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Food & Wine Chats: Best Shiraz in the World

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A few months ago, a family-run Barossa winery Kellermeister Wines shot to fame after its flagship Wild Witch shiraz scooped up three major trophies at the world’s largest wine competition, the International Wine Challenge in London. Around 12,000 wines from every important wine producer in the world are submitted for the competition each year and it’s not the first time Barossa’s red received international acclaim. Being a lover of wine, I was keen to find out what it is that makes our South Australian shiraz so good, and so when I recently visited Barossa I caught up with Kellermeister’s senior winemaker Matt Reynolds to chat about their winning shiraz, Barossa’s reds and wine in general.

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Where you surprised to win so many awards for your 2008 Wild Witch shiraz this year?

Yeah, I mean you always think you’ve made a pretty good wine and I think our ‘06 vintage is my favourite but the ‘08 took it out. The three trophies that we won were Best Barossa Shiraz, Best Australian Shiraz, and then Best Shiraz in the world – so we cleaned up.

Through the blind tasting process, there are about 400 judges and they taste it over a number of different times within that tasting.  So as a result of that, your wine is tasted more than once, so it’s not just one bottle that looks good. They have to go through a number of bottles. That shows consistency in what we’re doing.

What makes Wild Witch shiraz so special?

Richness, but not overripe and there is a balance, and an elongation of aroma and flavor characters. You don’t just want rich ripe mulberry, you want a whole spectrum of light berry fruits through to dark berry fruits, even some herbaceous characters, which we get from our Southern Barossa vineyards. It’s a multi sub-regional blend, we have vineyards from Southern Barossa, some vineyards in Eden Valley – not that we own them, we work with growers, most of which are third through to fifth generation of grape growers in the valley.

If you’re looking at those sub-regions, you see different characters coming out. So, if you’re looking at Southern Barossa you’re looking for blush plushness of fruit. Moving towards Eden Valley you see more blue fruits. Ebenezer – they’re more structured in style. So it’s a matter of blending those components and working with oak to try and get to the final outcome. With Wild Witch Shiraz – there are five vineyards that have gone into that bottle.

Barossa shiraz is praised internationally, why is that?

There is a richness and power about the Barossa shiraz…and vibrancy, and I think that’s really important. As much as you want concentration, you still want some freshness within the wine and that’s hard to balance up. Consistency also, you know. One of the great things about where we are is climate and what we’re able to do. We don’t need to go out there and put on fungicide sprays weekly like cool climate viticulturists need to do on their vineyards to ensure good fruit for wine making.

All wines require some work but the good wines sort of make themselves if you know what I mean. As long as your vines are in balance and your season is relatively kind, you’ll always be producing some good fruit and if you’re producing good fruit, you should be making some good wine. So I think it’s just the consistency of the region, viticulturally, that enables us to do things like this, that most other places can’t. And conversely, at the moment when the French are saying ‘you’re making industrial wine because your wines are similar, there is no significant vintage variation within your wines’…well there is but that variation isn’t as big as say Burgundy or Bordeaux where you might have a great vintage one in ten years. We get great vintages arguably five and six in ten and our bad vintages are still probably better than their average vintages. So it’s just the region really. I reckon we’re pretty spoilt really.

Over the last 15 years with the growth of the Australian wine industry, the number of technical papers that come out of Australia given the size… you know 10 years ago we were maybe 7th or 8th in production in the world but 20% of scientific papers were coming out from Australia so there is a lot of research and development here. That’s been really important as well.

What can you tell me about the changing landscape and trends in Australian wine making? Any new grape varieties or styles you’re seeing in Barossa and elsewhere?

Kellemeister, and Barossa Valley, is typically all about shiraz. Shiraz is something we tend to do very well and what we’re internationally renown for. Grenache and Motaro are also becoming very popular. You know, over the last twenty years there have been changes through the wine industry – about twenty years ago it was all about fortified wine and then gradually things have moved into more dry, table wines. Historically, there used to just be big old vats or large concrete tanks, whether they be above or below ground. Then there was a movement towards small oak probably about fifteen years ago, predominantly in America, and now we’re moving towards French oak. Ripeness levels have changed, there is a continual evolvement and change that happens through any industry and wine industry is no different.

I guess when everyone’s talking about climate change, we’re looking for grape varieties that will work well with the changing climate. Obviously, the Mediterranean climates of Spain or Southern Italy are something that most people are looking at investigating – whether that’s Tempranillo or say Mataro. Mataro has been growing in the Barossa for a very long time but typically, traditionally for fortified wine and perhaps it’s been for quantity and not so much for quality. Over the last five years we see quite a few producers focus on Mataro so more and more people are moving towards that.

Will we see a new wave of wine makers?

Definitely already here and with new styles two that spring to mind would be Peter Schell (note form me, it’s Spinifex Wines, I have a couple of bottles and they are amazing) and David Lehmann – they’re doing some really interesting stuff. There is more opportunity and more variety within styles now than probably ever before and every time you come to the Barossa there are always four or five new cellar doors to visit.

What do you look for when tasting and buying shiraz?

