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Daily Archives: Mar 5, 2013

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Victorian Syrah and Shiraz

We were barrel tasting through the recent Lethbridge vintage and arrived at the 2012 Indra Shiraz. The wine was juicy and spiced filling my head with purple and blue notes, and a long bloody iron clenched finish. Suddenly my entire body was so full of energy I could barely contain it. This wine was exciting and unexpected. I was thrilled by surprise. We went on to taste multiple vintages going back to their first.

Cracked Basalt Soils on the Indra Block

the cracked basalt soils of the Indra Block, Lethbridge

Indra grows from the hard luck soils of Geelong, a cool climate area harvested last of the mainland regions. Pushed into cracked black basalt soils onto limestone, the vines at Lethbridge struggle for what they need, producing structure with serious, though not harsh tannin traction. The Indra Shiraz is impressive, a red with a French sensibility, carrying Australian spice, and a slightly bigger frame. It needs time in bottle to be appreciated, but gives lean lines, multidimensional flavors, and depth.

One of the highlights of my trip through Victoria was discovering I could love the Shiraz and Syrah coming out of that province. The poor history of exposure to Australian stereotype in the United States had left me skeptical. Still, knowing the previously apparent monolith of California wine is actually quite varied, I was ready to be surprised by Victoria too.

To the North of Geelong, Great Western offers a more Continental climate giving wines a rounder feel to flavors, but with still cool nights the acidity stays vibrant for juiciness.

Best's Nursery Block

part of the 1866 Nursery Block, Best’s Great Western

Best’s Great Western grows some of the oldest vines in the world. Their nursery block, planted in 1866, is still bottled as a field blend wine that is both strange and wonderful to drink. In the late 1800s, the Best’s team recognized their Shiraz was doing well in the climate and so a Shiraz-only vineyard was established. It is still used to produce the Bin 0 Shiraz bottling, a rich flavored, textural wine, with melt away tannin, and a focus on cocoa, tobacco, and forest floor. Their Bin 1, from newer vines, carries a family resemblance to Bin 0 with a younger, juicier feel. Both give a texture that seems native to the wines of the area–tannins with traction and presence that melts away for a long lingering finish.

Through Victoria, both Syrah and Shiraz are used on wine labels to designate that grape’s varietal-specific wine. There is no regulation on which is used when, but generally speaking Syrah designates a lighter style for the grape.

Jumping to the Yarra Valley two Syrah labels stood out.

Tom and Sally Belford, and kids, Bobar Wine

the Belfords, Bobar Wines

Our first visit in the Yarra was with the Belford family, where we were able to taste each vintage of their young label. Together, Tom and Sally Belford produce Bobar Wines, an ultra light, fully carbonic Syrah with the weight of Poulsard, the aromatic lift of Fleurie, and the Australian spice of Shiraz. It’s refreshing, and light with just the kiss of strangeness to make it a wine geek’s dream. That said, later on the trip a winemaker we met confessed to buying a case of Bobar before camping trips because “you can drink it with anything.”

Gary Mills, Jamsheed Wine

Gary Mills, Jamsheed Wines

Gary Mills, of Jamsheed Wines, devotes himself to Syrah from fruit sourced all over Victoria, made whole cluster to celebrate the earthy elements given by stem inclusion. Having worked with Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello for several years, Mills credits Draper for being the inspiration behind Mills’ views of “real wine.” The 2011 Jamsheed Syrah’s have a combined strength and focus that make them both desirable and heady. I wanted more of these wines. From barrel the 2012s are intensely vibrant and rich, most already about ready to drink. But the Great Western barrel (full of those melt-away tannins) drinks like a horse still bucking and sweaty after being caught–no brett, just an animal intensity wrestling its way from the barrel, still almost too big to handle. I can’t wait to see how its transformed before release.

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Thank you to Mike Bennie, Tom and Sally Belford, Gary Mills, Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis, Alex Bryne, David Fesq, Jonathan Mogg.

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