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Shiraz is Back

The pendulum of style swings swiftly in the world of Australian wine.

Chardonnay, once broad and richly oaked, swung toward slimness and finesse, then rebounded to become fleshy yet refined—all in just the last decade.

Shiraz hasn’t been immune to change, either. Momentum had been building for cool-climate Shiraz when Glaetzer-Dixon’s 2010 Mon Père Shiraz from Tasmania won the Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2011. Given annually by the Royal Melbourne Wine Show to the country’s best one-year-old red wine, the award had been long dominated by big, voluptuous South Australian offerings. The selection of Mon Père crystallized in the minds of the wine-drinking public that wines favoring perfume and spice over ripeness and weight could receive critical acclaim.

For Americans, insulated by the three-tiered system of wine distribution (importer-wholesaler-retailer) and the market dominance of a single volume brand, this evolution has been harder to follow. Much as fashion trends in Peoria trail Paris, the styles of Australian Shiraz available in the U.S. are just catching up.

That makes right now an exciting time for wine buyers. Blessed with an influx of soulful offerings, there’s no better time to get (re)acquainted with Shiraz.

The Groundwork

Shiraz is the same grape variety as Syrah, which has its origins in France’s northern Rhône Valley. It’s not related to the city in Iran, as some fanciful tales suggest, but likely a simple bastardization of its original name.

As Europeans colonized Australia, they brought vine cuttings with them, chief among them some known as “Hermitage” (Syrah). These were first propagated for commercial winemaking in the early to mid-19th century.

Because the introduction came before the American vine louse phylloxera struck Europe, the vines brought over were ungrafted. And unlike most winegrowing regions, large portions of Australia remain phylloxera-free, meaning the vines grow on their own roots and have life spans that can exceed 100 years.

These gnarled old vines are impressive to see; rows of weathered hands reaching skyward out of the dusty landscape. They reach for our hearts, too, as there’s a romantic (if debatable) notion to the idea that old vines make better wines.

Barossa wines
Photo by Beau Tritus

Barossa Bombshells

Standish 2012 Andelmonde Shiraz (Barossa Valley); $95, 97 points. You may have to scour the country to secure some of this (only 14 cases were imported), but this is a treasure worth the search. It’s full-bodied without seeming overly rich or heavy, framing the lush notes of dark berries, grilled meat, mint and licorice with supple tannins. Spice-driven flavors linger elegantly on the lengthy finish. It’s delicious now, but should age gracefully through 2030. Epicurean Wines. Cellar Selection.

Torbreck 2012 RunRig Shiraz-Viognier (Barossa); $255, 97 points. RunRig is always complex, and the 2012 doesn’t disappoint in that regard, mixing meaty bacon-like notes with hints of black olives and ripe plums. The tannins are supremely supple, but the acids are crisp, which result in a long, mouthwatering finish. Drink through 2030. Wine Creek.

Thorn-Clarke 2012 Ron Thorn Single Vineyard Shiraz (Barossa); $89, 96 points. Thorn-Clarke has taken its Shiraz to a new level with this single-vineyard wine, bottled only in exceptional vintages. The 100% new American oak gives this a classic Barossa profile, starting with vanilla, cedar and maple syrup-like notes and flowing seamlessly through ripe blackberry and plum flavors. It’s full-bodied, lush and creamy in texture, with a long, velvety finish. Drink through 2025, and possibly beyond. Kysela Père et Fils. Editors’ Choice.

Hunting for Old Vines

Some of the country’s oldest vineyards lie in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, not far from Sydney. It’s not prototypical grape-growing country there. It’s warmer and wetter than ideal, but those facts appealed to early settlers who relied on mixed farming for subsistence.

Within the Hunter, no one has more of a link to the land and its vines than Bruce Tyrrell, whose family has been making wine here since 1864. Visitors can see the original ironbark homestead from 1858 and enjoy tastings in the original winery.

Tyrrell has made it his mission to map and save the region’s oldest vines, now owning several blocks that were planted more than 100 years ago. The oldest patch of vines owned by the family—4 Acre Block—was planted in 1879.

“I don’t think old vines make great wines. I think great sites make old vines.” —Jim Chatto

Because of the rains that often threaten come vintage, Hunter Valley Shiraz isn’t prone to stylistic swings. When the forecast calls for rain, the grapes are picked, often at potential alcohol levels of only about 12 percent.

This early picking shapes the resulting wines into a style that can be taut, austere and bracing when young. Yet, they evolve gracefully into midweight elegance within five to eight years.

