Sunday, January 27, 2008

Syrah/Shiraz: Unti vs. Kilikanoon

Tasting California's "Rhone Rangers" I have been thinking that these Syrah/Shiraz (and blends) are much more "French" than their Aussie cousins. Not stylistically, but there is something different and just couldn't put my finger on it. In search of answers, I paired two good examples (blind) from California and Australia with a roast leg of lamb:

The 2004 Unti Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) was bought at the winery in October, a visit suggested by knowledgeable locals. Deep purple in the glass, it smelled of grape jelly on first pour, evolving over the evening into more Rhone-like cheese and charcuterie notes. More reserved than the Aussie below (but a touch hotter), elegantly delivering a supple dose of fine tannins and fruit that lingered long enough to suggest a few more years in the cellar.
cork. 14.8% alcohol
Score: 17/20
Price: US$26 (winery)

The 2004 Kilikanoon "Killerman's Run" Shiraz (South Australia) was a deep cherry red with great aromatics. More meaty and leathery than the Unti, with fresh blackberries, black pepper, liquorice and walnuts intertwined. Well made but predictable on the palate, with a full dose of soft, luscious, vanilla fruit and dense tannins. A long finish, this wine should be put away for a few years.
screw top. 15% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$22.95 (SAQ)

Despite the more apparent alcohol, the Unti showed a more elegant "French" touch and paired better with the meal. The higher score for the Kilikanoon reflects more depth and complexity, with the alcohol being less up front, but I found it didn't match up to the dinner as well.

When in Sonoma I recall someone mentioning that the Syrah clones in California are the same as those in the Rhone, unlike Australia. I have not verified that - anybody out there know the answer?


Edward said...


Not sure about specific Shiraz clones, but I do know that James Busby who bought the first vines into Australia in 1832 got most of his material from a Grand tour of France and Europe.

I think the key difference is probably climatic. If only you could alter the shipping rules and Canadian tax code, I could send some cooler climate Shiraz that might be of interest. . .

Speaking of wine, does SAQ sell any New Zealand (Hawkes Bay) syrah?

Joe said...

Hi Ed. I am sure that Busby's wines are French, but it is possible that the clones then prevalent are not those currently in use (esp. post-phylloxera). Surely the "terroir" is a factor, but I also notice a lot of French winemakers in the fields of Napa/Sonoma. As for the cooler climate Syrah, which Aussie regions would you characterize that way? We get a lot of Oz wines in Canada. I have never had a NZ Syrah - one sip of their merlot was enough to keep me in the Sauv. Blanc/Pinot Noir. What about this one (avail. locally): Syrah Gimblette Gravels Hawkes Bay 2004?

Edward said...


Had a look at the SAQ site for what would be an interesting cooler climate Aussie shiraz to try. Most of the offering is warmish, so hard to come up with many suggestions. The Penfolds Bin 128 is from Coonawarra and it might be interesting to pair up with say a Bin 28 which is Barossa. The Wynns Shiraz is from the same umbrella group (Fosters) but also quite a good example of Coonawarra Shiraz.

I could not see the NZ Shiraz @ SAQ. But Gimblett Gravels is the place to find the best NZ Shiraz.

Joe said...

Bin 128 vs. 28? Same Vintage as well - I like that. Are those good prices, by the way? The SAQ has it as the Gimblette (sounds French...).

David McDuff said...

Unti and many others in CA use Northern Rhone clones of Syrah. For their Grenache, Unti actually obtained budwood from both Alban and Tablas Creek, the latter being owned by the Perrin family of Beaucastel fame. The folks at Tablas actually imported plant genetic materials from their estate in CdP. So yes, there's definitely a French-y element, at least technically speaking, to some of the current crop of CA Rhone style wines.

Unti's winemaker as of 2000, Sebastien Pochan, also happens to hail from France.

Edward said...


The Bin 28 and 128 are around the $A20-30 mark depending on where you look, so the SAQ prices seem pretty good. I note they also have the Penfolds Bin 60A 2004 for around $300+. . . (the 1962 edition of this, is considered Australia's greatest ever red wine. . .)

Gimblett Gravels is a new NZ region of great promise. I guess Gimblette is a play on that. Might be worth a punt if the price is right, though I'm not sure I want to stick my neck out on it ;)

Joe said...

Hi David. Many thanks for that additional detail - I love it! I had their Grenache, but I was much more taken with their Syrah. Yes, I recall that Unti's winemaker is French, which combined with everything else you said makes total sense.

Hi Edward, I will try to pick those up. Actually having a Coonawarra right now, the McWilliams - I think I see what you mean by cooler climate. I will pass on the Bin 60A...and I will blame you if that Gimblette sucks...;)

nathan said...

Hi Joe
Nathan from Kilikanoon here!
Glad you like the Killerman's Run.
As for clones etc, there are many Shiraz/Syrah clones in use in Australia, but the most prevalent is SA1654. I believe this is available but not widely used elsewhere. Shiraz first came to Australia from the Rhone in 1817, with the oldest vines still producing grapes dating from the 1840s. Kilikanoon makes a wine called Attumga 1865, for obvious reasons- from 900 precious vines, the oldest surviving in the Clare Valley.
Main differences though are from "terroir"- the alchemistic combination of soil, climate and people...

Joe said...

Hi Nathan,

The additional colour on the clones is greatly appreciated - so many differences, this was just one theory of mine. I'd really like to try that Attumga but not available here. I do have some young Green's Vineyard Shiraz sleeping in the cave...