Odious Comparison, 2018 Wheeler Vino Great Western Shiraz and 2018 Reed Knife Edge Great Western Shiraz

An irresistible opportunity to open these and compare over a few days. Both made by two young and it must be said attractive tyros of the changing nature of Australian wine. Choosing small batches of carefully grown grapes and guiding them into a bottle without the impositions of big company formulae seems to end up in a glass of something properly authentic to place perhaps. The bottle shot is a glorious Grampians landscape unashamedly stolen from Max Allen’s splendidly definitive book, The Future Makers.

The Wheeler Vino version opens with a beautifully perfumed whack of Rhône like flowers and smoke. It’s hard not to compare when the resemblance is so striking but this in no way undermines how special are the Grampians. Perhaps in years to come someone will pick up a glass of Cornas and say this is so good it could be from Great Western. Medium weight in the mouth, red fruit and both peppery and sweet spice glide with a dragging anchor of natural acid and emery tannin. Any perception of oak is limited to texture and a sprinkle of dark brown seasoning. Just how this looks so…er..Syrah like without whole bunches is a question whose answer can only be guessed, maybe the natural yeast, whole berries, pre or post ferment soaking, ripeness or clone? From maybe one of the cooler sites around the special bit of the Great Western landscape, some gently just ripe fruit has led to a terrific, perfectly groomed, smooth operator.

By contrast, the Reed immediately looks darker and deeper in nature. Blackberries, spice and the tarry earth that echo the old vine flavours of Garden Gully and St. Peter’s gnarled soldiers. A top note of slightly balsamic ethyl acetate tickles the fancy as it so often does in great Victorian Shiraz. A rich but tense mouthful of the same blackberries and dark tar spice sweep through, savoury stem tannin offering a firm grip on the arm of a saline, low acid personality teetering on the edge. At its weighty core, there’s a chiaroscuro of bright fruit and dark earth. Knife edge making indeed but never falling off the perch in three days of balancing up in the open air.

Wheeler 13.6% and Reed 13.5% alcohol, nice numbers. Screwcap both. To be had for between $25 and $30, both bargains for such authenticity.

Over time both competed neck and neck in the pleasure stakes, one a bit ahead, only for the other to gain breath, catch up and gain a nose. The bottles drained almost simultaneously, a good indication of even favour. Churlish to play favourites with such proud efforts.

94 points for both but more importantly there’s modern love and respect for an ancient place. Colin Preece would have approved.

2018 Miners Ridge Grampians Shiraz

A warm welcome at a small cellar door in the ancient, scrubby bushland of the gobsmackingly beautiful Grampians. A small proportion of the fruit grown is saved for just a few hundred cases of the vineyard’s own label. The quality of the selection is obvious from first sniff and slurp. Red fruits, touch of blueberry, brown spices and noticeable pepper richly swirled with a seasoning of vanilla custard oak. Very technically clean and conservative making perhaps limits the exuberance a bit as the finish tightens with some lemony acidity. Nonetheless, if you want to taste just how good Grampians Shiraz can be at a very modest price, take a delicious swerve off the highway to Adelaide and go have a taste. A recent bottle of 2018 Riesling was also delicious in that virtually bone dry traditional Grampians way.

14.5% alcohol. Screwcap. $25 and a bargain.

93 points.

2017 Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage

From the major and very good Northern Rhône cooperative, Cave de Tain, and a direct import by Woolworths, this is a relatively a good value intro into the home of Syrah. If you were expecting a crisp red fruited and smokily floral effort typical of a cooler latitude, then you’ll be surprised by the rich, darker fruited power of what tastes like a hot vintage. Beautifully clean, dark red fruit, spice and chewy dry skin tannin make this more typical of Languedoc or Australia than Crozes. Evolved well over three days, shaking off some sulphide reduction to sweeten nicely. Climate change sceptics need to drink more. The evidence of warmer, earlier vintages is clearly in the glass.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. $33.

92 points.

2012 Red Edge Heathcote Shiraz

From a vineyard planted on the very old Cambrian volcanic red soils of Heathcote proper in 1971 says the helpful back label. It also says the maker is Peter Dredge. There’s a man by the same name making wine in Tasmania which makes me wonder if he’s extremely busy or there’s two of them? Nonetheless time has been kind to this bottle, producing a lovely sweet roundness to the black cherry and blackberry fruit with the dark char of mocha oak now seasoning nicely. There’s also some background savour in spice and bay leaf. Acid and sweet ripe tannin have settled any differences and sit calmly together. The fruit’s so good that the advertised alcohol really doesn’t breathe heat at all. A few years of bottle rest seems a good test of fruit quality and this passes with ease and no little grace. Heathcote showing just what it can do, tasty.

14.6% alcohol. Screwcap. Lucky auction win again for $24. Normal retail closer to $40, clever me.

94 points.

2018 Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley Shiraz

Another wine that shows its sense of place with conviction. Very ripe but not gushingly sweet raspberries, a little toffee and spiced biscuits and the smell of a dry dusty country road. So different to the tubby, generously talkative Shiraz of South Australia, more the wiry, taciturn leanness of a quiet Chips Rafferty. Lovely gentle ripeness carried by some crisp but not crunchy acidity and fine grape skin tannin. An impression of savoury restraint compared to other Aussie Shiraz. Good wine places can be confounding, how does such a hot, sometimes humid and torrid, place give birth to such gentle ripeness? Tyrrell’s seem to keep finding magic in those old soils. Hope they bounce back in 2021 after a dreadful 2020.

13.50% of modest alcohol. Screwcap. $20 on special.

92 points.

2013 Jamsheed Seville Syrah

Whole bunch Shiraz from the cool volcanic soil end of the beautiful Yarra Valley. Sure, there’s some mulchy almost tequila like aromas but mostly it’s lots of dark raspberries, cherries and aniseed tinged earth. A bit of bottle age has helped the typically rich but fresh Yarra fruit swallow up the stalky tannin and crisp acidity. It’s all very svelte and dress circle Yarra Valley.

13.50% alcohol. Diam. $45 a few years back.

94 points.

2012 Delbard Premium Reserve Shiraz

From a farmers’ market and an affable informed producer. After an alarmingly early taste one winter morning, this seemed worth a bottle try. The bottle tasted really well over a couple of days, clean, well made, settled acidity and a lovely even ripeness at what indeed seemed to be low alcohol. At a shade over $20 if memory serves, three bottles added to the weight of fruit and veggies on the way home from the next market. Roughly five years later and this is still fresh, pure and beautifully red fruited. There’s a little ethyl acetate lift but this only serves to brighten the aromas. Raspberries and cherries galore in pristine form. A sprig of mint and a sprinkle of earthy spice, all carried along with that natural feeling acidity and fine emery tannin. Beautifully grown fruit but perhaps not much of it as the vintage label is a small one adhered to the larger producer label. Not much spent on the packaging but much care in the growing and making. Must be good, it’s Premium and Reserve!

12.50% alcohol. Diam. $20 ish.

94 points.