Bitten by the Barossa Bug

The Back Story:

I picked up the Thorn-Clarke Winery’s 2007 Terra Barossa Shiraz for no other reason than I was walking past the Australian section in Total Wine on my way to the Austrian and German whites section. I saw the massive variety of Shiraz, took note of the many, many that I hadn’t tried before, and thought “Why the hell not?”

As I’ve alluded to occasionally on Twitter, I’m a fan of the Barossa region in Australia. It’s such a fantastic case study for how the delicate balance of a climate can make or break established vineyards and wineries. To be honest, I don’t know much about the valley aside from its climate and the wine produced, but considering it’s on the other side of the world, I’m pretty sure I can get by for now. If there’s anything I’d ever need to know about the area, there’s a nice, humble website sponsored by the Barossa Grape & Wine Association dedicated to promoting “Australia’s most famous wine region.”

Barossa’s climate is especially suited to growing big, fruity reds. The warmth and dryness keeps the acidity in the grapes low, allowing heavy tannins and ripe fruit flavors to fully develop. This also leads to a risk of developing fruit bombs, wines so stuffed with fruit that they overwhelm the acid and break the structure of the wine. Winemakers have their work cut out for them when working with such potent fruits, lest they release yet another wine that tastes like the run-off from an old jar of strawberry jelly.

There might be a dearth of Barossa wines available in the United States for the next few years. Production is currently down, with 67,000 tons of Barossa Valley grapes crushed in 2008 and barely topping 51,000 tons in 2009. Estimates project a return to the golden years of 80,000 tons produced back in 2005 and 2006, though this probably won’t happen till after 2012.¬†These projections, assuming the return to normal growing conditions, sound like good news to me. For now, 2009 and 2010 vintages might not show up in large quantities (if at all) in your local shop.

Barossa’s output is still largely reds and overwhelmingly Shiraz. Of the 51,000 tons crushed in 2009, almost 14,000 tons were white wine grapes, but over 22,000 tons were Shiraz grapes alone! Shiraz also accounted for almost 59% of total profits from bulk grape sales. Climate-wise, that makes sense, but it’s also a bit monotonous:

“I bought an Australian wine yesterday!”

“Is it from Barossa?”

“Yeah… um… how’d you…”

“Was it a Shiraz?”

“Oh… yeah.”

“Good for you.”

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a pure, dark red. It was rather translucent for a big red, and the swirl alluded to it having a very silky, full texture.

The nose of the wine was very fruity, an assuredly winter scent with rich plum accented in spice. I also detected notes of black currant and a touch of menthol.

The mouth feel of the wine was enjoyable, but not as full as I was expecting. It still coated the mouth very nicely and smoothly, with a dryness that was chalky but not overwhelmingly puckering.

The flavor of the wine was, thankfully, not a fruit bomb. It had a ripe plum attack and a spicy mid-palate with black pepper and nutmeg on the finish. The alcohol was well balanced, not at all hot for 15%, and it complemented the spicy flavors very nicely. The acidity, I thought, was a little too sharp, but it didn’t disrupt the harmony of the wine too much. The wine itself was fruity without being sweet. I greatly enjoyed the flavor. It paired very well with a selection of buttery, lighter cheeses like Havarti and Brie, becoming a little softer and smoother and giving the cheese a more creamy flavor.

For the Casual Drinker:

There really isn’t much to say about this wine. It’s a good, hearty red, not too overwhelming in its alcohol or tannins, and it’s fruity enough to suit a pickier palate. Its flavor would suit a red-meat or spicy meal, so long as it wasn’t too spicy or hefty. It’s a big red, but it’s softer than the average Shiraz. At $13, it’s a very affordable option and well worth giving a try.

The Conclusion:

This is a great example of a standard Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. It’s a drink now kind of affair, and it’s a little too simple to be considered a stand-out, but if you’re looking for a wine you don’t need to age, I’d recommend giving this guy a shot. Anything under $15 would be well worth it for this wine. 6/10

If you’re interested in a taste of the higher end offerings of the Barossa Valley, check out Steve Paulo’s Notes from the Cellar. He reviews three wines from Yalumba, the oldest winery in Barossa. I’ve got my eye out for all three of them as I visit wine shops now.

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