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New Reds28/04/2003

Last week we discussed new and alternative whites – wines for an occasion when you want to impress others with a taste that has been given thought, that is a good conversation piece, and that is trendy. You could go and buy one of Australia’s superb icon Chardonnays but, when looking for new tastes, merely spending a lot of money is not smart enough!

The same story can be told about reds – perhaps more so! Red wines have plenty of expensive icons – the low yield, very intensely flavoured chocolatey inky Shiraz styles. In fact there are so many around, that there is an expectation that one will be present in a lineup at a dinner party or a tasting. You can marvel at the sweet rich flavours of such a wine. However, there are also many new wines that are fascinating but not necessarily too expensive. Just as with whites where there are the well known varieties Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and newcomers such as Pinot Gris, Viognier that are considered trendy, the well known reds Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet have a contrasting trendy conversation piece consisting of new varieties such as Merlot, the Italian varieties such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, and other European varieties such as Tempranillo from Spain and Touriga from Portugal. Look for various of these varieties made by Gary Crittenden ($20), Coriole ($24), Brown Brothers ($18) and Montrose ($16). As with whites where varieties from the French Rhone River region are becoming trendy, Rhone reds are also a great new item. This is especially a great conversation piece because the Rhone reds are made of Shiraz and Grenache, the same grapes that comprise the chocolate icon styles. However, the Rhone style has less sweet chocolatey flavour, and more spicy licorice raspberry character, often with a savoury woodsmoke aroma rather than the sweet vanillin notes seen on the conventional red style. Rhone style reds are different from the mainstream because they are made with oak barrels that impart a background flavour rather than the conventional style that uses American oak barrels to give a distinct sweet coconut flavour. Hence, a great conversation gambit is to feature a pair – one of each style and do a taste comparison.

The Rhone style includes Grenache/Shiraz blends, Shiraz with only background oak flavours, and blends of Shiraz and the white grape Viognier. In the Rhone, white grapes are allowed to soften the massive flavours. In the subregion  Cote Rotie, Viognier is used; in Hermitage the white grapes used are Marsanne and Roussanne. You can tell from the label when the wine is a “Rhone Blend” – Grenache, Shiraz and Viognier. When the wine is a single variety Shiraz, but made in the Rhone style, look for hints on the back label- often the text will describe the Rhone style, or will describe the wine as “spicy” and “peppery” and “plummy”. Often the distinctive black pepper character comes from a cool climate region for Shiraz. A pioneer of this very attractive style was Mount Langi in western Victoria – look for their flagship Shiraz ($50) and also their other labels including Cliff Edge Shiraz ($28). Another cold climate Victorian Shiraz going places is Plunkett from the Strathbogie Ranges – the Reserve Shiraz won the Champion Wine of Show Trophy at the Cairns Show Wine Awards in June – a lovely spicy peppery and intense raspberry style. It was closely followed by another spicy red – d’Arenberg “Laughing Magpie” Shiraz Viognier ($27). At the trophy judging in Cairns it was a veritable taste off between these and the ripe rich chocolate style of Shiraz represented by Mamre Block Shiraz ($26), Rosemount GSM ($24), St Hallett Blackwell ($30) and Richmond Grove Barossa Shiraz ($18). A label becoming known for a Rhone style is Clonakilla near Canberra where the Shiraz has a small proportion of Viognier. A substantial interest in Rhone styles exists at Yalumba – their Viognier is an Australian leader.  In the red department, Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache ($15) is well established. Recent releases include Yalumba Hand Picked TriCentenary Grenache ($25) and Yalumba Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier ($30). The first release of the latter wine is 1998. Wines from 1999, 2000 and 2001 are waiting. Yalumba winemaker Kevin Glastonbury has gradually changed this wine from a predominant Barossa based Shiraz to one with more Eden Valley grapes, the higher altitude colder climate resulting in more spicy black cherry character. There is a lovely contrast to other Yalumba reds – the renowned Yalumba Signature Cabernet-Shiraz ($24) is a Barossa red and has lovely sweet chocolate vanilla berry flavours. An icon wine is Yalumba “Octavius” (about $80). The new release is 1997 and it strongly shows vanilla and chocolate rich flavours. A selection of recent releases with Rhone flavours includes Brokenwood McLaren Vale/Padthaway Shiraz ($22), Coriole Lalla Rookh Grenache Shiraz ($18), Taltarni Shiraz ($26), Miramar Mudgee Shiraz ($18), Cape Mentelle Shiraz ($40), De Bortoli Yarra Valley Shiraz ($26), Tatachilla Keystone Grenache Shiraz ($16), Bullers Beverford Shiraz ($15), Deakin Estate Shiraz ($12), and Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz ($15). For comparison check out recent “chocolate” Shiraz releases – Richmond Grove Barossa Shiraz ($16), Leasingham Bin 61 ($22), Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz ($27), Grant Burge Miamba Shiraz ($20), and the big one Grant Burge Mesach ($95). Penfolds has both styles – Grange, Kalimna, Koonunga Hill and Bin 389 show off exceedingly well the sweeter chocolate yet sophisticated style whereas RWT Shiraz ($85), Old Vine Barossa Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvedre ($22) and St Henri to an extent ($50) offer a peppery plumminess mainly due to being made with spicy French rather than vanillin American oak. A “crossover” style is Shiraz from cool regions but still with sweet American oak – Riddoch ($16), Annie’s Lane ($16) and McWilliams Barwang ($24) are good examples.

Wines of the Week

Spicy selections are offered by Willespie Shiraz ($28), an especially licorice rich style, Moondah Brook Shiraz ($19), Mount Avoca Trioss ($11) and Sandalford “Element” Cabernet Shiraz ($13).


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