Cool climate Shiraz is something I am becoming more and more interested in, particularly since, being from Tasmania, we had the epic honour of our very own Glaetzer-Dixon ‘Mon Pere’ Shiraz winning the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2011 – the equivalent of the Grand Final win (in any code). Most people (me included) immediately and unhesitatingly think of the Barossa Valley when thinking of big, full, high-alcohol Shiraz. Mostly, I think of the ‘heat’ in Barossa Shiraz, and being a bit biased in my love for full-bodied wines, do tend to pick up Barossa Shiraz quite often. What I find interesting then, is the refinement, elegance, and nuanced flavour coming from ‘cool-climate’ Shiraz. Mostly, you will find that that name applies to the very southern regions of Australia, like Victoria, the very south of Western Australia and of course, Tasmania.
With Tasmania already emerging as a wine region with incredible strengths in Pinot Noir and Sparkling wine, cool-climate Shiraz could see the state really gazump its northern neighbours. Food tourism is also becoming a big hit here, with ordinary products having ‘Tasmanian’ slapped in front of their name now becoming something extraordinary. Couple this with big mainland wine companies buying up Tasmanian vineyards, you have the makings of a gastronomic heaven. What’s more, as southern winemakers learn more about the intricacies of cool-climate Shiraz, their ability to be paired with foods increases. No longer will the pepperiness and spiciness of warm-climate Shiraz dominate. Instead, what we will see is a complex array of subtle tastes that complement the freshness of Tasmanian foods.
Other regions are also producing fabulous cool-climate Shiraz, and soon I will post my tasting notes from the 2010 Mount Langhi Ghiran ‘Cliff Edge’ Shiraz, from the Grampians. Strictly speaking, the term cool-climate does have rules, such as that the region must have an average January/July temperature of 19 degrees Celsius maximum, be south of 37.5 degrees south latitude, and be above 500m in altitude. Quite often this also equates to substantial levels of rain each year, and also many cool-climate vineyards have younger vines producing this grape. In time, as the temperatures in cool-climate regions meet the requirements from the vines planted there, the quality will level out and winemakers will become more accustomed to the shades of grey in cool-climate Shiraz. But until then, seek guidance, and taste these wines to find out what you like best. If the high alcohol and general warmth of Barossa shiraz is not interesting for you, a cool-climate, complex Shiraz might take you in a whole new direction.
While some winemakers are blending their cool-climate Shiraz with Viognier, this does not apply across the board. What this blend brings, however, is a balance to the Shiraz that smooths out the blend, similar to what you would find from the Cote-Rotie in France. While many old world producers are now speaking only of enhancing the feel of ‘local terroir’ in their wines, the new world (like Australia) has not been left behind. We have seen more people talk of the regionality of cool-climate Shiraz and Shiraz in general, and would maybe lead to a good system of classification here in Australia. This would enhance regionality and bring out the real characteristics of wines that currently are a bit faceless.
It is important that winemakers address trends but also produce wines that will age and not appear like fads in ten years time. Cool-climate Shiraz is not a fad, but what it will need, I believe, is more people highlighting its long-term drinkability and complexity, rather than the craze for the moment of getting it into restaurants and pairing it with foods. Above all, winemakers who are in touch with the locality of their vineyard – and work with that locality – will always produce individual, interesting wines that really wear their heart on their sleeve.
Good drinking to you,