Sunday, June 28, 2009


Well, another year, another fantastic day at the Edinburgh Shiraz Challenge.

Fortunately for the organisers temperature wasn't a concern this time round. Even though it was a mere 17 degrees outside, the sun shone brightly on the great white marquee, providing an idyllic setting for those fortunate enough to get a spot in the beer garden for post-tasting drinks/nibbles/wind down.

The day began with a fairly hectic start, as there was a line up of roughly a couple hundred people waiting to get in from around 11am. This was the first time I've seen such a line up at the Shiraz Challenge (say 15-30 min wait), so I expected things to be busier than usual upon entry. Surprisingly I was wrong, as crowd numbers were fairly typical for the event. My estimates would say somewhere around 500-600 people.

The crowd consisted of the Ed's usual 'mature', sophisticated and classy patrons, but it's always good to see some younger tasters getting into the action. I was particularly impressed by some of the young wine reps assigned to the Shiraz Challenge this year. These young wine fanatics really breathed a new lease of life into the day for me. In most cases they were polite, articulate, generous, personable, and supported very sound knowledge of their products. It's just a shame there was so many wines to taste and so little time, I would've loved to spend a bit more time conversing with the future faces of our wine industry. Who knows? Maybe the next wave of industry leaders could've been standing in that very marquee? (But more likely Roseworthy or somewhere like that ;)

As for the wines there were a couple of trends I noticed amongst the 300 or so exhibitors.

There seemed to be a significant number of ultra ripe wines smoothed out by sweet oak present (mainly South Australia and certainly 2007s). Although fairly pretty and drinkable now, these certainly aren't exceptional wines and in most cases lacked the structural elements required for genuine development. I don't think anyone would disagree with me that the last few years have been fairly unkind for shiraz in South Australia.

Despite being obviously misrepresented I was rather impressed by some of the interstate wines on offer. Of the few interstate wineries present, it was apparent most of them left their reserve level or better wines at home (Best's, Mount Pleasant, Cape Mentelle and Mount Langi were prime examples), this ran in contradiction to the local boys who generally seemed very happy to have their best wines on show. However, what was there from the other states really proved to me that these regions have caught up to South Australian shiraz in the value for money stakes. In most cases they proved a delightful, if occasional, contrast to the ripe, sweetly fruited wines so common throughout the day.

One last point I want to make before delving into my tasting notes is about McLaren Vale 2006 shiraz. As a group they were the clear standouts of the tasting. Some fruity, vibrant wines yes, but still retaining that natural balance and structure which is essential to magnificent wines.


I just want to enforce the point here that all these notes were conducted on tastings, or samples. Anyone associated with me knows how much I value actually drinking wine in reasonable quantity, taking time to understand each wine for accurate assessment. That is why these relatively brief notes are included here under a separate post, and will not be entered into the Wine Reviews section. Prices have been included to give readers some idea of the exceptional value offered on the day.


Okay, so maybe I'm a little biased towards this wine as I lived in Reynella for the first 20 years of my life, but by my recollections this is the third straight magnificent vintage of this traditional label (2004-96pts, 2005-95pts). The label itself is presently in the middle of some serious controversy (well, one vineyard in particular), but I'm going to leave that matter alone for now as long as they keep smashing out top wines like this. Deep set nose, lively aromas of raspberries and cassis with well defined cedar/vanilla oak. Wonderfully smooth, almost creamy palate, with a perfectly restrained extract of creamy vanilla/chocolate oak caressing its vibrant fruit in a soft, silky manner. Outstanding drive, depth and persistence of flavour. A superb example of old vine McLaren Vale shiraz. 95

Admittedly this was far from the first time I've tasted this wine. From what was a variable year at best in the Vale, Corrina Rayment fashioned this outstanding shiraz with her trademark finesse, elegance and longevity. Even and harmonious nose, very classy, fragrant cedar/mocha oak meshed with reserved (rare for vintage) regional red and dark fruits. Incredibly elegant for both region and vintage, with deep, vibrant flavours which extend long into the aftertaste, developing into accentuated fruit and olive nuances. 94

A great return to form for this, one of Clare's most important shiraz labels, after a disappointing 2005 release. Compellingly vibrant nose. Jujube like fruit profile complemented by assertive chocolate/coconut oak. Medium-bodied Clare style with juicy fruit palate, lightly spicy finish and good, but not aggressive tannins. Extremely drinkable and approachable - a top medium term prospect (especially under Stelvin luxe). 94

