Elegance and Balance: Hesketh “The Protagonist” Shiraz 2008


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Label artwork for The Protagonist by Hamish Macdonald


Restraint isn’t something we’ve come to expect from Australian wines. There are plenty of 15 and 15.5% Aussie Shiraz that bowl over your palate and senses with intense fruit, oak, and alcohol.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that — there are times when I revel in the sheer excess of it all (see my review of Some Young Punks wine,“Taking Excess to the Extreme”).

But after basking for awhile in the hedonistic pleasures of such wines, reason (and shame) eventually bring me back to the balance point: i.e. that elusive place where fruit, alcohol, and tannin are all in perfect balance.

I drank a wine recently that struck me as pretty close to the balance point. In a wine bar in Arizona, I ordered a Shiraz I’d never seen before — Hesketh “The Protagonist” Barossa Valley Shiraz 2008. I know Barossa’s warm climate can produce blockbuster Shiraz, so I prepared my nose and palate for some monster fruit.

The aromas surprised me first: I got bright black cherry and raspberry, with some warm vanilla and a bit of spice. But the palate surprised even more. The fruit was concentrated by not heavy, with enough acid to lift up the flavors and leave a brightness on my palate. I hadn’t expected warm-climate grapes to have so much natural acidity, and Hesketh does a great job of working with it. The finish lingers with deep, dark fruit and chocolate notes, and left me wanting more.

The winery’s tasting notes told me that the grapes for The Protagonist come from 30-year-old vines, and are aged in both French and American oak for 14 months. (I certainly tasted the rich vanilla from the oak, and the hints of dark chocolate that come from the Barossa soil.) The alcohol is a mere 14.4% — modest by Australian standards!

What all that adds up to is…big flavor with elegance and restraint. And that ain’t easy to get when you hail from Barossa, Australia. Cheers!

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