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Hill of Content Grenache/Shiraz 2000
John Larchet, Proprietor.
A large, climatically diverse country producing just about every wine style imaginable, Australia is often misunderstood by consumers. It is not just a source of blockbuster Shiraz or inexpensive wine with cute critters on the label, though both can certainly be found here. It is impossible to make generalizations about a country this physically massive, but most regions are concentrated in the south of the country and experience either warm, dry weather, or more humid, tropical influence. Australia has for several decades been at the forefront of winemaking technology and has widely adopted the use of screwcaps, even for some premium and ultra-premium bottles.
Shiraz is indeed Australia’s most celebrated and widely planted variety, typically producing bold, supple reds with sweet, jammy fruit and performing best in the Barossa and Hunter Valleys. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Shiraz, and also shines on its own particularly in Coonawarra and Margaret River. Grenache and Mourvèdre (often locally referred to as Mataro) are also popular, both on their own and alongside Shiraz in Rhône blends. Chardonnay is common throughout the country and made in a wide range of styles. Sauvignon Blanc has recently surged in popularity to compete with New Zealand’s distinctive version, and Semillon is often utilized as its blending partner, or in the Hunter Valley, on its own to make complex, age-worthy whites. Riesling thrives in the cool-climate Clare and Eden Valleys. Sticky-sweet fortified wine Rutherglen Muscat is a beloved regional specialty of Victoria. Thanks to the country’s relatively agreeable climate throughout and the openness of its people, experimentation is common and ongoing and there is a vast array of intriguing varieties to be found.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of spice, Rhône red blends originated in France’s Southern Rhône valley and have become popular in Priorat, Washington, South Australia, and California’s Central Coast. In the Rhône itself, 19 grape varieties are permitted for use, but many of these blends, are based on Grenache and supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre, earning the nickname “GSM blends.” Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are perhaps the best-known outposts for these wines. Other varieties that may be found in Rhône blends include Carignan, Cinsault, and Counoise.
In the Glass
The taste profile of a Rhône blend will vary according to its individual components, as each variety brings something different to the glass. Grenache, which often forms the base of these blends, is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit, a plush texture, and often high levels of alcohol. Syrah supplies darker fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy, and meaty notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume as well as body, tannin, and a healthy dose of color. New World examples will lie further along the fruit-forward end of the spectrum, while those from the Old World taste and smell much earthier, often with a “barnyard” character that is attractive to many fans of these wines.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. Depending on the weight and alcohol level, these can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes—they play equally well with beef, pork, duck, lamb, or game. With their high acidity, these wines are best-matched with salty or fatty foods, and can handle the acidity of tomato sauce in pizza or pasta. Braised beef cheeks, grilled lamb sausages, or roasted squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the Rhône red blend—for example, in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Shiraz is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add structure, tannin, and a long finish. Grenache-based blends from Priorat often include Carignan (known locally as Cariñena) and Syrah, but also international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, anything goes, and it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, or even Tempranillo make an appearance.