Start the new year with fun wines from Australia

By Celia Strong

Congratulations to all of us for making it to another new year and all the positive things that that implies. In the world of wine drinking, the new year means many new wines to try and more deals to be had. Even familiar friends roll out new products and information to learn and digest. This all adds to the pleasure we take in discovering, and rediscovering, new wines.

For the first wine of this new year, I figured we should have some fun. These wines — that many of us have tried (more than once usually) — come from Australia, the Adelaide region to be precise, from a winery owned by a judge, Shinas Estate. There are three wines available to us from this great producer, a Shiraz, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend. So, to begin, let’s look at Australia and Adelaide.

The Australian wine industry is the fourth largest exporter of wines to the world, sending out 750 million liters each year. And, despite that large amount, about 40 percent of their wine is still consumed domestically. That makes the wine business a big part of Australia’s economy — exports, taxes, tourism, employment and on and on. Wine is produced in every state in Australia but most of their wine regions are located in the Southern part of the country, where it is cooler and not as dry. The vineyards are located in the sates of South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. Different grape varieties and different wine styles — based on terroir, soil types, topography and climates — come from these different regions. Australia’s main grape varieties are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. (Interestingly, as the industry grows and changes, some of these varieties become more and less popular, both in exports and domestic consumption.)

The first grape growing and wine making attempts in Australia go back to the 18th century. Vine cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope were brought to the penal colony of New South Wales by Governor Phillip on the First Fleet in 1788. Neither these vines nor the wines attempted from their grapes succeeded. But perseverance paid off as more settlers kept trying. In 1822, Gregory Blaxland was the first Australian wine maker to win an award overseas. In 1830, vineyards were established in Hunter Valley. And, in 1833, James Busby returned to Australia from France and Spain with the major French grape varieties. In the beginning, Australian wine makers had a hard time adjusting to their new climate. But, they have an ongoing history of excellent wines that continually win awards and fans around the world.

Looking at the South Australia region for a moment, this is where Adelaide is located, as well as other well-known sub-regions. Most of the country’s wines come from this area. If you should take the time to look at the labels of most of the Australian wines we carry here, you would see the names Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, and, of course, Adelaide Hills. All of these are in South Australia. There are more than 200 wineries around the city of Adelaide, which is probably why it is called the wine capital of Australia. The National Wine Centre of Australia is in Adelaide too.

At our winery, the Shinas family is Greek and moved to Australia in the early 1950’s. They had eight generations of wine making with them. Originally, they never sold the wines they made.  A large family, they drank much of it, and the rest were gifts for family and friends. In 2002, with their reputation for great wines growing and a demand from local residents and restaurants for their wines, the Shinas Estate Australia was established. They still maintain their micro-boutique image and their traditional, sometimes secret, methods for wine making.

The climate for Shinas Estate is Mediterranean, and the soils are perfect for wine grapes. They are located on the outskirts of Mildura, Victoria, on the Murray River. The first vines on the estate were planted in 1898, obviously before the Shinas family arrived. We have access to three red wines from Shinas. As we look at each one, in no particular order, we must remember how lucky we are to have them. Production is very limited and not all states in our country — or even their country — have them available at all.

First, we have the Shinas Shiraz. But, that’s not what they call it. Its name is “The Guilty.”  This wine is full of intense fruit flavors — ripe blackberries and rich cherries. And mixed in there is some vanilla and hints of pepper spiciness. Then, just when you think it’s all there, along comes cocoa powder and mocha. And smooth and juicy textures make this a great Shiraz. Delicate tannins balance out the fruit flavors just perfectly.

Next, we have “The Verdict.” This is Shinas Estates’ Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep crimson colors in your glass come with ripe plum flavors, black and red berries, hints of coffee and moderate tannins. This wine is a prime example of the warm, sunny weather that Mildura has for its grapes.

And, our third wine is “The Executioner.” This one is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and a little bit of Viognier. Yep, a bit of white grape in a red blend. Historically, Syrah with a bit of Viognier is normal in the northern Rhone Valley in France. Since Syrah is Shiraz, and Australia took much of its wine knowledge from France, using the small percentage of Viognier is said to maintain the right acidity level of Syrah to make its wines better. The Executioner is fuller bodied than either The Guilty or The Verdict, more intense with bigger cassis, berry, chocolate flavors. Just so you know how unique this wine is, the 2009 vintage only produced six barrels of Shiraz and four barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Executioner Vineyard. This is Shinas Estates’ flagship wine, and, when you taste it, you’ll see why.

The good news is we still have plenty of all three wines. And, they are well-priced for wines of such high quality. The Guilty and The Verdict are $19.99 and The Executioner is $24.99. Maybe not for everyday drinking, darn, but worth more than their prices for sure. And, a bit more fun? As if it’s not enough fun to just drink one of these wines. Their labels are great — each featuring a picture suiting its name. Once you see them, you’ll never forget them. And, once you taste them, you’ll never let them go. Enjoy.

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