Following closely on the Top 20 Chardonnay comes the Top 20 Shiraz of February 2020.
For this lineup I dug deeper into the sample pile, searching – perhaps blindly – for something beyond paint-by-numbers oak/fruit/added tannins in search of wines with charisma.
And found plenty to be excited about.
There are a few names that pop up more than once in this list, headlined by Gundog – with Matt Burton & team pumping out a huge array of ’18 reds from Canberra, Hilltops and the Hunter with lowish alcohols and showing convincing regional character.
Yes, bloody please.
Gundog Estate Marksman’s Shiraz 2018
Gundog’s Canberra wines just get better (and better). This Shiraz is all Canberran fruit and it’s a flashy beast – a real statement wine. Initially I thought the Marksman’s was too rich, too plump, too berried, with lavish oak. But underneath its a surprise packet. Moderate. Savoury. Drying. It’s still plush, but it’s more an indication of intent rather than a fault. Quality Shiraz for the very long haul. Best drinking: wait. 2024 onwards for 15yrs plus. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13.5%, $65. Would I buy it? Bottle for the cellar.
Gundog Estate Rare Game Shiraz 2018
From our nation’s capital back to the Hunter Valley and another Gundog headnodder. Fruit for this comes from the Somerset Vineyard’s 1970 plantings and Tinkler’s ‘48 block. Quality dirt. Bright red ruby, it captures the energy and liveliness of Hunter Shiraz in a warm and even vintage. A cavalcade of purple berries. Bursts of fruit. Mid palate torrents even, but in a profoundly medium weight unforced way. Who needs more ripeness when everything is in its right place? Best drinking: now until whenever, wherever. 18.5/20, 94/100. 13%, $60. Would I buy it? Yes.
Juxtaposed Old Vine Shiraz 2017
Last year Wes Pearson’s Grenache was the winner, this year it’s the Shiraz’s turn. Blewitt Springs Shiraz from the Sherry Vineyard and the Wait Vineyard, and channelled into a really clever modern Shiraz. Red fruit. Pan juices. Mediumness. There’s a mushroomy savouriness, a difficult-to-pin- down mid palate x-factor layer that takes this from ‘appealing’ to ‘eye-catching’. Winner. Best drinking: go now to ten plus years. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14%, $27. Would I buy it? It’s too cheap. I’d buy it and so should you.
Schwarz Wine Co. Schiller Shiraz 2017
Jason Schwarz dials up the Barossa flavour again. From vines planted in 1881, I thought this would be bigger given the dark purpleness but no, the expected extravagance doesn’t come. Don’t get me wrong, the palate is still drenched with vibrant purple fruit but it never gets heavy, just vibrant and well sorted. Oak integration A+ too. Welcome moderation reflective of 2017, I guess, and what charm. Best drinking: now to ten years. You could keep it longer but hey why wait. 18.5/20, 94/100. 14.5%, $75. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Galafrey Whole Bunch Shiraz 2018
From 20yo dry grown vines – which is young for Galafrey, given that the Tyrer family vineyard is now approaching 45 years old. As the name suggests, this includes some whole bunches, which I think give this Shiraz more. More tannins. More interest. Quintessentially a savoury style, with dark fruit with more meat and rosemary than jubey fruit. Tannins. Tannin driven. But at 13.5% it’s really quite balanced. Deep, brooding and with much to chew on. Well done. Best drinking: Now to fifteen years easy. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? A few glasses, maybe more.
Gundog Estate Hilltops Shiraz No. 2 2018
Gundog goes to the Moppity Vineyard. Bright red fruits, rosemary, mint and purple texta. Ripe, but not jammy, the fruit again well handled – chunky, lightly tannic and full flavoured. Misses that scorched Cherry Ripe character I see in Hilltops Shiraz. Really good. Best drinking: 12 months will be welcome. Then 10+ years. 18/20, 93/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? Worth a bottle.
Rockbare RB1 Single Vineyard Shiraz 2016
The very definition of a smooth and generous Barossa Shiraz. Sourced from old vines in Marananga you can almost guess the script here – luscious fruit, chocolate bullets oak, the palate silken with ripe fruit and oak filling every crevice. But that generosity, that western Barossan blackness makes it a keeper. Chocolatey and dense. Like biting into chocolate cake. It’s maybe a bit singular (and unsubtle), but this is charming in its mode too – the right sort of powerful Barossan red. Best drinking: now to ten years plus. 18/20, 93/100. 14.5%, $51. Would I buy it? I spotted it for $36 in retail land. I’d buy at that price for a Barossa fix.
Varney Wines Shiraz 2017
A blend of Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale fruit for this. Alan Varney explains that ‘I like to use fruit from these two regions for the heady aromatics and spicy notes which he cooler sites lend’. Spends 10 months on older oak. Just 84 cases produced! I like the cross regional thinking here. Thick and dark red berries (McLaren Vale) meets lighter blackberries and peppery bitterness (Hills). A little drying and warm to finish but this has layers and interest. Drink now to ten years or more. 18/20, 93/100. 14.2%, $42. Would I buy it? Worth sharing a bottle.
