Sunday, August 15, 2010

High Alcohol Shiraz

Lower alcohol levels in Shiraz are an increasing focus of many winemakers, and a regular discussion point when it comes to Australian wine. The general premise behind this trend is that the closer a wine gets to 15% ABV (and beyond), the less likely it is to age well. While they may be powerful, rich and voluptuous in youth, these wines will start falling over after the 5 year mark. Wines of 14% and less are seen as generally more desirable in order to deliver balance and cellarability. Indeed I have read about some wine retailers and restaurants in the States that have banned the sale of wines in excess of 14.5%

So are wines of 14.5% and more only short-term wines? Like a lot of these assertions I believe there is a large degree of truth to this, but that it is not a given, and that there are wines approaching the 15% mark that age/will age well.

Being a very unscientific person, I decided to conduct a bit of a quasi scientific experiment with two high alcohol Shiraz that are at the 5 year mark.

2004 Fireblock Old Vine Shiraz (Clare Valley, ABV: 15.5%, RRP: $20) – Lovely fragrant nose of berry and hints of chocolate. The palate drinks well with still plenty of nice primary fruit, liquorice, and chocolate, along with a hint of spice, before delivering a dry, savoury finish. Carries its alcohol well. Not a lot of complexity but its drinking nicely, and should continue to age for the next five years. 3.5 Stars.

2005 Carlei Estate Green Vineyards Shiraz (Heathcote, ABV: 14.9%, $RRP: $26) - Interesting, complex nose of menthol, liquorice, malt, and rose. It’s ripe and plush in one sense and yet still maintains quite a light mouth feel. While arguably a more complex and interesting wine than the Fireblock, there is a bit of alcohol heat. Despite having the notionally lower ABV, this wine does appear a touch unbalanced in this regard. It's good drinking but it might have issues as it approaches the decade mark. 3.5 Stars.

As sub-$30 Shiraz I think both wines deliver, and will almost certainly provide good drinking for the next couple of years. If I had to pick one of these wines to reach its 10th birthday and beyond, it would actually be the Fireblock at 15.5% ABV. It’s a wine of balance and no noticeable alcohol heat. Ultimately though the proof will be in the drinking, and it would be interesting to see where both these wines are at in 2015.

I think the trend towards lower alcohol Shiraz is a positive one, and will broadly lead to wines of better balance and cellarability. With a wine of say 14.5% or 15%, alcohol heat is always something to be on the lookout for, especially if you are considering cellaring the wine. But if such a wine has no noticeable heat and provides a sense of balance, then the fact it’s at 15% ABV is not by default going to prevent it from ageing well.


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