Australia is best known for shiraz, the funny name for syrah from Down Under. It so dominates the landscape that it is impossible to say there is one typical type of Australian shiraz.
In the Hunter Valley north of Sydney in New South Wales, shiraz is often very ripe and sometimes a little prunelike. If you travel southwest to Victoria, the shiraz found in the Pyrenees in the north is often rather fruit-forward, but has the structure of cooler-climate shiraz with herbal overtones. In southern Victoria, the areas south of Melbourne make cool-climate shiraz that can be mistaken for wines from the northern Rhône, as they are big on spice and smoke, less so on fruit.
In south Australia, the wines as a rule are very fruit-forward, but there are variations on this theme. South in Coonawarra, where it’s colder, the shiraz has firmer tannins yet the fruit is not as fleshy. Farther north in the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, you will find the big, jammy fruit bombs, but not all of the wines fit into this precise box.
There is a ton of eucalyptus — actually probably a million tons — in Australia, and it is common to get mint, eucalyptus and other herbal notes in the red wines, especially in South Australia. While the wines from the Clare and Eden valleys on the other side of Adelaide also make fruity shiraz, they are leaner and a bit more peppery.
Heading to western Australia, we have the Margaret River, Mount Barker and Frankland. The maritime climate has its own effect on the grapes. The shiraz has a strong fruit core with solid tannins and, often, acidity.
Here are a few wines that will educate you on Australian shiraz without breaking the bank:
Plantagenet Hazard Hill Shiraz, 2009 (Great Southern, Western Australia): Hazard Hill is one of three tiers produced by Plantagenet.
While the wines are not complex, they are typical of the region and well-made. The 2009 vintage was very warm, making this rendition a little softer and plumper than usual. With plums and cherries accented by cocoa dust and licorice, it’s a very pleasant wine. Suggested retail: $13
D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Shiraz, 2010 (McLaren Vale, South Australia): When d’Arenberg started making The Stump Jump wines, it seemed like a great idea for parties. However, the wines have continued to improve and impress. This 2010 shiraz is an excellent example of McLaren Vale shiraz. It may not be multifaceted or bound to live more than a few years, but it oozes fresh raspberry and blueberry notes and a subtle scent of mint. Suggested retail: $13
Innocent Bystander Shiraz, 2010 (Victoria): Made from several fruit sources in Victoria, this shiraz has a loose conglomeration of flavors all pointing in the direction of cooler-climate syrah. Floral with violets and rose bush, pepper, smoke and layers of cedar and vanilla-tinged blue fruits, held together with firm acidity and supple tannins, it has quite a few things going on. Suggested retail: $20
Tyrrell’s Brokenback Shiraz, 2010 (Hunter Valley, New South Wales): English immigrant Edward Tyrrell started Tyrrell’s in 1858 in both New South Wales and on the Limestone Coast. It has been passed down from generation to generation and is still a family-run company. This shiraz grows in red, volcanic soil that gives the wine purity, bright and crisp red fruits, and vanilla from the oak that smoothes out the palate. Suggested retail: $20
These wines can be found through The Jug Shop, K&L Wine Merchant and Wine.com.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.