Australian Shiraz Part 2: A Guide to the Best Australian Shiraz Vintages Across Terroirs

Australian Shiraz

Hunter Valley in Australia has produced many good wines in recent years and is home to the vineyards of fourth-generation winemaker Keith Tulloch, who makes some of the best Australian Shiraz. Image source: Flickr CC user F Delventhal.

I think of terroir as the DNA of wine. If I can recognize a wine’s origin by its particular taste and aroma, then I am confident that we are talking not only about a specific region, but also about a terroir in its own right.

We recognize cool or warm climates through a wine’s low or high acidity, its percentage of alcohol, and baked or fresh fragrant fruit. While some call any wine growing area a terroir, in the wine market, the denomination requires the development of a certain regional style.

A terroir is something absolutely unique. If I make a Shiraz that someone can easily imitate by growing grapes in a different region, then terroir becomes useless.

If you love to collect Shiraz as much as I do, understanding the dynamics of Australian wine regions and keeping up-to-date with the latest vintages is a must. Superb Shiraz comes from a combination of attention to terroir and a great growing season, so it is important to know when and where the stars have aligned to produce the quintessential balance, elegance, and intensity of the best Australian Shiraz.

The climate in Australia isn’t all surf and sunshine. You won’t find the same types of vintages across the country since its weather varies wildly between states. Two wines that come from relatively close terroirs will develop a completely different flavor profile based on ocean exposure, soil type, and rainfall. You only taste one-of-a-kind flavors in Australian Shiraz. Here is a guide for some of the most desirable vintages to add to your collection.

2010 Penfolds Shiraz

With 50% of the country’s wine production nestled along its expansive estates, South Australia is the titan of Australian wines. The Shiraz varietal is a specialty of the region, and, as such, no serious Shiraz collection would be complete without at least one South Australian vintage. The signature for this terroir is a huge fruit-bomb of flavor, which you find in spades in Penfolds Shiraz.

The 2010 growing season saw early budding for Penfolds due to unexpected winter rain. The weather throughout spring and summer was one of the finest on-record, featuring mild, warm weather that allowed the grapes to perfectly ripen at a slow pace. The wines from this slow-growing crop were breathtaking, and many wine critics compare it to the iconic 2008 vintage. As one of the most sought-after vintages from the estate across its labels, 2010 Shiraz from South Australia is the best option for collectors looking for the finest bottles for long-term aging.

While the Holy Grail of Australian Shiraz is the famous Penfolds Grange, the Penfolds Shiraz has a flavor profile you won’t find in any other Penfolds wines. Its oak flavors are stronger, and it lacks the overt ripe flavors of a typical young wine. Despite its youth, this wine has a sophisticated flavor with firm tannins that hold up well to aging.

Penfolds is by far one of the most famous wineries in the entire country, and with good reason. Its flagship wine, Penfolds Grange, receives perfect and near-perfect scores across the board for its heavy concentration of fruit flavors. The winery brings this signature to every wine in its expansive collection, including this 2010 vintage. If you’re looking for an explosion of fruit flavor to add to your cellar, consider investing in a 2008 or 2010 Penfolds.

2002 Keith Tulloch Shiraz Kester

With the longest winemaking tradition in the country, it’s no wonder that the top Shiraz vintages in the world grow in New South Wales near Sydney. The crown jewel of New South Wales wine is Keith Tulloch Shiraz Kester, which receives consistently high scores from wine critics around the world.

It’s true that much of the wine growing in New South Wales today gets shipped off to become box wine, but this region has some of the best conditions for growing fine, expensive Shiraz vintages as well. What makes this terroir unique is that no two subregions taste quite the same, and you can tell each apart instantly. The Hunter Valley is home to the oldest and best wineries in New South Wales, including Keith Tulloch’s rich wine estate. These wines are always structured beautifully, with small, hand-made production styles.

Tradition is key to making excellent Hunter Valley wine since its roots and soil have been in production for generations. When you buy a Keith Tulloch wine, you know you’ll get a well-structured, balanced taste that ages with grace and a smooth finish. The estate’s finest vintages include the 2008, 2010, and 2014, in addition to their 2002 offering. Wine critics consistently regard these four vintages highly due to near-ideal weather conditions in the region that produce some of the best Australian Shiraz of any winery.

You’ll know this terroir instantly by its wines’ earthy, slightly murky textures. With a deep brick color, hints of plum, and a strong nose, the 2002 Keith Tulloch Shiraz Kester beautifully represents the finer peaks of an otherwise commercial terroir. This New South Wales winery proves that there’s far more to this region than cheap box wine.

Since Keith Tulloch wines have to meet exacting standards, and are all hand-selected at every stage from vine to bottle, these vintages are some of the rarest in Australia. For collectors, this means highly profitable investments as fewer bottles become available.

