Despite the wide availability of Aussie Shiraz here in North America, our tasting group did not hold our first Aussie Shiraz tasting until last year. That evening featured a sommelier host, so this year's Oz night was our first using our blinded format for formal tastings. Unfortunately, a number of regulars (and devout Aussie wine lovers) were unable to attend, resulting in a very appropriate ratio of four bottles for five tasters.
We experienced dramatic price inflation vs. last years tasting, with the flight of wines as follows (in order of vintage):
1998 Henschke "Hill of Grace"
1998 Evans and Tate Redbrook Vineyard
2001 Elderton Command Shiraz
2003 Penfolds Magill Estate
First Place -1998 Henschke "Hill of Grace": I was shocked, amazed, and thankful that Cosme was willing to share this wine with us. One of Australia's most sought-after Shirazes, it instantly stood out from the crowd. The nose was very spicy and oaky, with more restrained fruitiness vs. the rest of the wines. It also displayed prominent coffee and cocoa aromas and constantly changed over the evening, with every whiff revealing a new, attractive and beguiling aroma. On the palate this wine was all about elegance - harmonius and awe-inspiring, with a restrained fruitiness. This would pair well with food, if you had any money left for food after you purchased the bottle. Drink now. Five first place rankings. 13.7% alcohol
My score: 19/20, cost: Very, very expensive. (RP-97, WS-93)
Second Place - 2001 Elderton Command: I brought the Command, probably the first time I have ever showed up for a tasting with a wine I have previously tasted. The wine first showed it spicy oak, but later showed some floral (violet), cherry, musk, coffee, smoke/flint, and tobacco. Very beautiful, very complex. On the palate it was rich, luxurious, and structured with leather, coffee and chocolate flavours. The finish was was extremely long. Some tasters thought it too fruity and for drinking now, but I disagree - this wine still needs time. Four seconds and one fourth place ranking. 15% alcohol
My score: 18.5/20 (identical to my Sept. 06 score), cost: C$79. (RP-95, WS-96)
Third Place - 1998 Evans and Tate Redbrook: Chris and M-L travelled to the west coast of Oz last year and brought back this wine with them (it is no longer commercially available). It was very different from the rest of the Aussies. A bit stale at first, but with some oxygen it began to show some nice but lighter, subtler aromas - peppery, with some violet, earth, undergrowth, coffee and some vegetal scents. The most 'old world' of the group, it was light-bodied with fresh acidity. Slightly more dilute and less balanced than the previous two wines, it was still great. Drink now. 14.5% alcohol
My score: 17.5/20, cost: C$90.
Fourth Place - 2003 Penfolds Magill Estate: Cam's Penfolds was great wine, but had two challenges to overcome - impressive competition and youth. Easily the fruitiest wine, I described the nose as over-the-top New World sweet, with caramel and nut aromas, a nose that some described as syrupy. On the palate it was fruity and well balanced, with a surprisingly short finish. This was not my style, and I found it a bit flabby. Can be drunk now, but could improve with a few more years in the bottle. 14.5% alcohol
My score: 16/20, cost: C$75. (RP-94, WS-90)
Warm up Wine: I lied about the four bottles - we managed to finish five bottles, as the host graciously served a 2003 Torbreck "The Steading" to prepare our palate for this momentous event. Scents of crushed cherries, leather, vanilla, and ginger. Very smokey, with nice complexity. A bit hot (14% alcohol), it was very soft and elegant on the palate, but rather one-dimensional and uncomplex. Drink now. Score 16.5/20.
Overall, Aussie Shiraz are often criticized as being too fruit forward, but only one or two of these wines really went there. The wines were elegant and complex, and really showed the greatness that Australia has acheived at the high end of the price range. I also believe that three of these wines would pair very well with food.
Given its second place ranking, the Elderton Command probably stands out as the value of the night, given the huge price differential vs. the other top 3 wines.
Next up: Tempranillo, at the end of April.