Richness in colour, aromatic lift, richness of aromas, concentration through the palate, fine even tannins, supporting oak but not dominant, even weighted, good line of acid and a long persistent finish. With Shiraz, it depends on where you pick and grow it, that’s the type of characters you’d be looking for. So, the cooler climate areas of Victoria will be showing more white pepper, whereas Barossa Valley is dark cherry and whole black pepper. So it’s basically about the concentration and that’s what you get with lower yielding vineyard, you’re getting smaller berries with higher skin to juice ratio and that’s where you get all your colour and your tannin, and a lot of your flavor is from the skin.

What food goes well with shiraz?

Anything, bacon & egg (laughs). Seriously though, what goes well is something like slow cooked beef cheek or lamb. I mean the good thing about the Wild Witch, as much as there is all that power, there is still elegance and refinement about it so it’s not just a big juicy shiraz that you can only have a glass of and have enough. We want to people to be able to drink more than a bottle.

Any good tips for someone who wants to start collecting wine?

Buy on good years. For me, things that I stock every year are Giaconda from Beechworth in Victoria, and Wendouree from Clare Valley. I would stick with regions that do the right things, I wouldn’t be buying Grenache from Coonawarra for example. Buy cabernet from Coonawarra, buy shiraz from Barossa of course, buy Riesling from Eden Valley, Pinot from Tassie. Buying good years when you can. I don’t necessarily think you need to buy expensive, I think there a lot of good bargains out. Looking at the younger crew coming through that don’t have big branding behind them, there is some pretty good stuff.

The best wine you’ve ever had?

That’s a tough one, there are many. Probably the 1907 Para Liqueur (that’s Seppelt Para Liqueur), that was pretty special. They release one every year, you can pick it up any time with a lazy $1500 but it is an experience you will probably never forget and I can still smell and taste it now that I am talking to you.

How did you get into wine? What do you enjoy wine making?

A guess a combination of a few things really. I worked in hospitality after school, I’ve always enjoyed food and my father was a keen wine collector so there was always wine at family dinners and then hospitality post that…and having enjoyed agricultural lifestyle. A combination of that and science, one might argue some art in that, but more the science and agriculture behind it and trying to work everything together because every season is different. You don’t get the same fruit every year, the vines don’t produce the same grapes. That’s why it’s more about the style of the wine, as much as every vintage is similar in style, they all show particular seasonal characteristics, which I think is a positive thing – you don’t want to be drinking the same wine year and year out. Beer is another story, I think it’s important to have a consistency in beer but with wine it’s important to taste what happened that particular year.

Which celebrity, dead or alive, would you share a bottle of wine with?

Ghandi, Fiedel Castro and (after a long pause) Uncle Ho.

I understand that the winning 2008 Wild Witch shiraz is in short supply if not all gone.

Basically, the Wild Witch is the most magical fruit of the vintage so the amount can vary but typically there will be around 500 cases. So, the 2009 that’s released in August is only 400 cases and the 2010 will be closer to 700, so it varies from vintage to vintage. It’s more about a quality. 2008 sold out through all major distributors but the ’09 is available through Dan Murphy’s. It’s of similar style to 2008 but shows a vintage variation that you get from year on year.

Wild Witch is your flagship wine but you have a few more choices.

We do a special release 2006 Black Sash shiraz. Black Sash is, as you can see, is in remembrance of the Vine Pull Scheme which happened through the early 80s. That wine is from the vines that have survived that so they’re at least 35 years old.  It’s a single vineyard wine, from Ebenezer, and it’s been in the new French oak for about 26-28 months. We’re running low on that too but the 2010 will be coming out too and it’s a cracker! (p.s. I rate this higher than their winning shiraz, just saying)

The Dry Grown is more of a northern Barossa blend, more structured in style, relying on those heavy red clay vineyards. Has a very lifted, vibrant nose.

And Boots is our entry level, it’s a 2009 and just showing a lovely sweetness of fruit, keeping it nice and fresh, and vibrant. A lot more work with seasoned oak, up to 15 years of age, and a combination of French and American. (I bought a few bottles of this wine, really good value for money)

So what’s next for Kellermeister Wines?

Well, we’ve been very consistent with the scores we’ve been getting from different wine writers and wine shows but when you win a big award, you need all the stars to line up for you. Unfortunately, by the time this wine won an award we only had about 30 dozen left but that’s how things sometimes go.

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Kellermeister Wines are based in Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley region of South Australia. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the winery and to taste all of their wines including some amazing upcoming releases. If you’re planning a trip to Barossa, make sure to pay them a visit. They also do monthly communal dinners inside a wine barrel hall, which are very fun.

Having been to Barossa a couple of times I would also recommend visiting some of these places:

For wine tastings and buying: Kellermeister Wines, Artisans of Barossa for some up and coming wine makers and styles, Rockford Wines, Henschke, Turkey Flat, and many big wine names can be found in Barossa.

For food: Maggie Beers shop (duck liver pate, do I need to say more?), Saltram (good for lunch), FermentAsian (amazing Asian fusion food, a must), 1918 (bistro style), Barossa Farmers Markets are really cool, Appellation (if you want to splurge), 40’s Café (apparently international award winning pizza and they have gluten free bases), Linke’s Butcher in Angaston (for Australia’s best bacon and lots of other yummy meat goodies).

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1 Comment
  1. Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch since I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

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