Negociants Fine Wine Tour 2022 & Aussie Shiraz Masterclass

A great chance to meet the people behind some of the great wines of both New Zealand and Australia, at the 2022 version of the Negociants Fine Wine Tour. Good to see a few more representatives from across the ditch this year – and apologies to anyone who I didn’t get time to talk to this year – I took the chance to do the Masterclass looking at Aussie Shiraz as it is not necessarily my strongest point, and then concentrated on chatting to people who I hadn’t seen last time around – including the likes of Stu from Brokenwood, Steve from Smith & Sheth, Leigh from Langmeil and Olivia from Jim Barry.

The Masterclass was chaired by Andrew Parkinson and had some excellent, frank discussion on ‘the future’ of the iconic styles of Aussie Shiraz. First to speak on the panel (and wine no.1) was Stuart Hordern as he introduced the Brokenwood Hunter Valley Shiraz 2019. Brokenwood had systematically eradicated the Brett that used to be a feature of their wines in the last century. Starting in 2004, it was a problem of the past by 2011 – and the wine showed today, was a testament to that – bright, medium-bodied with a light ruby colour in the glass, and perfumed! A superb length of acid and tannin – just clean, savoury flavours. Negligible oak influence to my taste – as Stu said “wine is made of grapes, not trees in a french forest”

Clones aren’t as relevant in places like Hunter Valley or Barossa, where old vines have adapted to the climate and conditions; to the point that it really doesn’t matter what exact clone they may be. Places like Langmeil even have a wine named after the lengthy process they went through to move an entire vineyard of 320 old vines away from developer’s bulldozers in 2006. These vines are used in the excellent Langmeil Orphan’s Bank Shiraz 2019 I tried today. There’s a parcel of Eden Valley added that adds lift and brightness, but this a big, rich wine. Raspberry, beetroot, plum, sage, tomato leaf and fine tannins. 

Australia has a history of innovation in techniques, and is working to adapt to any climate change challenges – whether that is rainfall, extreme events like hail, cold and frost – often more of a problem than heat. They’re pretty good at rolling with the punches and developing skills to cope. They are of course looking at different varieties like Primitivo, Grenache and Sangiovese alongside the traditional varieties we’re accustomed to buying. It’s not just a question of picking earlier, as tannin maturity is so vital.

Huon Fechner was pouring their Chaffey Bros Synonymous Shiraz 2019, a full-bodied, big, ripe Barossa Shiraz. Sourced from lots of vineyards and has lots of layers of flavours going on. Dried herb, mocha and leather notes on top of sweet red berry fruit. 15% of this is from Eden Valley, adding a cooler nuance for what was a hot year in the region. There’s a delicious tannin note to this wine – some excellent value and interesting wines coming from this label. Downstairs at their stand I tried a ‘La Resistance’ 2019 GSM that was earthy and savoury; and ‘La Conquista!’ 2018 blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Graciano that was both succulent and inky, and succulently perfumed with grenadine and lilac.

Back at the Masterclass, Evan Gill had the Vasse Felix Syrah 2020 to talk us through. Interestingly, this is the first release with the word Syrah on the label rather than Shiraz. Western Australia can be a parochial minded place, where the locals are looking for Aussie Shiraz. Known as a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay producer, their Shiraz used to be 16 months in barrel and a fair bit of new oak. But this new version has only 75% in older barrels, and you can taste the influence of newer winemaking methods like whole bunch and carbonic maceration in this pretty, Pinot-esque wine. I also tried their Filius Chardonnay 2021 – a modern-style wine that was tight, dry, spicy and had great length. Not bad for an entry level Chardonnay.

The last wine of the Masterclass flight was introduced a member of the Barry family – Olivia – showing the Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2009. This wine had significance for Olivia as it was her first vintage of the famous wine made since 1986, that was designed to be right up there with Grange and Hill of Grace. She recalls driving the tractor as her contribution in particular – which I thank her for! A classic, with a voluptuous full-bodied palate with some intriguing notes of elderberry, musk rose, chocolate, orange peel and apricot.

Around the tasting room were so many fabulous producers, with the latest products. Jannine had a sensational, dry Urlar Riesling 2019. Showing just a hint of old barrel influence, textural, with apricot, green apple top notes. Henschke had a Shiraz that I hadn’t tried before – The Wheelwright Shiraz 2017 has a lovely rosehip and blueberry ripeness in the palate. Sweet-fruited and delicious. Back on home turf, it had been a while since I’d tried the Fromm Syrah, and Stephan took me through this and the Fromm Pinot Noir 2019. The tannins in both these wines are superb, with the Syrah also having a delicious gummy, umami quality amongst that peppery boysenberry laden fruit.

Last mention for today goes to the Pyramid Valley North Canterbury Colours collection. Winemaker, Huw Kinch introduced me to the ‘Sauvignon +’ and the ‘Orange’ both from 2021, and both were excellent wines with super character. Low pH, good astringency and with that delicious ‘skin-sy’ flavour and mouthfeel. The Orange is a blend of aromatics that has great fruit tannin, and a vibrant lees influence. 

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