six full degrees of latitude (38°S to 32°S). Altitude is also diverse here, ranging from almost sea-level in Langhorne Creek to 600m in parts of the Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills. This makes it impossible to summarize South Australia’s terroir to any useful degree of accuracy, while also explaining how a single region can produce such diverse wines as crisp, cool-climate Chardonnay and rich, robust Shiraz.
Shiraz is the name given to the dark-skinned Syrah grape when grown in Australia and selected pockets of the New World. Though genetically identical, the stylistic differences between Shiraz and Syrah are pronounced enough to consider them distinct varieties. Shiraz is so important to Australian viticulture that it is the most planted grape variety in the majority of Australian vineyards and has become virtually synonymous with the country’s wine regions, and in particular the Barossa Valley.
The term Shiraz has its roots in the New World, although there is no one story about how it came to be named this. The prevailing style of Shiraz winemaking reflects its New World roots, though, tending toward bright fruit flavors – most frequently blueberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. Secondary notes of chocolate lend themselves well to the full-bodied texture of these wines, often accented by pepper and spicy inflections.
During the 1990s and early 2000s a lot of Australian Shiraz was characterized by highly extracted, super-ripe wines that, for better or worse, caught the attention of wine critics around the world. Some responded well to the style, championing the rich and bold flavors, while others lambasted the wines’ lack of subtlety. Regardless of the divided critics, consumer enthusiasm for Australian Shiraz flourished during this period and countless expressions of the style were exported around the world.
At the dawn of the 21st Century there was a tangible shift in the way a lot of Australian Shiraz was made, with cool-climate styles coming into their own and complexity gaining ground over sheer power. A new generation of wines began to emerge, working towards the elegantly spicy styles of the northern Rhone.
As with Syrah in the Rhone, Australian Shiraz is often blended with Grenache and Mourvedre, creating what has become widely known as GSM. The dark chocolate and cassis of Shiraz, coupled with the plummy richness of Grenache and the earthy, gamey strength of Mourvedre makes for a rich, opulent style often greater than the sum of its parts.
One uniquely Australian application of Shiraz is to blend it with Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a previously unheard-of tradition in the Old World, but the Cabernet – Shiraz blend has become so popular that it now represents a sizable proportion of Australian red wine blends. The other major Shiraz blend emulates the idiosyncratic wines of Cote Rotie by adding a small proportion of Viognier to the wine. Australian Shiraz – Viognier wines have forged a formidable reputation on the international stage; some of the best examples can fetch three-figure prices.
The name Shiraz has become so widely recognized and so highly marketable that it has been used to label Syrah wines in countries other than Australia. In South Africa, the Shiraz naming convention is commonplace and in the U.S., South America and Israel either Syrah or Shiraz may be used depending on fashion. Even a handful of producers in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon have taken to labeling their wines as Shiraz.
Synonyms include: Syrah, Hermitage, Scyras.
Food matches for Shiraz include:
- Beef Wellington
- Malay lamb korma
- Lentils with smoked ham hock
(sources : wine-searcher)