“They’re medium-bodied, savory, with acid more important than alcohol,” says Tyrrell. “Most years, you don’t want to be at 14 percent alcohol.”

The Hunter’s most legendary wines, those crafted by Maurice O’Shea at Mount Pleasant Wines from the 1920s through his death in 1956, bore such designations as “Light Dry Red,” without mention of the grape variety.

“That’s the old Hunter Burgundy style,” says Jim Chatto, chief winemaker for ­McWilliam’s Family Winemakers, the owners of Mount Pleasant since 1941 (and partners in it since 1932). “We’re looking at what we did well in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and trying to get back to that.”

Vintage 2014 was “a ripper,” as they say in the Hunter. As we taste the Rosehill Vineyard (planted 1946) and Old Hill Vineyard (planted 1880) Shirazes, Chatto says, “They have those chamois tannins you only get in really old vines.”

Then, in the next breath, he says, “I don’t think old vines make great wines. I think great sites make old vines.”

Photo by Beau Tritus
Photo by Beau Tritus

McLaren Vale Victors

Kay Brothers 2012 Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz (McLaren Vale); $120, 96 points. This full-bodied, muscular Shiraz is built for the ages. Baking spices and plummy fruity form a concentrated, nearly impenetrable wall on the nose, while the palate is nearly dense enough to stand a fork in. Despite all that, it’s not overly heavy or fudge-like, instead offering tremendous poise, purity and length. Drink 2020–30, and likely then some. Quintessential Wines. Cellar Selection.

Angove 2013 The Medhyk Old Vine Shiraz (McLaren Vale); $95, 94 points. Selected from four sites planted 40–60 years ago, this is a full-bodied, muscular, rich Shiraz. Roast-beef notes provide savory counterpoints to ripe plum, chocolate and mint. Long, firm and focused on the finish, where it picks up some mocha nuances. Drink through 2030. Trinchero Family Estates.

Fox Creek 2013 Reserve Shiraz (McLaren Vale); $83, 94 points. Fresh mint and cracked pepper accent dark plummy fruit on the nose, picking up hints of dark chocolate and black olive on the palate. It’s full-bodied, creamy in feel and loaded with supple tannins, which make the wine approachable now, but should sustain it through at least 2025. Kysela Père et Fils.

Hickinbotham 2013 Brooks Road Shiraz (McLaren Vale); $75, 94 points. As Australian vineyards go, this isn’t that old, having been planted in 1971. Chocolate and vanilla shadings frame bowls of mixed berries in this full-bodied, powerful wine. It finishes long and intense, outlined by dusty tannins. Majestic Imports.

Climbing Higher

Getting up and away from the warm, wet climate of the Hunter is one way to find these better sites.

Chris Hancock, deputy executive chairman of Robert Oatley Wines, recalls the beginning of the shift. “Back in the ’70s [with Rosemount], we were sourcing Shiraz from Mudgee to blend in with Hunter. They were darker, more powerful wines,” he said.

Other New South Wales winemakers saw the same thing, and started to gravitate toward higher-elevation vineyards in the regions of Orange, Hilltops and the Canberra District. Philip Shaw, former chief winemaker of Rosemount, purchased his vineyard in Orange in 1988.

“There’s been an evolution in Australian Shiraz. It’s a style of Shiraz that didn’t really exist 20 years ago.”—Jason Brown

“We’re trying to show off an elegant style of Shiraz—medium-bodied, with spice and pepper,” says his son, Daniel Shaw, who’s taken over the day-to-day winemaking.

That’s a trend throughout Australia, as winemakers increasingly search for what Shaw calls “drinkability.”

Generally speaking, that means less weight, alcohol, oak and extraction.

“There’s been an evolution in Australian Shiraz,” says Jason Brown, owner of Moppity Vineyards in the Hilltops region of New South Wales. “It’s a style of Shiraz that didn’t really exist 20 years ago.”

At Moppity, Brown farms eight different vineyard blocks planted to five clones of Shiraz, plus a little Viognier.

“What we’re trying to do is to let the site speak,” he says. “The tannin structure in Hilltops tends to be quite supple and refined.”

Around the Australian capital of Canberra, it’s a similar story, although the history goes back a little further.

At Clonakilla, owner Tim Kirk’s father planted the vineyard—one of the first in the region—in 1971. Located inland and sitting almost 2,000 feet above sea level, it’s a cool region by Australian standards, subject to snow in winter and frosts that limit the growing season.

