It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter as December draws closer. While it might be warm and cozy inside, its anywhere from chilly to absolutely polar outside. This is the season for warming beverages, when you come in from the cold, sit down in front of the fireplace, and sip something hearty. To many people this means cider and hot cocoa, here at What’s Worth Drinking it means Australian Shiraz.
Big, dense, and jammy, the Australians have developed a trademark style of Syrah so extracted and intense that it often bears no resemblance to the classic Old World varietal at all. These wines, like many over the top California Zinfandels, have some residual sugar to them and gobs of alcohol, making them something different that you don’t find blown up to this proportion very often. I often think of these wines as the dry table wine for Port drinkers.
These wines may be fun to drink, but their sheer mass and concentration typically makes them difficult to pair with food. But during the holidays, when we try to combat the cold with rich, hearty dishes full of flavor and warming goodness, these wines fit right in. In the middle of summer a 16% alcohol wine might feel like a meal by itself, but in winter it’s just enough to stand up to all the roasts, sauces, and gravies that make this season so delicious.
So today we will be talking about some Australian Shiraz that fits the bill exactly. One of them comes from a big name producer that, to many wine lovers, has become a standard in the category, while the other is a wine you do not hear as much about, but is one of the most impressive Shiraz wines I have tried at the price point.
Wine #1: Marquis Philips 2008 McLaren Vale Shiraz
This is a wine that needs almost no introduction. The Marquis Philips brand has had enormous mass market appeal, with its high quality to price ratio, its attention-getting high alcohol content, and its iconic label featuring the company’s mascot, the Roogle (a cross between a Bald Eagle, symbolizing the American founder, Dan Philips, and a Kangaroo, representing the Australian wine grape growers). A sub-brand of R Wines, Marquis Philips is the result of the winery’s total involvement in every step along the wine making process, from vineyard selection to winemaking and bottling. Needless to say, this is a wine that I have wanted to review for some time now.
Tons of spice and coffee beans, wrapped in dark chocolate erupt from the glass on the nose. Plum jam, black pepper, and something between charred herbs and menthol show at the core. Black currant preserves, graham crackers, and some strong Australian black licorice show with a spin in the glass. You can tell right away that this is going to be a dense, multi-faceted wine.
It opens extremely smooth and lush on the palate. A creamy black raspberry and blackcurrant jam quality is the first thing that shows through. Then black pepper, a bit of smoke, and some spice mingle with something between graham crackers and brown butter. It’s creamy, oaky, and pretty heavily spiced, with a good amount of richness balanced by light, dusty tannins. Nicely done and…
Worth Buying. 90 points.
Wine #2: Groom 2008 Barossa Valley Shiraz
Our next wine comes from a producer who is nearly the exact opposite of the producer of our first wine. Marquis Philips is part of a massive company with grape growing connections across the whole of Australia and a massive presence in the retail market. Groom on the other hand is a small scale, family run winery whose concentration on quality has led to some massive media accolades, making their wines rare treasures that can be harder to find, but worth the extra effort.
Their attention to detail centers on relatively small production and a focus on only three varietals. Rather than trying to please everyone by experimenting with dozens of different varietals, their line includes the ones that they know how to handle expertly; Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and of course, Shiraz. The winery’s mission is to produce wines that showcase the quality of their fruit and their vineyards, so this wine does not see as much oak as is often typical in the region. Spending only one year in American barrels, half of them new, this wine strikes a perfect balance between fruit and oak.
The nose is somewhat peculiar, with an almost candied fruit quality coming through strongly. Raspberry and plum mix with something close to being lemony, with a dense core of blackberry reduction. A clear rosewood and rose hip tone shows through, with pepper and spice on the edges.
The palate is inky with a huge impact, dark flavor profile, and thick mouthfeel. Black pepper and graphite edge blackberry preserves and floral tones. Various levels of fruit, especially raspberry, and spice show throughout and into the finish. This wine has an enormous weight to it, but its density is countered by a minerality and acidity that keep it clean, subtle, and balanced. This is an awesome wine, an easily…
Worth Trying. 92 points.
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The Grapevine: What’s a favorite Shiraz of yours?