Sunday, January 2, 2011


If someone had asked me 3 years ago whose cellar door offers the best selection of wines in the Adelaide Hills, I would've said Petaluma. Today, that pendulum swings towards Shaw and Smith, even though the difficult 2008 season has had its effects on the brand's current release reds.

Thanks to a nationally recognised sauvignon blanc, most South Australian wine drinkers would be familiar enough with Shaw and Smith to feel the need to visit their Balhannah cellar door, but once presented with the full extent of Shaw and Smith's wares, even the most oblivious of drinkers should be able to tell this producer is more than a one trick pony.

Without doubt chardonnay is the trump card in Shaw and Smith's pack. Following a string of successful recent vintages, ranging from good to downright exceptional, Shaw and Smith's M3 Vineyard Chardonnay is now knocking on the door of Australia's finest interpretations of the variety. Perhaps most impressive is how the M3 continues to retail for a very respectable $40, an asking price which is roughly half that of many of its direct competitors.

After its final release in 2003 (I'm told iffy clonal selections had as much to do with its discontinuation as anything), Shaw and Smith's under-rated merlot has been replaced in the range by an Adelaide Hills riesling and pinot noir. I've already sampled about 3 or 4 vintages of each wine, and I hold complete faith that both will sit amongst the Adelaide Hills' best of their respective varieties in due time. The pinot noir vines were planted in 2000 with both MV6 and 777 clones used.

The Shaw and Smith Shiraz needs no introduction to lovers of Adelaide Hills shiraz really. Off the back of truly complete, spicy and savoury wines like the 2006 Shiraz (92pts) and 2007 Shiraz (94pts), I firmly believe Shaw and Smith has established themselves as a benchmark producer of Adelaide Hills shiraz. However, like many in the region, Shaw and Smith experienced some headaches with the production of their 2008 reds, but I'm told the 2009 Shiraz (expect a March 2011 release) should bounce back to a more 2006-like state when it's available.

If I must raise one personal concern with Shaw and Smith, it's my feelings about the ambience I've experienced with their cellar door. From the outside it's pretty as a picture, but once inside it can be a bit cold, neutral and sterile, like the set of a 1970's futuristic sci-fi flick. These feelings have been amplified in the past when I've visited Shaw and Smith on quiet (or even dead) days, especially when our hosts have been near silent, but fortunately on this occasion our hosts were charming and the atmosphere was alive, if perhaps in more of a trendy east-end Rundle Street-like kind of manner.

Shaw and Smith's sit down tastings, complete with sharply dressed young hosts have been a bit too formalised and rigid for me on previous visits. My generally casual approach to fashion usually makes me feel a little underdressed there. I prefer the relaxed, back and forth banter of a winery like Ashton Hills; a nearby cellar door whose laid back, rustic approach to cellar door presentation has won me over time and time again, with their 'wine first, appearances - who cares? ' attitude.

Shaw and Smith cellar door tastings come at the cost of $14 for 4 or 5 wine tastings (depending on seasonal availability) with an accompaniment of a 3 cheese and cracker plate. The tasting pours are generous (probably 3 times that of a 'standard' pour), so I'll leave it up to you as to whether the value is fair or not. The tasting cost is not redeemable with wine purchase.

Trendy Rundle Street venue or Shaw and Smith tasting room? One thing's for sure - sauvignon blanc is a popular choice here.

Shaw and Smith tasting notes are posted below

Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($25) Smells rather more pungent and sweatier than when I last looked at this back in September. Its palate hits a more familiar path though, it's minerals and passionfruit, softly textured up front but more refined to travel, with good length of fruit. I've got another bottle and might hit Casey up one day...91

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2008 ($38) Off the tasting list. This is about the fourth bottle I've had since my initial Oct '09 review (95pts) and admittedly, I'm liking it less and less. Its nose shows plenty of popcorn-like scents, with a toasty, buttered oak nose that pleased Beck aplenty. Although there's ample character, the palate lacks texture and drive when sat next to the '09, and it just seems to fall apart on the finish. A 'nose' wine? Good on those who picked this as not one of Shaw and Smith's better M3s in the first place, shame on me...I'm reconstructing my original score to....92

Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay 2009 ($40) Youthful, tight nose, very refined, more so than other M3 wines. Its character leans towards restrained mineral, grapefruits and lemon with a touch of nutmeg. No pungent fruit present here. It has an unusually crystal-clear chardonnay palate (cold bottle?), yet is deliciously mineral driven. Plenty of light spice/nutmeg flavour and good texture, length and grapefruity acids. Needs time really. All the elements are there, it just needs to fill out with more flavour, which should happen in the bottle, hopefully. (full review soon) 94

Shaw and Smith Riesling 2004 ($35) A special bottle-aged release, off the tasting list. Wonderful youthful colour. Toast, straw and preserved lemon aromas. Beautifully balanced, bright nose. Texturally it's smooth and viscous, with a palate that's bright, clean and clear as day. There are some pungent undertones, but the palate lacks the distinctive character that was apparent on the nose. Hard to judge right now, but I'm impressed with its potential for further development, especially considering it's an Adelaide Hills riesling. 90

Incognito Pinot Noir 2009 ($16) Also off the tasting list. A previously unknown to me, second label of Shaw and Smith's, and after tasting this wine I'm not sure its existence is necessary. It possesses an unusual, dried apricot, viognier and cherry-like nose, that is both skunky and altogether wrong for the style. Its palate doesn't reach pinot noir attractiveness, and its stewy, date-like fruit falls away fast. 82

Shaw and Smith Pinot Noir 2008 ($45) I always thought this wine cost less than this, and given its track record I'd prefer to see it $10 less. The 2008's nose is a bit rough, there's some wet leaf, brandied black cherries, game and licorice, but it's a bit tricky and it hasn't really hit the mark. Palate is soft, chewy and fractionally upfront, and courtesy of a ripe thread that's present throughout it merely straddles the line between a dry red and an average pinot. 86

Shaw and Smith Shiraz 2008 ($40) Licorice, dark fruits and game meat nose, with elements of herb and spice, but loads of fennel. The hot season has produced a rich, fuller Shaw and Smith style with a touch more plump fruit than ideal, but it still finishes with some nice, peppery tannins that close in with regional style, happily contradicting its fuller, dark plum and fennel fore-palate. 90


  1. Nice review. Shaw & Smith have really helped to lift the profile of Adelaide Hills wines over the years. Ive always enjoyed M3 - such as classy well made wine.

    Shame though that they chose to pull up their Riesling, and plant more of that weed Sauvignon Blanc. No more will be produced.

  2. Had that 09 M3 the other week. By god it's a boring wine!

  3. Jason,

    It's funny, nothing was mentioned to me of the riesling's discontinuation at the cellar door. When I perused the tasting list I asked; 'where's the riesling?' and before I knew it I was presented with an '04 from behind the curtains, with no indication of where the current vintage was. Shame really, because like merlot, I feel Shaw and Smith was a winery that really had the potential to nail Adelaide Hills riesling. :(


    Admittedly, your sentiment completely echoes that of my chardonnay loving girlfriend! (who tried to not let me buy a bottle of that M3!) I certainly found the 09 more refined and delicate (perhaps character-less or boring in other words?) than other M3s, but next to the '08 it showed much more texture and zip through my mouth. I now certainly question the consistency of style across the 07, 08 and 09 seasons, as compared to the years of 05, 06 and 07.

    Personally, I usually take my own 'tasting' notes with a grain of salt, which is why I like to purchase specific wines for later, deeper evaluation. I'll probably put the 09 M3 on the back shelf for a bit, and for neutrality's sake I'll try and put your remarks away as well. ;)
    Based on my early impressions of the 08, I've certainly considered myself a bit off-centre with some M3 vintages! We'll see with the 09...


    Chris P

  4. My wife hates M3. Give it to her blind every vintage and she picks it/dislikes it every time. It's become something of a tradition :)

  5. GW pouring his wife blind tastings - now there's a million hit YouTube sensation waiting to happen ;)

  6. Hi Chris,
    the 2004 Riesling is being sold as a mature release at cellar door, as the extra time seems to suit the style we make, and 05, 06, etc, will follow. The Riesling vineyard out the front was replanted to SB because the soil there is not quite boney enough for Riesling, and we felt it better suited to Sauvignon. But that doesn't mean that the Riesling story is over for us...hopefully just a short hiatus.
    Cheers, David LeMire

  7. Phew! Thanks for sorting things out David - I liked that riesling!

    Chris P