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No Aging Required for These Delicious Australian Wines

By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

In is not uncommon among winemakers to age wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont and even California. But Australia? Except for the exceptional wines from Penfolds, shiraz is not often in cellars. That’s unfortunate because shiraz can be more than a wine to serve with pizza.

Just ask Mark Davidson, the head of education in Australia.

“It is fairly consistent for sommeliers to hear the wines from Australia don’t age very well. Except when they do,” he said. “We have such gorgeous fruit and sometimes that fruit hides complexity. But if you have patience, you see the wonderful development in the wine.”

Davidson was one of several people to demonstrate the ageability of shiraz from southern Australia during a recent program at the San Francisco Wine School. The program included Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale and Ian Hongell of Torbreck in the Barossa Valley. These are two extraordinary winemakers whose wines rise above most others. We’ve been big fans of d’Arenberg for years.

Shiraz, the most planted grape variety in Australia, is deceiving in its youth. The lively, fresh fruit can mask the tannins and leave the impression there is nothing there to give it legs. But over time shiraz develops some earthy and savory notes. After tasting different vintages side by side, we prefer the younger wines or maybe some not as old. But we don’t doubt their ageability.

Osborn attributed his wine’s endurance on the terroir of the McLaren Vale. He says the soils are complex and the region relatively cool, which gives the wine good acidity needed for aging.

Ian Hongell, chief winemaker at the well-respected Torbreck winery in the Barossa Valley, said wines from his region are more opulent.

“Underneath are developed tannins which set up longevity. The primary plummy fruit starts to evolve in 5 to 10 years with secondary flavors like cedar, tobacco and a lovely forest floor at 20 years.”

The Torbreck “The Factor” is a phenomenal wine. The 2010 we sampled was showing extremely will with no depreciation in structure or fruit. Although pricey on release, it is a standout in a crowded shiraz field.

Osborn, fourth-generation winemaker at d’Arenberg, made similar observations for wine made in McLaren Vale when we compared his 2017 and 2010 “The Dead Arm.” This has been one of our favorite wines in Australia. He sources shiraz from vines that range in age from 30 to 130 years old. Osborn said that he gets different character from each block.

The 2017 was still tight and young, but the 2010 was showing opulence and a savory, spicy, and raisin character that developed with age.

American oak used to be popular in Australia, but the higher-quality producers are now using French oak to reduce the sweetness and add a layer of secondary fruit, such as dark chocolate. Among the wines we compared, the older vintages had round tannins, tobacco and even leather qualities.

We enjoyed Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna ($40), a shiraz that is relatively easy to find in the U.S. Lots of density and extracted dark fruit. Hongell thought at it would evolve as nicely as the 2010, which still had youthful fruit character.

The other two comparisons were the Kay Brothers Hillside in McLaren Vale and Wakefield “St. Andrews” in Clare Valley. Alas, these wines are priced about $50 but that’s what it takes to get the best fruit and oak.