The mild weather in 2002 produced some of the finest reds in Hunter Valley. This vintage hits you instantly with deep, black cherries, dark chocolate, and licorice. One word to describe this vintage is “rich.” Its complex flavors and fine tannins make it an excellent wine to drink right now. You never have to worry about drinking this Shiraz too soon, since this terroir always creates perfectly balanced wines that taste wonderful at every stage.

2000 Shiraz Wild Duck Creek Duck Muck

Drive anywhere in Victoria, and chances are good that you will manage to find at least one winery selling full-bodied Shiraz every few miles. If you want an absolutely hedonistic experience, I recommend making a stop at Wild Duck Creek.

This winery’s 2000 Shiraz Duck Muck is an absolutely one-of-a-kind vintage you won’t taste anywhere else. Its steep, 16 percent alcohol content gives it a heady glow, adding to its already concentrated, full-blown Shiraz flavor. You’ll know this terroir from its practically late-harvest flavor profile, with this vintage representing one of the biggest and boldest a Shiraz can become.

What’s the secret to this terroir’s absolutely mouthwatering wines? Its slow-growing, patient grapes. Duck Muck comes from Heathcote, a subregion of Victoria. Known as one of the best producers of Shiraz in the world, not just Australia, the Heathcote terroir was actually awarded Geographical Indication status in 2002.

The soil here is ancient, rich in calcium and greenstone. The minerals in the soil hold water better than many other terroirs in the country, allowing vines to slowly sip from its underground supply throughout the season. Few wineries in Heathcote even need to use irrigation.

The natural irrigation of this region creates grapes that are tiny, but absolutely packed with flavor. The signature qualities of Heathcote Shiraz wines are opaque, inky colors, strong aromas, and ripe tannins that mellow smoothly with age.

The 2000 vintage combined a mild growing season with the already well-adjusted natural elements of the soil, creating a wine that is even richer in flavor than wines of previous years. What makes this vintage a must-have for collectors is its high concentration that lends well to even long aging periods in a cellar. If you want to take a taste of this wine now, you are definitely in for a treat, but waiting on this one a few more years could yield even more powerful results.

The 2000 Duck Muck is also a rare wine, with less than 200 cases produced. These bottles are bought up quickly by wine enthusiasts because of the vintage’s reputation as a cult wine.  

2012 Brookland Valley Estate Verse 1 Shiraz

The most famous wine region in Western Australia is home to the country’s finest estates, including Brookland Valley and Cullen. The Margaret River region is unique in being surrounded by three bodies of water, which gives its grapes a famously high acidity from the cool ocean breezes. Brookland Valley has taken advantage of this ideal climate, resulting in their receiving multiple top awards over the past five years.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz thrive in the Margaret River climate, with chocolate-dense flavors originating in Wilyabrup and fruit-forward flavors originating in the southern estates from the region. If you’re looking for the richest, cocoa-infused vintages, Brookland Valley’s 2012 should be your top pick for Western Australia.

Don’t take my word for it; at the 2015 Royal Queensland Wine Show, Brookland Valley took home some of the top prizes for its 2012 vintages, including the Best Mature Red of Show award. The key to this estate’s success is not only its ideal, cool Mediterranean-style climate, but its dedication to natural terroir above all else. The owners have famously refused to make their wines using modern techniques that threaten to disrupt the natural growing process of the grapes.

Brookland Valley uses the finest biodynamic techniques to craft their wines, which has resulted in nine gold medals and five trophies at multiple international wine shows in the past decade. The estate is nestled along a northeast-facing slope, which blocks intense winds from cooling the grapes down too much during hot months. As a result, its wines tend to taste more fruit-forward and dense than its fellow Margaret River grapes grown on other estates.

James Halliday has said of the wines on this estate that “the quality, value for money and consistency of the wines is exemplary.” While Shiraz is not as famously grown along Margaret River as Cabernet Sauvignon, the few Shiraz offerings are rare, making them highly sought-after and collectable. The Verse 1 Shiraz is possibly the most lauded Shiraz label in the region.

The weather in 2012 was the finest Western Australia had seen for some time, with long, warm summer days coupled with cool ocean breezes in the evening. The result was a set of wine labels that had more complexity than average, even compared to Brookland Valley’s past fine vintages. Its Verse 1 Shiraz took home a gold medal for 2012, largely due to its rich plum flavors and chocolate overtones that James Halliday said made it one of the best offerings that year.

The Future of Shiraz

Australian Shiraz has a promising future. The area was originally infested with poor-quality wines attempting to take advantage of Shiraz hype, but these wines are fast dwindling. Instead, a terroir-focused culture is emerging victorious, bringing regions like Hunter Valley and Heathcote to the same level as other world-renowned fine wines.

While the traditional high profile producers like Wolf Blass and Penfolds will continue to have a prominent position in the market, young wineries keen on innovation and emerging regions like Victoria will keep Australian Shiraz exciting in the coming years. That alone is worth a spot in your cellar.

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