Until the late 1980s Pinfolds Grange was tabled as ‘Hermitage’. Primarily Shiraz with a small blend of Cabernet, the Hermitage labelling was a former synonym for the Shiraz/Syrah grape in Australia. The French Hermitage region is small but has a great reputation of producing powerful reds with great longevity almost exclusively from Shiraz (Syrah). The association of this region to the most famous Australian wine is fundamental to the reputation of Shiraz within Australia.
As outlined in the Decanter Magazine Article: What’s the difference between Syrah and Shiraz? Syrah or Shiraz are entirely interchangeable. It is a fair assumption that if an Australian producer uses the term Syrah it “may denote a more restrained ‘old-world’ style of wine”.
The article further states:
“A traditional Shiraz from South Australia would be considered bolder, with riper and more concentrated fruit, perhaps with earthy and dark chocolate notes plus some extra spiciness from the use of new oak. One might also expect higher alcohol levels, given the hotter climate. Syrah wines from the northern Rhône can also have a robust structure with dense dark fruit, but one might classically expect a leaner, more austere character alongside greater prominence for floral aromas and black or white pepper.”
There are many regions in Australia that have long history of Shiraz production. The main regions are:
One of the defining features of Australia Shiraz is the climate the grape is grown. The above chart has been built form James Halliday’s Wine Companion and helps to outline some of the differences in each area. One signifier is the Heat Degree Days and its relation to the harvest time for the grapes. Take Barossa Valley and Eden Valley as examples. Together they form what is known as the Barossa Zone ( Barossa Valley to the West and Eden Valley to the East). All key markers vary between the two neighbors and as a result, the wines will vary accordingly.
Eden Valley (and its sub-zone: High Eden) are in a chain of hills called the Mount Lofty Ranges east of Barossa Valley. The increase in elevation makes Eden a distinctly cooler climate, leading to the wines with a tart, intense acidity. Acidity is an important trait for age-worthiness in wines, and thus, some of the most age-worthy Barossa wines are from Eden Valley (or have Eden Valley fruit blended in). Shiraz from this area is slightly more elegant (with increased acidity) with an overall more delicate fruit profile, and greater focus on savory characteristics.
The Barossa Valley is a Continental Climate and therefore experiences great weather extremes—cold winters and long hot summer days resulting in quite high alcohol levels are starting 14%–15% ABV and continuing upwards. This heat is at least partly responsible for producing the region’s typical young Shiraz style – full bodied, high in alcohol and a sun kissed character. Barossa Valley Shiraz profile centers around powerfully ripe (confected) blackberry, dried currant and mocha aromas along with a healthy punch of tobacco and an earthiness, spicy (black pepper), rich dark chocolate and often with hints of creamy vanilla thanks to the trend of allowing the wine to end its fermentation in American oak barrels.Tannins are generally grippy, but fine-grained and powdery, rather than chapping or harsh.
The region has many Shiraz vines which were planted more than 100 years ago and cuttings of these old vines are regularly replanted. With these vines the yields are low and these vines produce the red wine grapes resulting in wines of great depth and intensity of flavour.
Clare Valley a series of narrow valleys running north to south, all with very different soil types, hot dry days and cool nights. Despite the heat and dryness most of the vineyards are not irrigated resulting in low yields and intense red wine. Clare Valley Shiraz is a noticeably more elegant red wine than that produced in the Barossa Valley. The cool nights help to preserve some acidity and the red wine has a finer structure with powerful black fruit and slightly minty characteristics.
McLaren Vale on the other hand is a Mediterranean climate. It has a more moderate temperature with a warmer, Being situated near the coast and the Mt Lofty Ranges, McLaren Vale also experiences cool gusts of wind in the evening and early mornings.
The typical McLaren Vale Shiraz lies somewhere in between the typical Barossa and Clare styles. It is not quite as big as a Barossa Shiraz but not quite as refined and elegant as a Clare Shiraz. McLaren Vale Shiraz is generally medium/full bodied (almost sweet) with a chocolatey sweetness and often earthy nuances. The Mediteranian climate (wetter winter and a hot dry summer) of McLaren Vale results in soft wines that develop rich red berry flavours (raspberry and cherry) accompanied by black pepper and spice (nutmeg and cloves). The cool nights protect the grapes and allows the wines to develop great acidity and structure. McLaren Vale produces very approachable Shiraz wines and the complexity of pepper and spice makes them unique. McLaren Vale produces softer, more approachable wines with great fruit intensity and spicy complexity.
I have been fortunate to travel through South East Asia quite a few times in my life. Let me tell you, Bananas in Cambodia are possibly the best tasting in the world. When I get my green tipped banana from the supermarket I am always disappointed. Fruit ripened on the vine for as long as possible will almost certainly have better flavor and character. The analogy I am building is to say that perfectly ripe fruit picked at optimal level will produce sweeter more full flavored juice.
Growing Degree Days
Grapes need adequate amount of warmth to grow properly and to ripen the crop. Grape varieties vary in the amount of warmth needed to ripen adequately. Winkler and Amerine, working at UC Davis, California, developed a simplified index to measure “heat summation” in an attempt to assess grape growing sites for their quality. The heat summation index, known as Growing Degree Days (GDD), is defined as the daily average temperature (the sum of daily maximum and minimum temperatures divided by two) of a site on a daily basis during the seven month growing season (April to October in the Northern Hemisphere, October to April in the Southern Hemisphere) minus a threshold of 50 degrees F (10°C) needed for vine growth and time.