Barossa Shiraz. Does it mean "goo monster" to you? That's the caricature of Australia's signature red wine, or at least the wine type that many wine aficionados think of first when someone says "Aussie red."
Rolf Binder, one of the most respected winemakers in the Barossa, maker of some of the most prized reds in Australia (including his Hanisch Vineyard Shiraz), wants that to change. When we sat down to lunch during his recent visit to San Francisco, he asked me the first question. "Do you think there's a modern style of wine in the Barossa?"
The question took me aback. First of all, Binder got the drop on me. As the journalist, I usually ask the questions. And the idea of a new, modern style in Barossa wasn't something I had exactly pondered much. But it makes sense.
A lot of younger winemakers seem to be searching for something in their Barossa Shiraz other than the traditionally big, rich, "Christmas pudding" style, so-called because the wines have the redolent spice and cooked-fruit character of the steamed English dessert.
Trying to be the canny journalist, I turned the question on him. "Do you consider yourself a modern-style winemaker?
"Why?" I asked.
"I don't want to make those ooze monsters," he said.
"Once you're exposed to the great wines of the world, you realize what's possible. My tastes have evolved. I can do so much more in the vineyard and the winery. I've been looking for a different balance in my wines. I want them to be elegant without losing their power."
My turn to nod. I knew exactly what he meant. He was among a growing group of winemakers who value fresh fruit character as much as the extra-ripe, even pruny or raisiny, flavors that have long been associated with the Barossa. This "new style" group includes Torbreck, Hobbs and Two Hands. These folks don't make wimpy wines by any stretch, but they do try for a flavor profile that sings loud instead of bellowing.
Binder, who renamed his Veritas Winery with his own name a few years ago, is a veteran of 26 vintages. His ideas about what Barossa wine should be have influenced some of those other leaders.
So, the modern vs. traditional argument is rearing its head in Australia. You might think Australia too "New World" for this sort of thing, wine wars that polarized Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Tuscany—heck, just about any Old World wine region worth paying attention to. The country does, in fact, have a long wine history for the New World, having fermented grapes commercially for more than 150 years. Maybe not as long as Italy, France and Spain, but enough so that entrenched ideas can be challenged.
If you're a fan of Barossa reds, what do you think of these new-style wines? Did you even notice? Are these new-style Barossa wines missing something by not aiming for Christmas pudding? Or are they gaining in elegance and class by aiming for freshness?
Michael Twelftree — Barossa, Australia — June 15, 2006 6:29pm ET
Jon Robinson — Bozeman, MT — June 16, 2006 8:08am ET
David A Zajac — June 16, 2006 8:36am ET
Wayne Richmon — June 16, 2006 9:37am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 16, 2006 10:51am ET
Michael Opdahl — Los Angeles, CA — June 16, 2006 12:38pm ET
Joseph Byrne — Gardiner NY — June 16, 2006 1:41pm ET
Dave Joyce — Winston-Salem, NC — June 16, 2006 7:10pm ET
Michael Opdahl — Los Angeles, CA — June 17, 2006 7:14pm ET
Alex Cobb — Fort Worth, TX — June 20, 2006 10:59am ET
Allen Clark — Arlington, VA — June 20, 2006 11:29pm ET
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