From the tasting team

Jane Faulkner on Margaret River shiraz

By Jane Faulkner

2 Dec, 2022

Margaret River is known for its chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon - and rightly so. But, as Halliday Tasting Team member Jane Faulkner discovered on a recent trip to the region, its shiraz is worth getting excited about, too. 

There are umpteen drawcards to Margaret River – the Indian Ocean, Cape Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, the lifestyle including a vibrant food scene and, of course, wine, especially cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay
Two high-end events showcase those varieties like no other – Cape Mentelle, which celebrated its 40th International Cabernet Tasting in October* and in November, Cullen hosted its 37th International Chardonnay Tasting. Both strongly feature regional wines, which usually steal the limelight, but they are there more as proof as to how exceptional those varieties are from Margaret River and to take their rightful place in the world of fine wine. 

Close up of a glass of white wine and someone's hand taking notesCullen's International Chardonnay Tasting.

The week of the Cape Mentelle tasting, and with my Halliday Wine Companion hat on as the Margaret River regional reviewer, I spent several days trying first-tier or entry-level wines, fresh whites such as sauvignon blanc and semillon plus blends, rosés and some other red varieties. Surprisingly, the highlight turned out to be the proliferation of really good shiraz styles, from fresh and crunchy syrah nouveau wines to more textural and detailed offerings. What’s going on?
“A lot of people think shiraz plays second fiddle,” says Xanadu’s chief winemaker Glenn Goodall, who is the current winemaker of year in the 2023 Halliday Wine Companion. “Obviously Margs is dedicated to cabernet and the variety deserves to be at the top of the tree but, with the exception of Cape Mentelle and Voyager Estate, there was very little shiraz planted here until boom times in the late '90s.” 
“Now we are seeing shiraz with vine age and people are taking it seriously. That means paying attention to it with thoughtful winemaking and being prepared not to treat it as just another red.”

Close up of a glass of white wine and someone's hand taking notesGlenn Goodall of Xanadu Wines.

It means a host of styles are appearing, from juicy, carbonic maceration nouveau wines, co-fermentation with viognier or whole-bunches in the fermentation. All that is not new to shiraz producers across the country, particularly on the east coast, where styles range from big and powerful, sometimes very ripe and jammy to more ethereal whole-bunch styles. “Yeah, we’re late to the party,” says Glenn “but we have the cooling influence of the Indian Ocean and can have all those styles, yet the plush, riper ones maintain a lovely level of freshness.”  
As it turned out, the Xanadu Circa 77 Shiraz 2019 and ’20 took out gold medals at its regional wine show this year with the former nailing the shiraz trophy. It’s a $20 wine. 
However, my go-to summer red is the juicy, tangy Xanadu Vinework Syrah Nouveau 2022, a style championed by winemaker Brendan Carr, says Glenn. “He’s thoughtful about it and it’s absolutely a legit style. The whole chilled red category means the wines don’t need to be serious but are still interesting, fun, juicy, crunchy, and gluggable. It flies out the cellar door.”
Voyager Estate has its take on the style with its Nouveau Rouge Project and Juniper Estate with Canvas Nouveau. 
While shiraz is not about to usurp cabernet sauvignon or even chardonnay as the regional stars, “the more we embrace diversity with different styles (of shiraz), the better for the variety and future-proofs it. Plus, it’s another string in Margaret River bow.”
*Jane Faulkner was a guest at Cape Mentelle’s International Cabernet tasting  

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