Barossa Shiraz

The Barossa is a major wine-producing region in South Australia and has become internationally recognized for its Shiraz with over 56 percent of all area under vineyard going to the grape. Stylistically, the wines champion power over finesse with heavy tannins and big fruit.

The name Shiraz is, courtesy of Australia, a derivative of Syrah that has evolved to mean Syrah made in the Australian or new world style as opposed to in the French or European. The grape's ancestral home lies in France's northern Rhône Valley, whereas Syrah, it's known for its dark violet fruit and white or black pepper spice. Syrah is often considered a restrained and elegant wine and is generally the result of slightly cooler climates.

Shiraz, on other hand, is generally the result of hotter climates and tends to be distinctly new world in character. Australian Shiraz is considered particularly big, bold, brash and full of fruit and the grape has become a stalwart of the Barossa region.

History

Grenache bush vines in Barossa
Grenache bush vines in Barossa
? Jonathan Reeve

The history of the Barossa has been tightly intertwined with winemaking since the first European settlers arrived in 1836. The land had been managed by the Aboriginal people who had traditionally looked after it by lighting-controlled fires. As a result of this controlled land clearance, Europeans quickly saw the potential for winemaking with German mineralogist Johannes Menge relaying back to London the valley's suitability for vineyards.

The realisation that the Barossa was ideal for viticulture resulted in the swift establishment of vineyards and as a result, the region is now home to some of the oldest wine brands in the country. Despite the region's name originating from Spain, the majority of the first Europeans in the area were Germans and English with pioneers like William Salter and Joseph Seppelt leaving a lasting legacy.

Two figures who played a key role in the early history of the valley were the English shipping merchant and head of the South Australian Company, George Fife Anfas and a Lutheran pastor called August Kavel. Faced with religious persecution in his native Germany, Kavel was keen to permanently settle his clutch of Silesian followers in the Barossa. A strong partnership between Anfas and Kavel was formed and together they helped create a unified society that benefited from both English and Silesian influence, an influence that still shapes the valley today as can be seen by the presence of Lutheran churches throughout the Barossa.

Another settler, Johann Gramp, planted vines in 1847 on the bank of Jacob's Creek creating what is sometimes considered Barossa's first commercial vineyard – the first wines were made around 1850. Other influential early settlers Oscar Seppelt of Seppeltsfield, Samuel Smith, founder of Yalumba, William Salter whose estate was Saltram and Johann Henschke.

Tasting notes

Rich and Intense red wines
Rich and Intense red wines

Classic Barossa Shiraz tends to be very full-bodied with high alcohol, big tannins and enough acidity to cut through the fruit, although other lower-alcohol styles are emerging. The fruit is dark, rich and deep with flavors of blackberry, black olive, blueberry, black cherry and baked fruit. This cooked character can also manifest as a jammy, confectionary or fruitcake-like note. Alongside the fruit are spice notes of vanilla, tobacco, allspice and baking spices like clove.

Although straight Barossa Shiraz is very popular, Shiraz is often blended in the manner of Rh?ne Valley wines. Classic blends with Grenache and Mourvedre, also known as Mataro, create the distinct GSM blends complete with gamey notes of chocolate and cassis, alongside the other famous Rh?ne-style blending of Shiraz and Viognier.

What does seem to be unique to Australia, but not necessarily to the Barossa, is the blending of Cabernet Sauvignon with Shiraz which has gathered popularity with Penfolds, Jacob's Creek and Wolf Blass all offering their take on the blend.

Food pairings include:

Food pairings
? Fotolia

Barossa Shiraz is rich and full bodied, its generous flavours pair well with dishes displaying intense flavors. Plentiful soft tannins and soft acidity enable it to pair with dark meats, classically beef, but possibly also ostrich and kangaroo. The wine's meaty, gamey notes can intensify with age and pair well with venison and lamb. Hints of pepper in the wine can pair well with spicy foods or dishes with pepper sauces. Potential food pairings matches could include:

  • Beef Wellington
  • Malay Lamb Korma
  • Lentils with Smoked Ham Hock

Popular Barossa Shiraz Brands

Landmark producers of Barossa Shiraz include Henschke, Penfolds, Rockford, Glaetzer, Torbreck and Two Hands. Although there are many others worthy of a mention.

Henschke

Henschke is particularly known for its wines from Eden Valley. Their famous Hill of Grace Shiraz is made from grapes grown from the estate's oldest vineyard block, the Godfathers, which dates back to the 1860s and contains vines that are up to 150 years old.

The estate, like many in the area, was founded in 1862 by Silesians who originated from the regions of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. There is still a strong Germanic influence evident by the lingering affection in the area for traditional dishes like bratwurst. Since the estate's foundation in 1862, Henschke has gone on to critical acclaim and their Hill of Grace frequently commands prices of $500 plus.

Penfolds

Penfolds Estate is arguably Australia's most recognizable brand with wines such as Grange Bin 95 and is often one of the first names people think of when it comes to Australian fine wine.

With its heart in South Australia, Penfolds produces wines from Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills and the Barossa. Although more known for their multi-vineyard, multi-regional blending philosophy, Penfolds does produce some key examples of Barossa Shiraz, most notably the RWT Bin 798. Penfolds' key vineyard sites in the Barossa include Kalimna and Koonunga Hill.

Rockford

Rockford was formed in the early 1980s by Robert O'Callaghan and has become known for both its Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Despite the relative youth of the winery, many of the vines are over 60 years old with some even close to 100.

Their definitive wine is their Basket Press Shiraz which saw its inaugural vintage in 1984. The wine tends to be chocolatey with meaty notes, intensely rich due to the age of the vines and the traditional methods used to make it. As a result, the wine has become highly collectible.

