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Australian Shiraz ripe for revolution

Australian Shiraz is set to emulate the “more mineral, more structured” path taken by its Chardonnay, believes Wakefield chief winemaker Adam Eggins.

Referring to the image makeover currently taking place in the UK for the country’s modern styles of Chardonnay, Eggins predicted: “The future of Australian red is like the future for its whites.”

Just as many winemakers have fallen out of love with the fat, heavily oaked Chardonnay styles for which both Australia and, by extension, the variety itself became renowned, so too Eggins suggested: “Some of us believe that Shiraz in Australian has become too big and rich.”

In addition to the Shiraz examples emerging from cooler sites and regions, Eggins noted: “how you ferment and mature it can help.” Drawing a parallel with the recent evolution of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, he explained: “For several years in Australia we’ve been cutting back on oak with our Cabernet Sauvignon to focus on fruit – I think you’ll see the same thing happening with Shiraz.”

There are signs of growing recognition of these cooler styles of Australian Shiraz among the UK trade. Speaking to the drinks business last week, Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director for Berkmann Wine Cellars, picked out a region better known for its Chardonnay, saying: “The Yarra for me is exciting for its Shiraz.”

Eggins supported this point, arguing: “Wherever you can master Chardonnay and Pinot, Shiraz will follow.”

However, Eggins also insisted that winemakers should not abandon the bigger, oaked style of Australian wine, revealing: “The fattest, most oaky style of Chardonnay we make is the one we sell most of.”

Likewise, he acknowledged the trophies won, especially in the US market, by Wakefield’s 2006 St Andrews Shiraz, a 100% barrel fermented style, which Eggins described jokingly as “a ridiculous experiment”.

Based on the ongoing success of these wines, he emphasised the importance of introducing consumers gently to alternative representations of Australian wine. “Our real task is to educate the consumer,” he said, but warned: “Don’t do it so fast that you alienate them – you need to do it without a whiplash effect.”

Looking across Wakefield’s own portfolio, Eggins confirmed: “If people want a generous glass of sunshine, we can accommodate that too. You’ve got to be careful and understand the stylistic intent discussion within the context of the commercial reality discussion.”

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