Gundog Estate Hilltops Shiraz No.1 2018
By contrast, this comes from the Freeman vineyard at Prunevale. Fascinating tasting this up against the No.2. It’s juicier, brighter, prettier but turns dried on the finish. Fun and vibrant, with a solid mid palate of glossy fruit and a sense of lightness. Has a Canberra-esque aromatic profile which you just don’t see in Hilltops Shiraz. The slight desiccation on the finish is my only quibble. Best drinking: now to ten plus years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $35, would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Gundog Estate Smoking Barrel Red 2018
What, more Gundog? Every bottle of these ’18 Gundog reds was a winner in Groundhog Day-esque form (love that movie). Anyway, this is a Hunter/Canberra blend. Both regions give a bit here – tangy, proper earthen Hunter Shiraz gives a middle, before glossy, oak-rich, ripe red Canberra fruit kicks in. I marginally like the less dominant Hunter portion, but like the Marksman above that could be a maturation point. Enjoyment is still high. Best drinking: now to at least ten years. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Meerea Park The Aunts Shiraz 2018
Meerea Park are one of many Hunter producers to have publically announced they won’t be making much wine out of 2020, which is miserable. Lucky that they still have wines like this in the shed. Sourced from the Lochleven vineyard, it has that remarkable boysenberry purple colour of modern Hunter Shiraz. Glossy purple berry fruit on nose and palate too. Mid weight but with fruit density, the palate rounded and polished with some background oak to fill things out. Very Hunter Valley, if in a chunkier mode, and has the legs to be a long-lived style. Good. 17.7/20, 92/100+. 14%, $27. Would I buy it? Well worth a bottle
Pikes The E.W.P Shiraz 2017
The top dog Pikes Shiraz and it’s THICK. Firm. densely packed style with old school weight and impact. Easy to see the intensity here, and it’s built for the long haul though it feels a bit OTT for the moment. Plus sign important as the structure is very sound. Best drinking: come back in 5 years. Then 15+ years easy. 17.7/20, 92/100. 14%, $75. Would I buy it? For the cellar maybe, but wouldn’t be drinking it yet.
Pikes Eastside Shiraz 2017
Another solid regional release from Pikes. Mid weight, the palate generous with its red fruit but not overt, the flavours amiable and the style really quite appealing. No alarms, but such an easy wine to appreciate. I’m a fan. Best drinking: ready to go but has that Clare depth to it (so it will last). 17.5/20, 91/100. 14%, $32. Would I buy it? Yes. I enjoy this style.
Alkimi Syrah 2016
Proper cool climate Shiraz/Syrah here from the Warramunda Vineyard in the Yarra. 25% whole bunches in the mix and matured in 30% new oak, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. White pepper powder as the first character but it’s not peppery in the rotundone mode. White rather than black pepper. Actually it’s probably more Pinot than Syrah, with cherry fruit and a real tang. It’s lithe and a little bony, a wine of acidity and some subtlety, refreshment but not instant gratification. Interest high all the same. Best drinking: from now. I would tend to drink earlier rather than later myself but this style of understated Yarra Shiraz/Syrah doesn’t typically fall over in a hurry. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.2%, $32. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Dodgy Bros Shiraz 2018
Such a different wine to the Juxtaposed, even despite the very different vintage. Luscious wine, very much in the riper, southern Vale mode rather than Blewitt Springs. It’s bold. Bold, full through the middle, boozy, with dark chocolate and raspberry liqueur to finish. Love the density through the mid palate, though it just tends a bit baked to finish for my tastes. Best drinking: now to ten plus years. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.5%, $?. Would I buy it? A glass.
Eldorado Road Perseverance Old Vine Shiraz 2017
From low yielding old vines in Glenrowan. There’s a great story behind this block too. I was a bit surprised at the shape this vintage. Dense and raspberried, the palate could almost be McLaren Vale, the flavours just a little stewed with firm desiccated tannins. Lovely red fruit, but less warmth would be better to nail the balance. Best drinking: now to fifteen years, if the tannins don’t dry things out too much. 17.5/20, 91/100. 14.3%, $65. Would I buy it? A glass
Gundog Estate Squire’s Shiraz 2018
Righto, last Gundog. This is from Canberra & Hilltops fruit. Even, purple-fruited style that is well handled. Not wild, just good. There’s a caramel plum Hilltops character and boysenberry Canberra fruit thing and a genuine sense of savoury balance. Perfectly ripe. It’s maybe a bit simple to be exceptional, but a good solid drink. Best drinking: now onwards. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $35. Would I buy it? I’d share a bottle.
Bremerton Old Adam Shiraz 2016
Woah. As ever, the Bremerton flagship Shiraz is big! Overt oak, overt fruit, overt alcohol. It’s all a bit much. But hey, this will turn heads and flashy as fuck. Lacquered alcoholic Shiraz alcohol. Sweet oak and sweet alcohol. I could mark this much lower as it’s not my sort of wine at all. But I admire the unwavering conviction and intensity (hence the pass mark score). This will have plenty of fans. Best drinking: worth waiting a few years for integration. It will keep for decades. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $60. Would I buy it? No.
Harewood Estate Shiraz 2018
Lots of flavour, as usual. The estate range for Harewood inevitably delivers bargains, just like this. Black fruited, inky and just a little warm – it’s a big fruit bomb. More depth than some vintages too. Even some leathery spice, which is welcome for a wine that can look un-regional. $20 of juicy Shiraz well delivered. Best drinking: now to maybe eight years for a start. 17/20, 90/100. 14.5%, $20. Would I buy it? A glass or two.
Pirathon Blue Shiraz 2017
Not quite up to the same tier as the very well priced Pirathon Silver, but a bargain Barossa red. Plump, warm and grainy warm plum fruit in a luscious and sweet-fruited mode. Really lush fruit. Medium bodied, full of flavour, the only downer is the warm alcohol. $18 well spent as well. Best drinking: now to eight plus years also. 17/20, 90/100. 14.8%, $18. Would I buy it? A glass or two
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