|Australia has Bondi Beach, the Red Centre, Paul Hogan, silly Ken Done postcards, Kylie Minogue and shiraz. It's the most planted, most approachable, most expensive and the most famous wine in Australia. But it's also a whole lot more, as Campbell Mattinson explains.
It's the blackest, the boldest, the baddest, the ripest, the sweetest, the sexiest, the Grangest; it is the beast of grapes that we call shiraz. If it were a movie star it'd perennially play the role of a gladiator -- and barely interrupt the seduction as it casually brutalised lions. It builds muscular wines that are pumped up yet graceful and when at their best ripple and bulge and glisten and sing with flavour. Naturally, it can be brash. Uncompromising. Highly alcoholic. Taut. And aggressive in its thrusting, pungent, spicy, plummy, jammy, powerful attack on your tongue, your lips, your mouth, your face, your everything. In its youth it can be wild and raw and deep and sulky and luscious and urgent all at once. Yet with age and time and persistence it can be velvety and supple and like a crooning Connick Jnr-esque romantic; it is a black-fruited beast that can be tamed. It rocks as a crazy one night sore-in-the-morning stand. But also as a life partner. It originated in Europe and under the name syrah in France's Rhone Valley is still used to make the rich wines of Hermitage and the aromatic wines of the Cote Rotie. It is many things. Young and old. But in hot, brash, take-no-crap Australia, it is shiraz. It is our premier and most-planted grape. And if any grape can this is the one which defines us, as a nation, in a bottle.
And it is on a roll.
As a cheap, flavoursome quaffer. As a mid-priced power-packed beauty. As a heady sparkler. As a hot climate monster. Or as a cool climate flash of elegance and spicy style. However you like it, shiraz is slaying them.
Whenever you hear tales of Aussie wines fetching ludicrous prices at auction in Australia or the United States (and you do, frighteningly often), the wine in question is always a shiraz. Always. Penfolds Grange. Henschke Hill of Grace. Clarendon Hills Astralis. Dalwhinnie The Eagle. Fox Creek Reserve. Brokenwood Graveyard. Jasper Hill Georgia's and Emily's Paddock. Rockford Basket Press. Turkey Flat - they are all shiraz (or shiraz dominated) and they're all brilliantly made pillars of Australian wine.
And the world knows it.
Which makes it the investor's wine.
And the drinker's wine too.
Because whatever you pay for shiraz, $10 or $100, you're entitled to a ripper.
AND THE TASTE?
Shiraz's secret, pure and plain, is its generosity of warm flavour, and its ability to thrive in a wide range of climates. Like a splash of hot gossip, it can also be deceptively easy to consume, the easiest of the big red wines to drink when young. Typically, it is characterised by plums and blackberry-like fruit flavour, and in warmer areas often adds a lick of chocolate-like flavour to the mix. Or mint, cloves, even eucalypt - depending on whether it's from the Clare Valley, Heathcote, or the Pyrenees. In cooler areas you find a kind of savoury, spicy black cherry and raspberry-like flavour oozing through.
To both styles, in Australia we usually add oak, which teases it up with sexily sweet vanilla or coconut or even caramel, to give it an irresistible savoury sweetness.
EAT IT WITH
For such rich flavours, it usually goes best with meat dishes -- though good warm savoury Coonawarra shiraz (think Wynns, Bowen, Redman) with capsicum and eggplant and juicy olive pizza is a stand-up gem.
But really shiraz is at its best with BBQed meats. Steaks, tasty salty sausages, tomato and basil with strips of crispy bacon, aged angus beef brimming with mushroom and red wine sauce, gamey pan-stewed kangaroo. Or with mid-winter beef burgundy and loads of fresh crunchy bread and strong cheeses to finish -- right there, an opulent shiraz is your weapon.
Think comfort foods, around the barbie or in front of the teev, in front of the open fire -- and think Australian shiraz wrapping its big strong arms around you and making you feel safe (or drunk: Oz shiraz is also notoriously high in alcohol, at times pushing 16 percent).
And as a country, we are embarrassingly endowed with the stuff. Just about every one of our major wine regions (barring Tasmania, which is just too cool) produces terrific, regionally-expressive versions -- and while generally not terribly suited to cool climate areas, on selected sites you even get the odd boomer there in great years: Paringa Estate and Port Phillip Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, Seville Estate and De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley, Clonakilla in the Canberra area, Bannockburn near Geelong, Best's and Great Western in, err, Great Western being the most notable.
Far more reliable though are the warmer areas: Heathcote/Bendigo in Victoria (Jasper Hill, Hanging Rock Heathcote, Balgownie); the Barossa (Rockford, Charles Melton, Peter Lehmann, Henschke, Turkey Flat, Glaetzer, Grant Burge, Langmeil, Charles Cimicky, and many others); McLaren Vale (Hardy's Tintara, Kays, Chapel Hill, Tatachilla, Rosemount, many others); the Hunter Valley (Tyrrell's, McWilliams); Western Australia (Plantagenet, Cape Mentelle, Evans and Tate); and the Clare Valley (Tim Adams, Leasingham).
Think a custom-built V8 Beamer baked in the deepest black-purple hue -- and you're thinking of shiraz. You can try, but in the end it's simply impossible not to succumb.