Kirk is an unabashed fan of the Northern Rhône. He even took his bride there on their delayed honeymoon in 1991. At Guigal, he says, “They [the wines] blew my mind.”

Based on that Côte-Rôtie experience, Kirk came back determined to try Viognier with his Syrah. Clonakilla’s 1994 release included 4 percent of the white variety, and it was the first time that grape combination appeared on the label. The Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier is now an Australian classic.

Tasting through samples of his latest vintages, I’m struck by how the Viognier evolves over time to become one with the wine as a whole. Its Muscat-like perfume sticks out a bit in the tank sample of the 2015, but it’s less overt in the 2014 and only perceptible in the 2013 by virtue of the glossy texture it brings to the palate.

Practically next door to Clonakilla, Nick Spencer, the winemaker for Eden Road, is pursuing a similar style, but without Viognier.

“Canberra Shiraz has that lovely fruit and spice,” he says. “We’re after purity and perfume.”

To capture and preserve these characters, his Murrumbateman wines (the subregion of Canberra District that surrounds Eden Road and Clonakilla) are fermented using indigenous yeasts and mature in 500-liter puncheons rather than traditional barriques.

Those techniques are becoming trendy among forward-thinking winemakers in cool subregions, along with varying proportions of whole-bunch fermentation. It’s a reaction to the high-alcohol, dead-fruit monsters of the late 1990s, which, Kirk calls, “a real dark point in Australian wine history.”

Photo by Beau Tritus
Photo by Beau Tritus

South Australia Specials

Wakefield Estate 2013 St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Shiraz (Clare Valley); $60, 95 points. The Taylor family selected Clare Valley for its Cabernet affinity, but this Shiraz is a knockout. Yes, it’s oaky—full of menthol, vanilla and toasted coconut—but there’s just enough black cherry and plum fruit to support the wood. It’s a plush, full-bodied wine with immense appeal, for drinking through 2025. Seaview Imports. Editors’ Choice.

Henry’s Drive Vignerons 2012 Magnus Shiraz (Padthaway); $80, 94 points. This wine is fleshy and seductive, with irresistible layers of smoke, mint and plum. It’s full-bodied, creamy in texture and lush, staying supple through the long, charming finish. Drink through 2025. Quintessential Wines.

Pushing Boundaries

In Victoria, some winemakers are even going for 100 percent whole-bunch fermentations.

“It adds playfulness to Shiraz,” says Dylan McMahon, winemaker at Seville Estate in the Yarra Valley and grandson of the winery’s founder. “It increases perfume and adds dynamic complexity.”

Seville’s Doctor Shiraz is exclusively whole-bunch and barrel-fermented in 500-liter puncheons. It takes some work to pull a must sample from the newly filled barrel, as most of the berries haven’t burst yet, but the partially fermented juice is already complex.

“It’s dusty, it’s earthy—it tastes like the soil, I suppose,” says McMahon.

The Yarra Valley’s first stars were Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Champagne house Moët & Chandon chose the region for its sparkling wine production. But current hits include Shiraz from such producers as Luke Lambert, Mac Forbes and Jamsheed.

“My interest is Syrah,” says Gary Mills, the driving force behind Jamsheed. “It’s so widely planted it can really reflect the diversity of what Australia has to offer. Victoria is about spice, perfume, raciness and lightness.”

While there’s agreement among winemakers in the region that the days of chasing alcohol and extraction are over, there’s still plenty of room for individual styles.

“Whole bunch has become a regional characteristic for Yarra,” says Sarah Crowe, winemaker at Yarra Yering, perhaps the best known of the region’s historic wineries. Yet Crowe, a fixture on the wine-show judging circuit, also says she prefers the subtlety of 20 percent whole bunch.

Photo by Beau Tritus
Photo by Beau Tritus

Hunter Valley Standards

Tyrrell’s 2014 Shiraz (Hunter Valley); $25, 92 points. The Tyrrell family was excited about its 2014s when I visited there earlier this year, and this suggests the enthusiasm is well founded. The aromas are fresh and floral, loaded with cherry-berry fruit and a hint of cracked pepper. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied and supple, with a long, peppery, silky finish. Broadbent Selections Inc.

Brokenwood 2013 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (Hunter Valley); $125, 91 points. This wine was inadvertently tasted against a bunch of Barossa giants, so I may have underestimated it. It still held its own, delivering subtle notes of plum, cinnamon and clove, plus hints of olive and mocha. It’s medium in body with some herbal notes, yet finishes dusty and mouthwatering. Drink through 2028. Old Bridge Cellars. Cellar Selection.