The Barossa Valley wine region

Gum trees and Grenache, Barossa Valley
Gum trees and Grenache, Barossa Valley

Barossa Valley is a large valley within South Australia, home to some of Australia's oldest and most well-regarded vines. Adelaide is the state capital of South Australia with the Barossa Valley a 55km drive to the northeast.

Hot and dry but with cool nights, the Barossa has a Mediterranean climate ideal for growing grapes. This climate not only serves for the traditional big reds but also works well for fortified and full-bodied whites. Low-yielding clay loam and sandy soils promote the growing of quality fruit, top varieties being Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Riesling.

With 50 percent of all vineyard plantings given over to the grape, Shiraz is the undisputed star of the show. What has partly helped shape the grape's formidable reputation is its historical roots. Not only are Barossa Shiraz plants some of the oldest in Australia but also in the world, with certain vines dating back to 1843. These aged vines naturally impart a very rich, concentrated fruit character that has become highly prized.

The Barossa Valley runs alongside the North Para River, flowing east into Eden Valley. Confusingly, wines can be labelled either “Barossa” or the very similar “Barossa Valley”. If a wine is labelled just “Barossa”, it means the grapes have been sourced from the Barossa Zone. The Barossa Zone is the region that encompasses both the Eden and Barossa Valley but wines labelled “Barossa Valley” have to use grapes sourced only from the Barossa Valley.

The Barossa Valley has the largest collection of old vines, some dating back to the 1840's, and is home to a collection of sixth generation wine-making families. Warm and dry with undulating hills, the valley benefits from free-draining loose soil which helps prevent vines from growing too vigorously. Grape-growing conditions are generally good with drought being the main challenge and like much of the Southern Hemisphere, harvest runs between February and April.

Barossa Valley Shiraz tends to be full-bodied, fruit-forward and opulent with a chocolatey, licorice spice. The tannins tend to be strong and drying which can give the wine strong potential for cellaring.

Vineyards in Eden Valley
Vineyards in Eden Valley
? Wikimedia/Fairv8

Eden Valley lies to the east of the Barossa Valley and sits at a higher altitude benefitting from naturally lower temperatures. Despite being cooler and receiving more rainfall than the Barossa Valley, the climate of Eden Valley is still considered Mediterranean. This cooler, damper climate naturally gives the grapes more acidity and provides ideal growing conditions for Riesling although Shiraz is still very much a stalwart grape. Eden Valley Shiraz tends to be slightly lighter-bodied and more elegant than its neighbour with pretty red fruit flavors and tends to lean slightly more towards old-world Syrah with its notes of violet than its valley floor counterpart. Like Barossa Valley Shiraz, the tannins are strong and drying.

Stats

In 2014, it was reported that the Barossa zone covered 169,000 hectares with 13,655 under vineyard and 7140 of those given over to Shiraz. Elevation in the valley goes from 120 metres above sea level to 550 and rainfall is anywhere between 315mm to 780mm.

Future

The future of the valley remains positive with Barossa Shiraz set to continue to perform strongly. Much of Barossa Shiraz has to be dry-farmed with irrigated vines sometimes needing around five litres of water per vine each day during the hot summer months. Climate change and drought are probably the largest threats to the region but white wine and cooler grape varieties are likely to suffer before Shiraz which is better at handling heat.

Drinking window

The majority of Barossa Shiraz can be drunk young but most will stand up for aging and some Shiraz will show best when cellared for 10 years or more.

Serving temperature

Shiraz is best enjoyed at room temperature between 15-18C.




Frequently Asked Questions

The Barossa is most widely recognized for quality Shiraz. Although excellent Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillon, Viognier, Mourvèdre and Grenache are also produced.

Popular and high-quality producers of Barossa Shiraz include Henschke, Penfolds, Torbreck, Rockford and Glaetzer. Notable wines include Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz, Penfolds RWT - Bin 798 Shiraz, Rockford Basket Press Shiraz and Glaetzer 'Amon-Ra' Shiraz.

Notable vintages include 1990, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Chateau Tanunda is the oldest winery in the Barossa Valley region and is also home to some of the oldest vines. The winery was established in the region in 1890 and has been making wine ever since. However, the oldest Shiraz vineyard in the world belongs to Langmeil Winery, also in the Barossa, and the original vines were said to be planted in 1843.

Both Pinot Noir and Shiraz are red grape varieties but they are hugely different in character. Pinot Noir is largely a grape variety best suited to cooler regions and is known for producing hugely complex wines in Burgundy, Germany, Oregon, Washington and Central Otago, New Zealand. The flavor profile is generally focused on red and dark cherry fruit along with earthier notes.

Wines made from Pinot Noir are generally slightly lighter-bodied than other styles of red with relatively high acidity. Shiraz, on the other hand, is typically a more full-bodied style of red wine that can cope with the much warmer climates of regions like the Barossa and Rh?ne Valley. The wines typically display strong notes of red, black and blue fruit, like blackcurrant and blueberry, along with notes of chocolate, tobacco and black pepper.

In the Barossa, Shiraz wines are said to exude notes of eucalyptus and menthol. Where Pinot Noir is elegant and restrained, Shiraz is big and bold.

It depends on the wine, but Shiraz is typically slightly higher in alcohol. Both Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon can make medium to high alcohol wines depending on where they are grown with the average alcohol by volume (ABV) ranging from 11.5 to 15 percent.

However, Shiraz, particularly Australian Shiraz, can make wines with ABV over 15 percent.

Most Popular Barossa Shiraz Wine

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