Expect a range of styles and varieties here that will defy any preconceptions of big fruit bombs.
I was surprised by Barossa more than any other region I visited in Australia. The range of wines being produced there—the sheer variety of styles—ran totally counter to the old Barossa stereotype of big fruit bombs.
Concentrated and powerful bottlings of Shiraz easily co-existed alongside more elegant ones, with detail and expressiveness tying them all together. Rhône varieties like Mataro (Mourvèdre) and Grenache, as well as Bordelais and beyond like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tannat, and more also find their footing there. Some of the most exciting bottles I tasted were from the oldest vines. Langmeil, for example, crafts their Freedom Shiraz from vines that are at least 125 years old. The result, in 2015, was a show-stoppingly delicious wine, explosive with floral peppercorn, fig paste, black plum, and a sense of umami that left me speechless. The Peter Lehmann Stonewell Shiraz 2012 shows the spicier side of the variety, with meat and fig flavors cut through by black licorice and peppercorn.
This is an ancient land—it was settled by Aboriginal communities thousands of years ago—and the diversity of soils and the differences in microclimate from one hillside to the next allow an incredible tapestry of wine styles to be produced there. Single-vineyard and single-parcel expressions, like those from Hentley Farm (I strongly recommend opening up their Beauty and Beast bottlings of Shiraz side by side for an in situ demonstration of how terroir in the Barossa impacts a grape variety), as well as their Clos Otto Shiraz, one of my favorite examples of the variety in the world), seem like they will be the next big thing from this land of variegated hillsides and ancient soils.
In addition to Shiraz, I was regularly charmed by other varieties as well, including the Chateau Tanunda's Old Vines Semillon 2017 (made from 125-year-old vines). This was a concentrated beauty with beeswax, lanolin, and apricot lifted with a hint of flowers.
Right next to the Barossa Valley is Eden Valley, which produces some of the best Rieslings in the world right now. These tend to be energetic and terroir-driven whites that possess all the longevity and tension you’d expect from great cooler-climate bottlings of the grape variety. Yet unlike so many age-worthy wines, these are also lovely in their youth, with a remarkable food friendliness that makes them particularly useful at the table. And while it’s not nearly as well-known for Riesling as Eden, Barossa Valley is also home to some great ones.
Between the two, I found a lot to be excited about in a fascinating scope of expressions. Jacob’s Creek's Steingarten Vineyard Riesling 2015 is mineral, flinty, and almost saline right now against apricot fruit, and the 2006 expresses mashed almond, kaffir lime leaf, and a honeyed note juxtaposed against deep minerality. Other varieties work well here, too: The 2016 Marsanne - Roussanne - Viognier blend from John Duval, for example, showed how brilliantly the other grape varieties of the Rhône Valley can do in a region not necessarily all that famous for them. I came away from my time in the Barossa and Eden Valleys with a renewed respect for the continuum of styles and grape varieties that are being produced there, and ready to be surprised over the rest of my time in Australia.
Bottles to Try
Langmeil ‘The Freedom’ 1843 Shiraz
Chateau Tanunda Old Vines Semillon 2017 ($59)
John Duval ‘Plexus’ 2016 ($30)
Peter Lehmann “Mentor” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($37)
Massena “Moonlight Run” 2016 ($26)
Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2014 ($70)