From the tasting team

Dave Brookes on the Barossa

By Dave Brookes

26 Apr, 2022

Tasting Team member Dave Brookes shares what he noticed while tasting his way through South Australia's Barossa Valley. 

Over the course of my tastings this year through what is arguably Australia’s most famous wine region, I was struck by several things.

Firstly, and I’m certainly not the only person to rave about this, but the rieslings from the 2021 Eden Valley vintage are uniformly excellent.
Vivid and detailed with fine, racy lines and classic regional characters of freshly squeezed limes, ‘Bickfords’ cordial and Christmas lily top notes, the quality, value for money and sheer drinking enjoyment across the board was outstanding.
At the pointy end, the 2021 renditions of the Leo Buring DWY17 Eden Valley, and Henschke's Julius and Peggy’s Hill rieslings were world class. For those after some joy in the off-dry sector, the Pewsey Vale Prima 25GR was superb.
It was also pleasing to see diversity across the range of rieslings. From the sizzling, porcelain purity of the classic regional style through to those experimenting with varying degrees of phenolics for textural complexity and large-format old oak as fermentation vessels, there is plenty to keep the smile on the face of Eden Valley riesling lovers.

A man with a silver beard wearing a denim shirt and flat cap stands in front of a vineyardHalliday Tasting Team member Dave Brookes.

Speaking of diversity, we need to talk about Barossa shiraz.
The classic robust regional wines that captured the hearts and palates of overseas markets and blazed the trail for the success of Australian wine in the ’80s and ’90s are still there doing what they do so well, as are a sprinkling of the full-throttle styles that Robert Parker fawned over in the heady ‘wine for heroes’ days. 
They remain impressively proportioned, balanced and delicious despite the spittle-flecked rants of the wine cognoscenti regarding alcohol levels and the current fashion requirements for enjoying wine – the vinous equivalent of a bouncer saying “I’m sorry, you can’t come in with those shoes on”. Wine lovers across the world love these Barossa gems for good reason and long may they reign.
But there is light and shade now; a sense of chiaroscuro that affects the overall composition of Barossa shiraz. Oak use has been dialled back significantly, with seasoned oak in a variety of size formats, perhaps less American and more French in origin, becoming a popular option and a shift from the ‘no wood, no good’ attitudes of the past.
Some producers are opting for varying percentages of whole bunches in the ferments, which, when done well, adds increased complexity, textural components and has the effect of letting a little more light into the wine and enhancing a wine’s sense of space.
So, in short, when it comes to Barossa shiraz, there is something for everyone from the rip-snorting full-bodied powerhouses to the light, airy ‘nouveau’ styles that can take a chill in the fridge – vive la difference

a bunch of red wine grapesBarossa shiraz is becoming more and more diverse.

It would be pertinent to suggest some producers that greatly impressed me as I worked my way through the current releases from the Barossa and Eden Valleys.
Alkina is an exciting newcomer to the western Barossa. Certified organic and biodynamic (NASAA) with vines stretching back to the 1950s, a considered winemaking approach with plenty of whole bunch and skin-contacty allure and interest. Delicious wines across the board that are matured in a mix of older, large format oak, concrete fermenters/eggs, clay amphorae from Italy and Georgian qvevri.

Their ‘Polygon Project’ (started in 2015 with renown Chinean terroir expert, Pedro Parra) uses electro conductivity mapping technology to separate out individual vineyard areas by their terroir, allows them to make wines according to these geological ‘patches’ and to understand the results in terms of wine characteristics. I’ll be digging into this more on my next visit to the region.

An interactive heat map shows vineyard terroirAlkina's Polygon Project utilises electro conductivity mapping technology to separate vineyard areas by terroir.

Utopos also impressed with their soulful and beautifully proportioned shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and mataro/shiraz/grenache blend, from an ironstone-rich vineyard on Roennfeldt Road which straddles the border between Greenock and Marananga. The wines are superb and winemaker Kym Teusner is well versed in producing top-shelf wines from this slice of the Barossa.

And finally, the wines from Brothers at War are really hitting their straps, the brothers Wardlaw producing wines that are uniformly excellent across their range – from easy and early drinking slurpers to seriously proportioned offerings that compete effortlessly with the region's best. 

All in all, the current tranche of Barossa wines in the market are most impressive indeed and I look forward to my upcoming visits to the region to stock up on mettwurst and soak up all that is great about this wonderful and important Australian wine region.

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