Hope Estate 2013 Basalt Block Shiraz (Hunter Valley); $15, 90 points. This is already showing some evolution in its color, displaying some lightening at its rim. The aromas are floral and tea-like, with subtle cinnamon and spice shadings. The flavors follow along, resembling Wild Berry Zinger tea. It’s medium in weight, with silky tannins and a softly dusty finish. Winesellers Ltd. Best Buy.

Victorian Tastes

Yarra may be the epicenter of Victorian experimentation, but great Shiraz is grown in nearly every part of the state, and has been for well over a century.

Tahbilk, in the Nagambie Lakes region, was developed as a winery in the 1860s. Fruit from the oldest plantings goes into the winery’s flagship 1860 Vines Shiraz. Planted on a sandy site, those vines survived phylloxera to currently yield 100 to 200 cases of wine per year.

Winemaking at Tahbilk is conservative. It avoids trendy whole bunches and takes place in the winery’s original Polish oak vats. The old-vine fruit then ages in 50 percent new French oak, but most lots are aged in old, neutral casks. It’s an approach that mirrors the historic nature of the property.

“Aromatic range comes from time on the vine, so you need cool climates. It’s a perpetually evolving experimentation.” —Ben Haines

It’s a safe, low-risk practice that couldn’t be more different from that in place at Savaterre, founded in 1996 by foreign-exchange broker-turned-winemaker Keppell Smith.

In his former career, Smith says, “I learned wine wasn’t the shit my mom would drink with dinner,” who set out to find a place where he could make the good stuff. He settled on Beechworth, a historic gold-mining area in the foothills of the Victorian Alps.

He ferments his Shiraz using indigenous yeasts and native malolactic bacteria. He doesn’t filter and opts for about 60 percent whole bunches.

“People either love it or hate it,” says Smith of his style. “It’s a bit dirty.”

Good Granite

Beechworth’s Shirazes are among the most compelling examples in Australia and some of the hardest to track down. Castagna and Giaconda are the other two names to seek out. The region’s decomposed granite soils give something special to the wines, and the growers have a commitment to quality and nonintervention.

“Power, concentration and multiple layers of complexity” are the traits that define Beechworth, says Nathan Kinz­brunner, whose father, Rick, came to the region to establish Giaconda in 1981. “Beechworth allows us to build a lot of finesse into the wines,” he says.

Ben Haines, the winemaker for Grampians stalwart Mount Langi Ghiran, has his own label that he uses to explore various Victorian subregions.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired by some of the great wines of the Northern Rhône,” he says. “But you have to make the wines true to their place.”

According to Haines, “Aromatic range comes from time on the vine, so you need cool climates. It’s a perpetually evolving experimentation.”

That alleged need for cool climates must’ve been lost on the original European settlers of South Australia. They flowed through Adelaide into McLaren Vale and the Barossa in the early to mid-19th century. Those regions are better known for their bold, sun-drenched Shiraz than for delicacy or finesse.

Yet, even in the heartland of big Shiraz, style is evolving.

As Roman Bratasiuk, owner of Clarendon Hills says, “We’re always refining. We’re picking earlier. Some of the wines were high alcohol, which some people may have liked, but I’m being truer to my own palate.”

Even at tradition-loving Kay Brothers, where grapes are still run through a basket press from 1928, things are changing.

“The wheel is turning,” says Colin Kay, third-generation director of the family business. “We’re cutting back on new oak.”

That’s decidedly not the case at Mollydooker’s modern facility in McLaren Vale, where the top Shirazes (Carnival of Love and Velvet Glove) are picked superripe and mature in new American oak. It’s a style that possesses immense appeal in the market, but seems out of step, despite the revolutionary viticulture that drives it.

At Mollydooker, it’s all about technique. That includes everything from the staff’s quirky habit of shaking hands lefty to juice tastings aimed at measuring “fruit weight” and the “Mollydooker shake,” performed on just-opened bottles and meant to supercharge the wine’s performance in the glass.

Photo by Beau Tritus
Photo by Beau Tritus

Heathcote Highs

Jasper Hill 2013 Georgia’s Paddock Shiraz (Heathcote); $85, 95 points. Dusty. Firm. Powerful. Just a few apt descriptors for this vintage of one of Heathcote’s top wines. Mocha, licorice and blackberries feature on the nose, while the palate delivers more of the same—dark fruit, chocolate and plenty of spice. Best after 2020. Old Bridge Cellars. Cellar Selection.

