One of the most celebrated features on the Australian wine industry calendar is the annual release of Penfolds’ Grange. You may have noticed that over the last few weeks the latest vintage, 2018, has been released into the market with a fanfare and multiple 100-point ratings. So what is it that makes Grange so special?
In two recent tastings I attended, Grange stood out from the crowd as having uniquely concentrated fruit flavours, with very high quality, prominent, oak, and a length of flavour that easily surpassed all competitors in the tasting.
If you are considering buying a bottle of Grange I strongly recommend buying to cellar rather than to drink now. The real joy of wines like this is seeing a wealth of complex textures, aromas and flavours evolve over 20-plus years.
Arguably, Grange is Australia’s greatest shiraz, but for those with neither the budget nor inclination to drop the best part of $1000 on a bottle of wine, here’s a few tips for the savvy wine buyer to pick up a much more affordable whiff of luxury for $30 or less.
By employing a quick deconstruction of the style, you will notice some typical features. These are the features I’m looking to replicate in a much cheaper bottle of Shiraz.
Let’s start with the power and concentration of the wine. Powerful, concentrated flavours in shiraz come from old vines planted in great vineyards in warm or hot climates. Typically, vines start producing their best, most intense fruit after 20-25 years of age, so this is a prerequisite in the recipe for finding affordable, delicious, super-premium-styled shiraz. Two are from the Barossa and one from the Swan Valley, which are both warm areas. All the grapes come from mature vines.
The Grange taste profile, especially when young, has generous proportions of oak flavours from ageing in new oak barrels. Oak barriques, especially American oak ones, contribute complex flavours, such as clove, vanilla, coconut, spice and cedar. All three of today’s selections are aged in oak, for between six to 18 months.
They certainly have a less pronounced American oak, but that’s befitting of the wines, as few wines can absorb as much complex oak flavour as Grange and still be in balance.
Finally, the Grange has a length of flavour lasting many minutes on the palate. A $30 shiraz is unlikely to replicate that, but these three give it a good go and all have long finishes because of the high quality detail in the fruit and some exceptional winemaking.
I often use a deconstruction technique when seeking an affordable version of a great wine. Does that Burgundy I love use whole bunches for extra tannin and spice? Does that cabernet producer blend in some malbec for extra aromatics and lift? It’s by no means a guarantee, but if you arm yourself with a few well-directed questions when you’re looking for an affordable wine, then an extra taste of luxury is not so far away on a mid-week budget.
Faber 2020 Riche Shiraz, Swan Valley, WA, RRP $29.99
Deep purple, with generously scented aromas of dark mocha oak, coconut cream, cedar, blackberry and bramble fruit. Ripe and seamless. Tucked in, with a structure and tension to the earthy tannins. Not big on entry, but quickly expands to be generous and mouth-filling. Some, vanillin oak and spice kicks in after a few seconds. A delight of a wine. 95/100
Blackstone Paddock 2021 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, SA RRP $19.99
Impressive, powerhouse fruit with supporting oak density. This screams South Australian shiraz, with its red liquorice, gum lolly, blackcurrant cordial and expressive oak sweetness. It’s dry and punchy, full and warming. Flavours are long and appealing and, while it doesn’t have the finesse of the others, it’s rich and plush and massively over-delivers for the money. 90/100
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Schist Rock 2021 Shiraz Eden Valley, SA RRP $28.99
Not so much a cheap alternative to Grange, more so an alternative to Australia’s second most famous Shiraz: Hill of Grace. Like the ‘H.O.G.’ it emanates from the Eden Valley, the cooler, elevated, Barossa sub-region. I love this wine expression of place: violets, sweet spice and clove are layered over dense cassis and background savoury oak. Tannins are fine, detailed and appear to melt away. The palate is full, but restrained and velvety. A textural sensation. 93/100