Heathcote Shiraz - Top Victorian Shiraz and Equal 3rd out of 60. Divine Magazine
Tasting note: A big,impressive ball of a wine, with dense black-purple colour and typical regional sweet, plush purple blackberry jube fruit flavours wrapped up in a comfortable blanket of persistent but fine, powdery oak. Great potential for ageing for ten years or more.
Winemaker: John Ellis
Vineyard: Although the fruit for this wine is sourced from a few vineyards across the Heathcote region, the core of the blend comes from Athol’s Paddock vineyard,which was first planted (by Athol Guy of The Seekers) in 1993 in the deep red Cambrian soil of the eastern slopes of the Mount Camel.
Vintage: Good winter rain, a dry summer and good ripening conditions. It was dry, though, and the vineyards yielded less than two tonnes per acre of “excellent fruit ”.
Winemaking: The fruit was crushed and destemmed and yeast was added before the must was chilled down to 10 ’C into Defranceschi closed,automatic fermenters. It underwent a cold soak for three days before fermentation kicked in and the temperature was raised to the mid-to high 20s. Fermentation lasted five days, with the automatic plungers in the tanks plunging every four hours. The wine was pressed off, allowed to settle in tank and then transferred to all new, steam-bent American oak barriques from a Missouri-based cooper called Barrel Associates (the same supplier also sells barrels to Mount Langi and Jasper Hill). After malo in barrel the following spring, the wine was racked and returned and spent another eighteen months in wood before being racked, blended, eggwhite fined and coarse - filtered before bottling.
“When we devised and staged the first Divine State of Origin in 1996 as a light-hearted wine competition jokingly modelled on a football game, we thought we were witnessing the peak of popularity for Shiraz (the chosen variety for the inaugural DSO). “Shiraz,” we wrote then,“is flavour of the month-the year,the decade-in 1996.
People are drinking more of it than they ever have; producers are doing more interesting things with it than ever before; auction prices for Shiraz are higher than anyone ever thought possible; and Shiraz is first finally at the fore front of the premium quality push in important markets such as the USA.” To put it mildly, we had'nt seen nothin’ yet.
If we thought there was a lot of Shiraz around then, there is much,much more around now. The 1994 vintage (which provided the bulk of the wines tasted in the first DSO) yielded about 80,000 tonnes of Shiraz. The 2001 vintage yielded over 340,000 tonnes-a staggering 40 per cent increase on the previous vintage alone. And if we thought auction prices and overseas recognition were at a high point then, we were yet to witness the Robert Parker-inflamed phenomenon of small- production, cult Aussie shirazes such as Chris Ringland’s Three Rivers being awarded near-perfect or perfect scores and consequently fetching $1,000-plus per bottle on US-based auction web sites. In other words, Shiraz has continued to grow in popularity- enormously. But there have been some dramatic changes to the Shiraz landscape in those six years, the most significant of which is the broadening diversity of styles. In 1996, the DSO was fought between just three states-Victoria,South Australia and New South Wales. We decided to exclude Western Australia then because, although some good Shiraz was obviously being produced there, we felt the state would not be able to field a team of fifteen to compete. In 2002, as you’ll see, WA not only fielded a team, but-in the judges’ tasting at least - walked off with a confident victory.
A snapshot of Australian Shiraz
What the judges talked about as they added up their points and reflected on the tasting was just as important as-perhaps more important than-the final scores. After the fi rst round of judging, Halliday was particularly blunt about his impressions. He explained that he’d spent the previous couple of weeks tasting Chianti in Tuscany, then pinot noir in New Zealand, and initially all he could taste in these Australian shirazes was American vanilla oak, which lent an appearance of homogeneity. After a while ,though,he was able to taste his way through,and sort out those that were indeed overoaked and overextracted from those that had more restraint and better fruit balance. Having said that, though,Halliday pointed out that “we can’t have it both ways: Australia is known for its generosity of flavour and full-bodied wines, and I don’t see bigness as a problem, necessarily. It becomes a simple choice of style-whether you like the bigger styles or not. And although I didn’t see thinness or overcropping as being a problem in many of these wines (as I was perhaps expecting), there were one or two wines where the excessive levels of tannins and oak distressed me.” Gavin Berry, by contrast, immediately appreciated the divergent styles found among the sixty wines on the table. “There were some [lighter] more rustic styles, as well as some over-the-top styles, and there was a better representation of that diversity than you’d get in a [normal] wine show. I also like the way that, six years ago, WA wasn ’t able to field a team, and now we have, which shows how far we’ve come.” Then, after the second round of judging, when it became clear that the judges had picked three wines from WA and one from Vic as their top shirazes, they highlighted the positive aspects of the tasting.
“Much as South Australia still dominates that ripe fruit and oak style,” said lain Riggs, “the rest of the field is obviously catching up fast with styles of their own.” Halliday was even more concise: “These last twenty wines were very good-and the top three show that the Great Southern is a bloody great area for shiraz.” As we did six years ago, we have asked each of the winemakers of the top seven shirazes-the judges ’ top four and the public’s top three-to take us through the details of production of their wine, in an attempt to explain what makes these so special, so popular.
Judges ’ team results,which were arrived at by adding up the points given to the fifteen wines from each state, are as follows:
The Judges ’ Top 11
1 st 2000 Howard Park Scotsdale (WA)
2nd 1999 Plantagenet (WA)
=3rd 1999 Houghton Frankland River (WA)
=3rd 2000 Hanging Rock Heathcote (VIC)
=4th 2000 McGuigan Genus 4 (VIC)
=4th 1999 Jim Barry Armagh (SA)
=5th 1998 Wirra Wirra Chook Block (SA)
=5th 1998 St Hallett Old Block (SA)
=6th 2000 Jasper Hill Georgia’s Paddock (VIC)
=6th 2000 Summerfi eld Reserve (VIC)
=6th 2000 Dalwhinnie (VIC) 2002
DSO Team Results
1st Western Australia -1293.5 points
2nd Victoria -1282.5 points
3rd South Australia -1264.5 points
4th New South Wales -1251 points