Tournon by Michel Chapoutier 2012 Lady’s Lane Vineyard (Heathcote); $61, 91 points. This starts off slowly, but red raspberry notes emerge after some vigorous swirling. It’s full-bodied and supple, featuring some berry-tea-like flavors, hints of cocoa and a fine, softly dusty finish. Drink it over the next 10 years. Craft + Estate—The Winebow Group.

Preserving Tradition

It’s a decidedly different scene at Rockford in the Barossa Valley, where the 1880s-era destemmer limits the winery throughput, according to Chief Winemaker Ben Radford. The basket press, for which Rockford’s Shiraz is named, is from the 1890s. Just 10 percent or less new oak is used for aging the wines.

Rockford and its owner, Robert O’Callaghan (better known as Rocky), are famous for supporting local vine growers through the community’s tough times of the 1980s. While the government was paying growers to rip out their “surplus” old vines, O’Callaghan and Peter Lehmann were paying the growers for their grapes.

Rockford still doesn’t own any vineyards, choosing to honor its history by continuing to purchase fruit from dozens of individual growers through the Barossa and Eden valleys. Between the quality of the wines and the local community support, 96 percent of the winery’s volume is sold direct. If you find a stray bottle in the U.S., give it a try.

Over the years, Rockford has served as an incubator for young winemaking talent, but one of its first alumni was a bricklayer. Michael Waugh helped O’Callaghan rebuild the rundown Rockford buildings before Waugh launched his Greenock Creek label with the 1984 vintage.

“When I first bought, there were 30 wineries,” Waugh says. “Now, there are 140.”

At Greenock Creek, there’s a resolute belief in dry-grown vines. Winemaking is old school: Everything is destemmed, acid-adjusted to a pH of 3.6 or less, fermented in small, open-top bins and aged predominantly in American oak for 28 months.

The results are incredibly true to their roots. It’s possible to taste differences between the various single-vineyard wines, and they all faithfully reflect vintage conditions. In hot years, the wines can be warm and high in alcohol, whereas they tend to have better balance in cooler, more even-ripening years.

Photo by Beau Tritus
Photo by Beau Tritus

Yarra Valley Elegance

Innocent Bystander 2014 Mea Culpa Syrah (Yarra Valley); $60, 93 points. Sourced from the Tarraford Vineyard (better known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) this is a floral, aromatic wine. Notes of green peppercorns and pipe tobacco ease into raspberry fruit, made more complex through whole-bunch fermentation. The wine’s silky texture is an added treat. This has the potential to be really interesting as it evolves through at least 2025. Old Bridge Cellars. abv: 14%    Price: $60

Yarra Yering 2010 Underhill Shiraz (Yarra Valley); $90, 93 points. This medium-bodied wine features a hint of cracked pepper on the nose, then eases into a range of notes covering spice, plum and cigar box. Dural Wines.

Ben Haines 2013 Under Woods Steels Creek Shiraz (Yarra Valley); $55, 92 points. Meaty and savory, this is surprisingly full-bodied and supple for a Yarra Valley Syrah. Blackberry and spice notes balance out the meatiness, imparting a bright, mouthwatering juiciness to the long finish. Little Peacock Importers.

The “New” Barossa

Up the road, sixth-generation grower Damien Tscharke may represent another facet of the Barossa story, but his views reflect the importance of getting harvest dates just right in this warm climate, basing them on tannin maturity and acid retention.

“I’ve never had any regrets for picking early, only too late,” he says.

As a young man crafting surprisingly affordable wines in the Barossa, Tscharke wields important influence on perceptions of the region.

“It’s easy in warm climates to make big black wines that are easy to admire but hard to drink,” he says. “We want elegance. We want balance. We want wines that are drinkable even in the warmer years.”

In his Cornas-inspired 2014 Estate Shiraz, that’s achieved through earlier picking and the inclusion of 30 percent whole bunches. The result is a slightly funky, black olive-laden wine that marries silk and velvet.

“You need to appreciate it for what it is, not what Barossa often is,” says Tscharke.

He sums up his views on winemaking succinctly: “A winemaker’s job is not about trying to create something special, it’s about not [expletive] it up.”

Another sixth-generation Barossan making waves is Dan Standish, whose family history in grape growing goes back to 1848. He started The Standish Wine Company in 1999, while he was working at Torbeck, but has been on his own since 2005. His focus is on dry-grown, single-vineyard Shiraz.

“In ’16, I worked with 15 vineyards,” he says. “I’ll probably bottle four or five. Average yields are a half-ton per acre. In a great year, we might hit the 1,000-case mark.”

