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Tasting Note

Posted April 20, 2018 Rich and fleshy, with ripe and round plum and cherry flavors, offering hints of cola, sage and green tea that linger on the finish. A fresh, juicy quality keeps everything in focus.

And the answer is...


Varietal

Rich, ripe and round is the perfect alliteration to describe this mystery wine. With a few other hints to point us in the right direction, we should be able to decode this note.

Gamay is first to go. This light-bodied red from France's Beaujolais region is definitely fresh, juicy and fruity, but it rarely has the structure to achieve the quality of fleshiness, and cola, tea and sage are all off-brand for Gamay.

Our cherry and plum notes are good fits for Tempranillo, along with the cola note, but we're missing the grape's hallmark tobacco or leather character. Tempranillo's fruit flavors are also often described as "dried," whereas our wine is ripe, fresh, juicy and fleshy.

Cabernet Franc, with all its savory qualities and fresh acidity, does not fit the rich, ripe and round mold. Even when made in a riper style, green, herbal or pepper-like aromas and flavors would likely be present.

Barbera can be rich, but generally isn't on the riper side. Light tannins and pronounced acidity also lend a juicy attribute to the grape. Despite its dark color, Barbera tends to showcase a lighter style, highlighted by strawberry and cherry flavors, accented by earth and spice elements such as anise and graphite, and oak elements, like vanilla. It's not quite a match, so we can move on.

Shiraz (aka Syrah) is adaptable based on the region and climate it grows in. It can range from dark, rich and savory, to more medium-bodied, showing violets, earth and spice notes. It also fits the rich, ripe and fleshy description. Shiraz is also commonly linked to spice and herb notes like pepper, olive, sage and rosemary.

This wine is a Shiraz.

Country

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, but the term Shiraz is typically used on labels in Australia and South Africa. Old World countries Italy, France and Spain use Syrah, as do California and New Zealand, save for a few exceptions that may use the term Shiraz to help market their wines as Australian in style.

Syrah is a key grape in France's Rhône Valley, where it can yield big reds that are structured and often get extended oak barrel aging and additional time aging in bottle before they're released. Some of the other key indicators of Rhône Syrah are pepper, mineral and bacon notes and violet aromas, none of which are present in our wine.

Syrah has also gained an important foothold in California, where Rhône-style wines are garnering well-earned praise. But when we think of Shiraz, we think of Australia, and this wine's ripe, fleshy, juicy profile is right on target for the Down Under style.

This Shiraz is from Australia.

Age

Our wine is ripe, rich, fleshy, juicy and fresh, all of which indicate we're looking at a wine on the younger side. Another factor to consider is that wines from the Southern Hemisphere are harvested at the beginning of the year, rather than at the end, and therefore make it to the market six months earlier than their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. Australia's top Shiraz regions have been on a run of outstanding recent vintages stretching back to the classic-rated 2012, so it's tough to peg our young wine to a specific year based on vintage characteristics.

Our wine's tea and sage notes are secondary notes that will typically become more prominent with age, so this is really a toss-up, but the fact that our note doesn't suggest extended oak barrel aging (notes like vanilla, toast, coffee, etc.), we can cast our vote for the youngest category.

This Shiraz is from 2016, making it two years old.

Appellation

We know we're in Australia, so we can cross off France's Chinon and Beaujolais regions, California's Dry Creek Valley, Italy's Monferatto and Spain's Priorat. If you know your Australian wine regions, determining the appellation shouldn't stump you.

Yarra Valley, located just outside of Melbourne, is one of Australia's coolest regions. Its summertime temperatures rarely exceed 85° F. Because of this, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excel here, and represent more than half the region's production. There is some Shiraz planted here, and because of the cool climate it is showing a distinct style, highlighted by bright aromatics and often intensely savory cores. Riper styles can yield more fruit-driven wines, but it's the elegance and savory elements that set the Shiraz from Yarra Valley apart from other regions.

McLaren Vale lies just south of Adelaide. Shiraz reigns here, and accounts for half the total production. The best examples of Shiraz are medium- to full-bodied, with vibrant, pure fruit and hints of spices and herbs. Shiraz is well-suited to its warm, Mediterranean climate, which receives a cooling effect from the nearby ocean, creating rich yet refined wines. Our mystery wine shows a fairly classic representation of McLaren Vale Shiraz, highlighted by a rich and ripe core, but with enough fresh acidity to keep things juicy and focused.

This wine is from McLaren Vale.

Wine

This is the Two Hands Shiraz McLaren Vale Angels' Share 2016, which scored 92 points in the Jan. 31 – Feb. 28, 2018, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $29 and 5,000 cases were imported. For more on Australian Shiraz, read senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec's tasting report, "Australia's Awakening," in the March 31, 2017, issue.

—Aaron Romano, associate tasting coordinator

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