Food & Drink, Libations

A shiraz like a Beach Boys song

Back when the whole world had nothing better to talk about than a blue dress with a rather suspicious stain on it, we – the wine cognoscenti – drank shiraz. Australian shiraz to be precise.

The Australian section is still pretty big in Canada, but every year it shrinks a little more. It is inevitable, as the country only produces about 10 per cent of the world’s wine, but at one point commanded 20 per cent of Canada’s wine market. The Australians have responded to their waning popularity, improving the base value wine they provide and trying to hold the line on prices in the face of a very strong exchange rate.

The thing you need to understand about shiraz is that it is a tremendously appealing wine, kind of a like a Beach Boys song: It may be uncool, but, dammit, you have just got to start singing the chorus when you hear that tune again.

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To get the temperature of the latest incarnation , I picked up a series of large label shiraz. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised.

Although the tannins are quite calm, they are more structured wines than I expected, surviving three days open on the counter top without collapsing into cough syrup. (The record collapse so far is a Californian Pinot Noir that was dead in just under eight hours – towards the end of day two is more usual.)

The best of the bunch, Elderton, was of course the most expensive. It’s a biodynamic wine, and quite intense. I got into a minor argument with the wine maker on line, when I suggested this was a wine aimed at Wine Spectator readers. He told me he thought of the wine as ‘elegant’; I replied that his shiraz is to elegance what Texas Chainsaw is to Audrey Hepburn.

However Elderton Friends is a well made wine. It has great fruit both in the bouquet and the palate, a tremendously smooth palate, but sufficient tannins to stand up and be counted. My complaints are really those of a drinker who has found himself needing a more delicate wine, lighter and less viscous.

You need to understand, though, that I am the guy who would be dead before buying a Beach Boys album but knows all the words to “Sloop John B,” I just can’t help liking this wine. If you really like the Shiraz profile – and there is a great deal to like there, particularly with barbecued pork or anything with a barbecue sauce – this was definitely the best wine of the tasting.

Yellow Tail by the Casella family vineyards is probably the great winner of the wine makers cup, with a label that continues to gush cash year after year. Their Yellow Tail Reserve is their first mass market effort to push their drinkers up the consumption ladder somewhat.

It had a notably finer texture than the entry level wine, with slightly more forceful tannins on the finish. The wine kept that black berry fruit profile that made shiraz and Yellow Tail so famous to begin with. It is a surprisingly sophisticated wine, which probably goes a long way to explaining the Casella family’s success.

Wonder Wall is a Margaret River (south of Perth, surf bum town) wine. I chase all of them that appear here. This one is not an example to make me take up the cause of shiraz again. It is noticably sweet on the finish and too thick for my old jaded palate.

It has good fruit, some pepper and a lot of those oak lactones that were once all the rage (vanilla, coconut etc.) If you mourn the passing of the ’90s and Kurt Cobain, this is probably exactly the wine for you.

McGuigan Bin 2000 is an effort to enter the mid-market here. It’s got a rather fine package that suggest more dollars than are actually spent. The wine has a touch of minerality to it, but not very much. It is a solid berry bouquet, slightly jammy wine that will satisfy many but leaves me without any strong reason to buy this wine over any other.

Finally, there’s Banrock Station. They’ve sweetened their marketing by offering by promising to be good corporate do-bees and donate some of the proceeds to ìenvironmental projects around the world. Call me a cynic but Iím quite capable of writing cheques to the charities of my choice.

This was a noticeably lighter wine, which to my ancient palate is becoming something of a relief. (It strikes me in my old age I may be happy drinking watery boxed wine.) It had less of a bouquet, and a nicely fruity palate, with a slightly astringent finish. This last astounded me and almost had me upgrading the wine, but in balance it really isn’t up to the standards of the rest.

Regardless of my comments if you like shiraz, go forth unashamed and drink the stuff. These are better than any number of wines I’ve drunk in the last several years.

McGuigan Bin 2000, Limestone Coast Shiraz, Australia, 2010. $14.99 ****
Wonderwall Margaret River Shiraz, Australia, 2010. $15.96 ****
Banrock Station Good Earth Shiraz, Australia, 2010. $13.99 ***
Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz, Australia, 2010. $16.99 ****
Elderton Friends Barossa Shiraz, Australia, 2010. $23.99 ****



James Romanow writes about Wine and all things Boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze

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