One of the annual highlights of the Shiraz Challenge for me is the brief chance I get to talk to Woodstock chief Scott Collett, after all, I did vote the 2004 Stock's 'Best Wine of Day' at the 2007 Challenge. Unfortunately Scott was away on business in Queensland this year, but his young female colleague provided one of the bright spots of my day. On opening a new bottle of The Stock's she enquired if I minded waiting a minute for her to aerate the wine; 'not at all!' I replied. She proceeded to triple decant the bottle in less than a minute. I've encountered many cellar door hands/reps who could learn from her about wine service...Rather oaky on the nose but very pleasant and classy. Lovely nutty/cedar/vanilla oak fragrance with an understated regional fruit base. Smooth and vibrant, beautifully long, savoury finish with handsome oak overlapping its vivid red/dark fruit flavours. A great shiraz, it's just a shame about the new, cheaper looking bottle/label. 94

In my brief encounters with 2007 Hilltops shiraz (doesn't extend much further than Clonakilla's to be honest), I've found the region produced some beautifully natural wines. The McWilliams' guy supported my belief that although the Barwang range is hugely popular in the eastern states, it barely gets a look in S.A. Savoury, genuine cool climate nose with a great mix of small, evenly ripened berry fruits. Not a shred of over ripeness. Classically elegant, fine and tight, with assertive, grainy tannins dragging out its long finish. Should cellar well at this price. 91

Another Constellation brand which has created recent headlines, and possibly for the wrong reasons, yet still manages to deliver excellent wines. Sweet red/black berry fruits with licorice tones. More medium bodied yet surprisingly elegant Clare shiraz. Good structural lift. 90

Here's a selection of other tasting notes I managed to accumulate throughout the day, sorted by alphabetical order. There are some pretty handy wines in this list. I've kept numbers and details down somewhat, whilst sticking to some of the more important producers present on the day. Please remember once again that these notes were compiled on tastings or samples, and all are shiraz (obviously).

BEST'S BIN NO.1 2006 ($23)
Great to see some good Western Victorian shiraz in attendance. This provided a welcome change towards the end of the day. Tight, restrained redcurrant, dark plum and herbal/spice notes. Powered by fine grained French/cedar oak. Fine and elegant, great drive, precision and spicy finish. Classic regional style. Top value. 92

BOWEN ESTATE 2006 ($26)
Deep nose, lovely small berry fruits with classic cedar/vanilla oak. Sensuous, silky mouthfeel offset by traditionally assertive Coonawarra tannin. Savoury fruit profile blessed with good penetration and length. Marvellous result for the season. Another great Coonawarra shiraz from Bowen Estate. 93

CAPE MENTELLE 2005 ($33)
Elegantly restrained berry fruits; blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and light pepper. Classy palate, chocolate oak and spice. Long, fine finish. Should fill out nicely with a few more years in the bottle. 91

CHAPEL HILL 2007 ($27)
Sweet, over ripe nose. Good concentration and length but the fruit is decidedly overdone. 86

Even though the wine disappointed me somewhat, everything else about the entire Clarendon Hills' operation impressed me. The guys behind their attractive display, especially Alex, were extremely professional yet polite, kind and warm, and clearly the best dressed people in the room. All wine was sufficiently aerated with two decanters constantly on the go with backup bottles cracked and ready for use, and sample sizes were the most generous of the day, even more impressive when you consider the brand's reputation and the wine's price. Very ripe, meaty, dark fruited nose with a soft oak influence. Rather elegant palate by Clarendon Hills' style, more medium in body, with sweet oak smoothing out moderately concentrated, sour edged dark fruit flavours. 90

CORIOLE 2006 ($25)
Vivid colour, evenly matched dark plum, raspberry and exotic spice notes with finely tuned vanilla/chocolate oak. Deliciously long and vibrant, balanced, and with more structure and finesse than most. Long, dusty finish framed by fine grained tannins and clean acidity. 93

From my understanding something of a stop-gap measure until the 2006 Lloyd Reserve arrives. More essence-like with jujube-like fruit profile than the Estate release, but somewhat flatter, without the vibrancy, structure or longevity. 89

Quite a traditional, almost old fashioned red, yet undeniably Dead Arm. A touch closed in aroma at this stage but reveals a savoury, firm and rustic palate. Requires a few more years yet to unravel and show its best. Should be worth the wait. 93

