14/03/2006 - 21:00

International wine scribe in search of WA’s best shiraz

14/03/2006 - 21:00

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On a typically beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Swan Valley, a group of people gather around a table at Sandalford Winery, drinking and discussing the various complexities of Australian shiraz.

International wine scribe in search of WA’s best shiraz

On a typically beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Swan Valley, a group of people gather around a table at Sandalford Winery, drinking and discussing the various complexities of Australian shiraz.

It’s a scene that has played out countless times before, except amongst this group is inter-national wine writer and educator, Martin Moran.

And he’s here to enjoy more than just the ambiance.

Mr Moran has been commissioned to write a book about Australian shiraz to be published in highly respected Faber and Faber series of wine books. The title of the book, to be released next year, is ‘Shiraz: Australia’s Classic Grape’.

Such a glowing heading and the fact that the book is to be dedicated just to one variety is further proof that Australia’s wine profile overseas has a lot to thank shiraz for.

“It’s such a success in terms of variety,” Mr Moran says of shiraz. “It really is Australia’s calling card.”

“Cabernet might have been more widely known in the past but as consumers now tend to go for softer varieties, they will invariably choose shiraz.”.

Mr Moran will be in Australia during March to research his book and shiraz producers from the Swan Valley, Margaret River and even Pemberton are set to feature prominently in the work.

Asked what he likes about locally produced shiraz, Mr Moran said it is the elegance and concentration of flavours that set WA shiraz apart from their eastern states cousins.

“I’ve tasted some truly excellent wines coming from Mt Barker and Margaret River that are not all about brawn but of richness and finesse,” he says. “Everyone knows about the Barossas and the McLaren Vales but I think it (shiraz) is WA’s secret weapon.”

And it’s not hard to see why when most people think (and drink) Australian wine overseas, it is shiraz. It is an ancient grape variety being produced with the most complex of vineyard technologies and is a paradox within itself.

It is a wine variety at the forefront of every major debate in and about the wine industry in this country.

Screwcaps, American versus French oak, oversupply, production levels, price points – shiraz has been at the pointy end of all these subjects.

And from the moment Syrah (as it is known in other wine growing regions) was grown on the soils and loams in Australia, viticulturalists knew they had something special. Dominating a full ladder of qualities, it is at home in easy drinking styles or the backbone for some of the most iconic wines this country has ever produced.

Mr Moran puts the number of winemakers who produce shiraz in this country at nearly 1,000. Whittling that number down to a manageable 300 to publish in his work will focus on regional histories, geographical guides, winemaker profiles and flavour characteristics.

One great benefit he believes is the time he gets to spend with the men and women who are ‘intimately involved’ with the grape. Demonstrating his commitment to meeting with as many Australian shiraz producers as possible, Mr Moran’s whirlwind tour of wine regions will take him to all parts of the country, including vineyards in Brisbane.

But a visit from a writer like Mr Moran also has very tangible effects for the Australian wine industry.

As Eric Wisgard, Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation corporate affairs manager told Gusto, it is a strategic part of building Wine Brand Australia.

“It’s very important to us that we send the message to the international community that Australian wines aren’t homogeneous, that there is diversity here, there is terroir,” Mr Wisgard says.

“We are a country of over sixty different wine regions producing more than 100 different varieties. Australia has a great diversity of styles.”

AWBC’s sponsorship of Mr Moran’s visit and many other events on the wine calendar also work to spur on export markets. And it seems to be working because Australia has never been exporting more wine.

In the 12 months up to February, recently released AWBC figures put to amount of wine exported by Australia at 711 million litres. That’s $2.8 billion, a near record figure.

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