19/09/2006 - 22:00

Shiraz proves itself the real deal at Peel Estate tasting

19/09/2006 - 22:00

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Peel Estate winemaker Will Nairn takes shiraz about as seriously as it’s possible to take it.

Shiraz proves itself the real deal at Peel Estate tasting

Peel Estate winemaker Will Nairn takes shiraz about as seriously as it’s possible to take it.

For 27 years, the Baldivis vigneron has devoted most of his time, resources and winemaking efforts to coax out the true expression of the variety.

And his success at doing so is unparalleled in Western Australian winemaking history.

The Peel Estate story reads a little differently than the beginnings of most wine ventures.

Back in the 1970s, when the rush to Margaret River was really taking hold, Mr Nairn, in consultation with the then head of the WA Department of Agriculture, Bill Jamison, started to clear his 200 hectares outside of Baldivis.

And when cabernet was king, it was shiraz that Mr Nairn planted on his pure limestone soil. And the rest, as they say, was history.

“To me, shiraz has always been the premium Australian variety” Mr Nairn told Gusto.

“Cabernet makes lovely wine wherever it is, but there weren’t many areas outside Cote Roti and Hermitage where shiraz had grown exceptionally. Except until it hit Australia.”

In 1973, when the first grapes started to come in, Mr Nairn began to realise the benefits of his decision to plant vines and get out of lucerne production, a crop he describes as “the world’s most boring”.

In 1978, he produced just a single barrel of wine.

Eight years later, Mr Nairn was winning prizes at a state level.

And when people started to ask him how he had managed to scale the heights of the local wine scene in such as short period of time, Mr Nairn told them it was simple.

“I got my cabernet vines from Mosswood, I got my verdelho wines from John Kosovich, and I got my shiraz from Paul Conti,” Mr Nairn says.

But of course, there is more to it than that.

Whatever Peel Estate’s location did for lucerne is debatable, but what it does for grape vines is not. The close proximity to the ocean cools the area dramatically and makes the small microclimate far more maritime than surrounding regions.

And the soil? A number of years back when Mr Nairn was asked whether he’d ever move down to Margaret River, he said “...only if I can take my dirt with me”.

But it was shiraz that started it all, and it is what the loyal army of Peel faithful regard as Mr Nairn’s signature. It was out of this passion that the Peel Estate Premium Shiraz tasting was born.

The idea is simple. Mr Nairn assembles 40 or 50 of the best shiraz from around the country and the world, subjects them to a panel of wine judges and winemakers, whittles the number down to between 15 and 20, and then invites the who’s who of the wine community to taste them blind.

Of course, his own shiraz is also thrown into the mix.

It’s unlikely that any other winemaker would have the fortitude to willingly subject his wine to the most intense scrutiny and comparison with some of the best wines in the world. But Mr Nairn has, and the results have been surprising.

Since the shiraz tasting began in 1992, only two wines have always made the grade. The Peel of course, and Penfold’s Grange, regarded by many as the pinnacle of red wine making in this country.

Henschke Hill of Grace is a usual starter, as are wines from Peter Lehmann, Geoff Merrill and Robert O’Callaghan. This year, the tasting showcased the 2000 vintage with 20 remarkable wines from around the globe.

As special guest Chris Hatcher, chief winemaker at Wolf Blass, noted on the day: “Shiraz really does have that x factor of wine”.

Noting that the use of American oak still dominates many shiraz, Mr Hatcher also acknowledges that new trends are emerging within the style, such as the addition of viognier, the use of wild yeast, and open-top fermenters.

So, in a blind tasting bracket of some of the most exclusive wines in the world, the Peel stood out as a wine of immense quality – Rhone-like in its texture with a stalkiness and delicacy that is distinct from the briary/jammy flavours of South Australian shiraz.

But, more importantly, the 2000 Peel Estate Shiraz is just another reason why we should all be glad Mr Nairn no longer grows lucerne.

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