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Varietal Classics: Australian Shiraz 

Prices might be moving north, but this category still managed to provide wines that deliver plenty of bang for their buck

After an atypical low-point two years ago, Aussie Shiraz has bounced back to become one of the best-performing of all the Varietal Classics. Since it’s like being given a big spicy hug by a chocolate-eating blackberry, it’s perhaps no wonder that it’s so popular.

At the kind of price cut-off created by the Varietal Classics section (£12.50) our tasters were looking for ballsy, gutsy, friendly styles of wine with instant crowd appeal, rather than necessarily any cool-climate complexity or regional expression; ebullient back-slappers rather than intellectuals; Paul Hogan rather than Germaine Greer.

Sweet fruit and spice were definite pluses, though the teams preferred wines that achieved this without tipping over into jammy parodies of the style. ‘There is room for a couple of wines on the list here,’ said team leader Peter McCombie MW. ‘An easier-going, juicy entry level and a much more complex example further up the list.’

Talking of moving upmarket, it’s surprising, given that the Aussie dollar is currently Incredible Hulk-like in its muscle-flexing strength, just how many of the entries (and just over half the medals) this year came in under £8.50. They may not be quite so ubiquitous as in the past, but it’s still possible to find wines here that over-deliver at under £35 on a list.

In the end, our tasters constructed a solid ladder of medal-winning wines from last year’s star Gold, the Soldier’s Block Shiraz (Bronze this year), up to the JJ Hahn at £11.99. As well as a place on the Gold List, the latter also picked up a Food Match award for being sufficiently well mannered to partner fillet steak – a position that’s usually the preserve of European entries, and proof that Aussie Shiraz can ‘do posh’ when it puts its mind to it.

Somewhere in the middle, price-wise, came the Mr Smith. Tasted blind, Mondial Wines’ Simon Cassina would have been unaware of its ridiculously obscure label, apparently designed by a team of moles, and praised it for its ‘beautiful balance’.

‘There’s a bit of herbaceous mintiness – smoke, spice, blackberries and coconut,’ added Tom Forrest of Vinopolis. ‘It’s almost a story in a glass.’

So Aussie Shiraz and the sommeliers ruled their wine list with typicity and value, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

‘From this category, I’m looking for full-bodied wines, but with soft tannins, something to stand out in style against the French Syrahs on the list, wines to go with big, meaty main courses.’
Marco Adreani, The Pass at South Lodge