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New World: Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache & Rhône-style blends – Australia

Fewer Golds, fewer Silvers and fewer Bronzes than last year and a ton of negative feedback. A year to forget for the Australians

There was a small growth in the number of Shirazes sent in from Australia this year. But the real story was not so much one of numbers as emphasis. We saw fewer wines sent in from the Barossa and McLaren Vale, and a big jump in entries from cooler areas like Victoria.

Most of the cheaper Australian Shirazes were entered in the (very well-received) Varietal Classic section, so not too much should be read into the high prices on show here. But what should be a concern for the Aussies was the general lack of enthusiasm from the tasters for what they were trying. It’s all the more surprising since this is an area that has traditionally done well in the Sommelier Wine Awards, with the tasters habitually finding complexity and regionality at decent prices.

Well, not this time.

There was varietal typicity – sweet black fruits and a lick of spice – but simply not enough variation within that spectrum. ‘It was quite a samey flight, and very full on,’ said The Rookery’s Mark Angell. ‘You are looking for something with a bit of elegance, that’s not quite so relentless.’

‘It was a struggle,’ agreed consultant Caspar Auchterlonie. ‘There was no real enjoyment in this flight.’

Confusingly, beyond a general air of disappointment from the various tasting teams, there was no consistency when it came to identifying precisely what the problem was. Some teams favoured the cheaper wines because they were trying to do a bit less, feeling that the bigger wines were like precocious children, constantly try to show you how good they are at maths, drama and the guitar.

Others felt that the cheaper offerings were ‘hot, unbalanced and rustic’, with the typical Aussie notes only kicking in around the £12 mark, and leading some to wonder about the effects of drought and stress on the vines.

That said, at whatever price point they went looking for it, our tasters were searching for the same things: character and freshness. And while you might not expect the latter, you would certainly hope for the former from the Barossa and McLaren Vale.

Sadly not. The findings were terribly disappointing. Our tasters found none of the regionality that they liked last year, and dished out only a paltry two Bronzes for each region as a result. The Barossa was dismissed as ‘boring’ (!), while McLaren Vale’s offerings were slapped down with the description ‘upfront fruit and nothing else’.

‘Nothing tastes like Shiraz,’ grumbled Flint Wines’ Gearoid Devaney MS. ‘It’s not even as if it tastes like it’s from Australia.’

By the time our judges came to assess the wines at the final stages they were happier with what they were seeing, with structure, cooler-climate styles and elegance coming through. And with these elements, price became far less of an issue.

‘The Oakridge would be £70-£80 on the list, but because of the quality of the wine and the popularity of Australian Shiraz with many customers this would still sell itself,’ said Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie. ‘It’s a very aristocratic wine, with great complexity, finesse and balance.’

Let’s just hope for a bit more of that in next year’s competition.

‘So many of them were identical. They had those black fruits and sweet spice. But the best ones also had refreshing characters and good integration.’ Serdar Balkaya, Hakkasan

‘If it’s Chardonnay or a blend from Australia, they’ll pay less. Shiraz – people expect to pay a bit more for it.’ Claire Love, Loves Restaurant