At those yields, prices start around $90 per bottle. Yet, for its quality, that price still represents solid value. The fruit is handpicked and not inoculated, with a lot of whole bunches retained.

“If you pick up a glass and you smell the whole bunch, it’s too much,” says Standish. “I like to pick early to retain natural acidity. The challenge here is to get some finesse into the wines.”

Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace
Photo by Beau Tritus

The Elephants in the Room

Knowledgeable readers will have noticed that Australia’s two most famous wines aren’t really part of this story. That’s because Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace stand apart from and above the style debate.

Grange is always a blended wine, nearly always includes fruit from different parts of South Australia, and incorporates Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to Shiraz. Created by Max Schubert in the early 1950s, it’s a wine of enormous power and extraction that’s made to age for decades.

Hill of Grace is a single-vineyard Shiraz from the Eden Valley. First planted in the 1860s, those vines have been nurtured by five generations of the Henschke family. It was first bottled on its own in 1958. As a single-vineyard wine, it’s less consistent from year to year than Grange, but often equally (or more) profound.

No other winery can match the vineyard resources of Penfolds, so the trend in recent years has been to emphasize place as a key point of difference. More and more single-vineyard wines are being bottled, though many wineries don’t want to acknowledge their fruit sources for fear of losing them to competitors.

Penfolds 2010 Grange Shiraz (South Australia); $850, 99 points. This inky, embryonic wine deserves to be cellared until at least 2025 and should drink well for at least 25 years after that. It takes its time opening up in the glass to reveal notes of grilled meat, vanilla and plum. In the mouth, it’s full bodied and firmly built, with a wall of chewy tannins surrounding a deep ripe core. Treasury Wine Estates. Cellar Selection.

Henschke 2010 Hill of Grace Shiraz (Eden Valley); $820, 96 points. Is this the yin to Grange’s yang? The wines are completely different, yet they’re almost always discussed together. The 2010 HoG is aromatic and bright, with raspberry and cranberry fruit notes, hints of mint and a pinch of peppery spice. It’s full bodied, but with elegant, supple tannins that ease gently into a long, crisp finish. Drink through 2030. Negociants USA. Cellar Selection.

Consistent Clare

That’s a challenge that’s been embraced by winemakers throughout South Australia.

“We were getting bigger than Ben Hur,” says Kevin Mitchell, the owner-winemaker of Kilikanoon in the Clare Valley. “Now we’ve brought things back to around 14 or 14.5 [percent alcohol].”

It’s an admission you might not have heard 10 years ago. At the time, many South Australian winemakers seemed to think bigger was better and that ripeness was the ultimate goal.

“I’ve been searching for a more elegant style the past seven or eight years,” says Mitchell.

We taste Kilikanoon’s 2010 Attunga 1865 Shiraz alongside the 2004. The differences are palpable. Despite being six years younger, there’s less velvet and more silk in the 2010. The amount of new oak used in the 2010 was pared back from 100 percent to 80 percent. Additionally, its harvest date was attuned more to the wine’s acid levels than how much sugar the grapes can hold.

It’s a challenge that’s never been a challenge at Clare’s most famous wine estate, Wendouree, where wine has been made since 1895.

These are medium-bodied dry reds, the sort of wine you imagine European settlers craved as a reminder of the continent they left behind.

Current owners Tony and Lita Brady arrived on the historic property in 1974 with no winemaking experience.

“I was truly, truly ignorant,” says Tony. “I hope I’m being consistent.”

There’s a twinkle is his eye, but even after 40-plus years producing a wine sold exclusively to an oversubscribed mailing list, that’s the sort of humility with which he approaches every day.

The Bradys seem to view themselves at least as much as stewards as they do owners. Tony attributes the winery’s success to the uniqueness of the site.

“You get a richer flavor at a lower sugar level,” he says. “Wines from here have extraordinary chemistry—low pH at a given ripeness.”

Remarkably, that ripeness typically comes at around 13.5 percent potential alcohol. We taste through the 2012–14 vintages of Wendouree Shiraz, and I note the labeled alcohol levels: 13.6%, 14% and 13.7%, respectively. Then we skip back to the 1991, which comes in at 13.5%.

These are medium-bodied dry reds, the sort of wine you imagine early European settlers craved as a reminder of the continent they left behind. The sort of wine that marries well with hearty tranches of steak or lamb but still has the delicacy to refresh the palate.

In short, they’re the kind of wine I want to drink. The kind of wine other Australians are increasingly making. The kind of wine that Americans should be rediscovering.