Formerly Green Point, now labelled as Domaine Chandon. Gently spiced, red fruited, quite savoury nose. Elegant, velvety texture carries the wine into a focused finish coated in well defined tannins. 91

HAHNDORF HILL 2005 ($25)
A smallish winery capable of good shiraz and chardonnay. The 2005 Shiraz is no exception, one of the real pleasant surprises of the day. With the Adelaide Hills still gaining in popularity, watch this space! Oh yes, and I loved the humble, down to earth nature of Melissa. More savoury, red fruit nose with tight-knit oak present. Elegant and harmonious, inobtrusive palate. Top Adelaide Hills shiraz. The type of wine you could just drink and drink... 92

HARDYS HRB D637 2006 ($33)
An oddly named wine with an unusual regional make-up (Clare Valley/Adelaide Hills). Red fruits and spice, light-medium bodied, bit thin and dry. Finishes strong with hints of licorice. 88

Obvious viognier influence announces distinct dried apricot aromas over dark currant fruits. A bit sweet and soft, viognier makes its presence felt once more in the warm, somewhat tart finish. 88

I gotta thank the informative, kind rep here (I think his name was Tim?), I was going to bypass this wine and go straight for the Curagee, but thankfully I didn't. Understated nose. Soft, supple and restrained palate. Tightly wound with clean notes of pepper woven throughout dark fruits. Excellent regional style at this price. Surprisingly much better than the Curagee of the same year. 92

The Barossa sourced Hentley Farm wines always seem to do well with the punters at this event. Like the Kaesler Bogan, I'm not sure if it's due to exceptional wine quality or cleverly branded, easy to remember names. Regardless of this, I did enjoy the 2006s and they've certainly carved out a market for themselves. Very rich, currant/fruitcake aromas lead into a surprisingly even, deep, plummy palate with a balanced finish. 93

Fairly oaky nose, richly scented but evenly ripened. Clean, smooth and powerful palate, concentrated to the point of no return. Maybe I had my wires crossed but I found The Beauty more of a beast than the The Beast. Nice wine though. 92

Ripe, stewy fruit fragrance supported by smooth vanilla oak. Distinctive sour edged acidity offsets ultra-ripe red/blackcurrant fruit flavours, delivering pleasing overall balance. Fine and dry finish. 89

I'm a little surprised why Primo chose not to release this in 2005 or 2006, but then made an Angel Gully from the very difficult 2007 vintage. All the same, I'd never question anything the absolutely brilliant Joe Grilli does. Go forth Joe! Deep, floral nose with slightly confectionary red/black fruits and violets. A beautifully smooth and powerfully concentrated palate handles its opulent ripeness well. Just lacks the structure and vitality for a higher score. 93

Restrained nose. Typical red fruit characters overlying pencil shavings-like oak. Smooth, slippery, almost viscous texture. A clean and vibrant, great quaffer. Truly regional, early drinking style, but I did prefer the 2005. 89

Most under-rated, best winery in McLaren Vale? Dark fruited black cherry and plum nose, with savoury cedar/vanilla oak and bitter chocolate undertones. Full and stylish, exudes elegance throughout a velvet texture. Beautifully composed fruit flavours matched by sour edged acidity. Lasting finish. 93

I have that admit that Penfolds' wines have tricked me a bit in past tastings. I really find that the house style isn't done justice by a mere tasting, as I've often considered my initial tasting/sampling notes needed some serious reconsideration after a glass or more had been consumed at a later date. Quite frankly I've found I tend to under-rate them. p.s. the young Penfolds rep was a champ; bubbly, enthusiastic and well versed in Penfolds' wines, a real delight to deal with for a young consumer like myself!

