Aussie Shiraz 

Here’s what we expected: big, gutsy, meaty, peppery wines that were almost meals in themselves.

Here’s what we got: restrained aromas, modest fruit, more cherry than blackberry.

The Omniboire panel had anticipated emerging from this tasting of Australian Shiraz — the “Rock of Gibraltar” of the Down Under wine industry — not only with purple teeth but with palates fatigued from alcohol and pummeled by ripe, dark fruit.

The tree-shaded patio of Bin 555 was an ideal setting for this sampling of big, ballsy wines. They looked dark and intimidating arrayed in the 10 glasses before us. The Bin’s owner and chef, Jason Dady, and his general manager and wine guy, Mark McMurray, were ready to do battle. So were David Verheyen of Glazer’s Distributing, and plastic surgeon and wine aficionada Catherine
Milbourn.

And then nothing happened.

Well, not exactly nothing. But the first three wines failed to make the 13/20 scoring cutoff — a real surprise, especially since one of them,
Mollydooker’s 2006 The Boxer, is part of a portfolio that has become a darling of critics in recent months. Omniboire encourages re-tasting so as not to prejudice the first (or the last, for that matter) wines in a flight, so air time probably wasn’t the entire issue; maybe we just needed our own time to adjust expectations to actuality.

For whatever reason, it wasn’t until we got to wine number four in the sequence, the 2005 Wolf Blass President’s Selection Shiraz, that the panel perked up. “Well-rounded and great with a grilled lamb chop,” suggested Dady. “Herbs and mint … and then the good tar,” offered Milbourn — who had found unacceptable asphalt in a previous glass.

And from here on out, the remaining wines all scored well enough to be ranked. At the low end of the spectrum, yet still a surprise, was the ’06 Reserve bottling from mass-marketer Yellowtail. This was a wine that did open up appreciably with time. “At first there wasn’t much to it, but I like it better now,” said McMurray, an opinion that was seconded by Milbourn, who found a “bitter, sharp nose that `later` opened up with smoky notes.” “Tuna” proclaimed Dady — not in the glass, of course.

Another producer with highly rated wines, though generally at the high end of the pricing spectrum, is Torbreck, and we tasted their modestly priced ’06 Woodcutters Barossa Valley Shiraz. “It hit me like a pinot … I would have called it that,” admitted Milbourn, reinforcing the panel’s general feeling that many of these wines were more like their Rhône Valley syrah counterparts than the stereotypical shiraz .Verheyen, on the other hand, detected more of what is usually anticipated: “multi-dimensional and heady” and “Parker” fruits. (The man has become both verb and adjective over the years.) He also detected high alcohol — a question of balance, since at 14.5 percent the bottle fell far below the 16-percent level of the highest wine tasted.

Omniboire’s 20-point scoring system includes consumer factors such as label-friendliness and much controversy ensued over the packaging of the 2005 Boarding Pass South Australia Shiraz. Yes, its airline-ticket design is cute and tricky — right at the good edge of being too cheeky in Omniboire’s opinion. “I love this label,” admitted Milbourn. But Dady was “shocked” once it was revealed. Having found the wine one of his two favorites, he admitted to expecting a more decorous presentation. Inside the bottle, though, there was more accord. Verheyen did find the BP “light in body” and with a sensation of high alcohol, but others praised its balance and fruit-forward black currant.

Statistically the Boarding Pass’s equal — but for very different reasons — was the 2004 Reserve Jacob’s Creek South Australia. “It has an herbal nose … more like a real syrah,” commented Verheyen. “The taste isn’t up to the nose,” offered McMurray, “yet I could sit and drink it.” “It’s great with the manchego” (one of the many tasting snacks that had come out of the Bin’s kitchen) observed Dady. “I keep going back to this one.”

“Bubble gum,” said Dady. “Big League Chew,” offered McMurray. “Leather lite,” ventured Omniboire. “Juicy,” thought Verheyen — with a “dark and brambly nose and a very long finish.” All this about Tapestry, the 2006 McLarenvale Bakers Gully Vineyard. “A nice, all-around wine,” said McMurray in summation.

Now, if a “bloody nose” were ever to be a good thing it is to be found in the top-scoring wine, the ’05 Rusden Stockade Barossa Valley Shiraz, according to Verheyen, who also found an “explosive palate.” “Wow, this is a good, good glass of wine,” enthused Milbourn, and she was seconded by McMurray, who found “bold aromas and flavors” — though not a very long finish. Keeping things honest, Dady demurred, finding the wine “astringent” and difficult to drink in any quantity. At this point, we were primed for quantity. Which is exactly why the panel is picked from several disciplines — and why these tastings are always such a hoot. A decorous hoot, of course.

Note: All of these wines, most of which were screwcapped, were re-tasted two days later after warm-up from refrigerator temperature. Many came across much bolder, with more of the anticipated peppery aromas and boysenberry flavors layered with coffee and chocolate. The Mollydooker was especially improved. Moral: Decant and let sit while you grill some ’roo on the barbie.

The Ratings

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2005 Rusden Stockade Barossa Valley, $18
Fruit-pit qualities with chocolate and dark berry

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2006 Tapestry McLaren Vale
Bakers Gully Vineyard Shiraz, $14
Berry and bramble on nose, red fruit on palate

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2005 Wolf Blass President’s
Selection South Australia Shiraz
, $19
Initially herbal, then cherry-currant flavors

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2005 Jacob’s Creek Reserve South Australia Shiraz, $14.50
Intense nose, dark and deep red fruits

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2005 Boarding Pass South Australia Shiraz, $18
Light black currant, cherry

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2006 Torbreck Woodcutters Barossa Valley Shiraz, $25
Fresh red fruit, “hot” on palate

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2006 The Reserve Yellowtail South
Eastern Australia Shiraz
, $11
Sharp at first, then smoky with coffee and caramel

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Exceptional, snap it up

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Extremely good, seek it out

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Good, some outstanding qualities

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Good, but consider price

 

Most wines can be found at Central Market,
Saglimbeni Fine Wines and other specialty wine shops


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