PENFOLDS BIN 28 2006 ($29)
Classic Bin 28 nose with red/dark currant aromas and distinctive American oak. Clean, balanced, vibrantly fruited palate offset by fine tannins. 91

Rich fruitcake nose with violet/licorice undertones. The palate just manages to stay within the confines of good ripeness. Firm tannins and dry finish. 89

PENFOLDS RWT 2006 ($149)
Deep and wonderfully fresh nose. Underlying currant and red fruit nuances lead into a very clean, balanced palate with vibrant flavour. Positively sandy tannins and bright acidity leave a lasting mark right throughout the persistent aftertaste. Another hit for this label. 94

Restrained aroma of plush red and dark fruits. Sweetly fruited palate, but reveals a surprising level of soft vanilla oak. Pleasingly gentle tannins evident. 92

PETALUMA 2006 ($44)
It disappointed me when Petaluma moved their shiraz and viognier over to their more prestigious, yellow labelled products. As I've seen it, neither wine warranted the change. Bizarre nose, an apparent mismatch of elements. Savoury but lacking in great depth. Finish punctuated by steadily emergent, strong and grippy tannins. 87

Still vibrantly youthful. A fine melange of small red/black/blue berry characters. Very well balanced with persistent length and assertive yet sensual tannins. Good cellaring prospect. 93

Deceptively savoury 2006 Barossa shiraz. More light-medium bodied palate accompanied by fine French oak. Tight and precise, slightly spicy/ticklish finish. 91

PLANTAGENET 2005 ($36)
Usually one of my favourite expressions of Western Australian shiraz. I wanted to like this wine more than I did, I really did! Slightly closed, savoury, cool climate nose with some surprising sweet fruit undertones. Smooth and juicy palate but a bit hollow and short. 87

Exceptionally ripe but not quite over-ripe fragrance shows meaty notes of cassis and raspberries. Palate displays classic Blackwell concentration but does reveals hints of cooked fruit in the finish. 88

SAMUEL'S GORGE 2006 ($37)
Another wine I'd made myself well familiar with previous to this tasting. Radiant yet complex fruit profile. Deliciously ripe blackcurrant fruits complemented by vanilla/cedar oak nose. Beautifully correct and elegant palate, extends into a long, bright finish with lashings of silky, sensuous tannins. A standout. 94

SKILLOGALEE 2005 ($26)
Very ripe and plummy with pruney notes overlying sweet, minty oak. Not great, but it wasn't exactly a dream year for Clare Valley shiraz. 86

Thinly veiled fragrance. Bit over ripe and uneven. Punchy acids evident. More of a quaffing/BBQ style. 87

Even though they have a large legion of loyal followers, most of Torbreck's recent efforts with shiraz haven't quite been my style (in contrast to this I love their Pict Mataro and Les Amis Grenache - not cheap though!). I tend to find them a bit too heavy, brooding and concentrated. On the plus side though; by my reckoning their experienced, charming and passionately enthusiastic rep Scott, who I've also seen in the cellar door on several occasions, is one of the best in the business.

Dark fruited, typically ripe nose with an influence of smooth, sweet oak. Full-bodied and smooth, lavish choc/currant flavour profile hits the palate with maker's typical authority. Requires more freshness and vitality at this price, from what wasn't a bad year in the Barossa. 91

Intriguing wine. Youthfully apparent, small red/black berry fruits with the concentration and chalky tannins expected of the Eden Valley, but somehow the fruit/tannin doesn't seem in harmony. Very brightly fruited, almost intensely vibrant palate. On one side simple flavour profile, on the other complex structure. Needs time to settle, still very elemental wine. 92

Very ripe, meaty cherry fruit aromas. Heavily concentrated but surprisingly medium-bodied palate presents a generously ripened, dark fruit profile entwined with seasoned oak. 90

WICKS ESTATE 2007 ($16)
I'm usually a big fan of their sauvignon blanc, and although the reds have yet to truly impress me, I appreciate the generous pricing. Some evidence of region with herbal/spicy aromas. The palate lacks vibrant fruit and balance, finishing green edged and blocky. Perhaps a bit underdone. 85


  1. Sounds like an excellent tasting, agree with much of your observations (particularly the Petaluma Shiraz & Viognier)

  2. Interesting you agree with my Petaluma comments, some people over here seem to think that viognier is state of the art...

  3. Fascinating stuff. I would love to be able to taste that many Shiraz against each other.

    I have done a profile of Torbreck on my blog at

    Let me know what you think.

  4. Hi Chris, I'm an amateur fan of shiraz, alas it's a costly hobby but I'm really happy to have my thoughts confirmed that 2006 is a great vintage year for maclaren shiraz (and could it be for Aussie Shiraz in general?) I'm agregating on this range of wines as I shared an extremely yummy bottle with a friend. I had 2010 bottles of Tyrell's hunter valley and Makisse road Barossa valley shiraz recently, while palatable and well fashioned, really didn't rock my boat. Should I have left them for a bit of time?