Small Gully

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Hard-working winemaker Stephen Black

God knows there’s no lack of big, ballsy Australian Shiraz. It seems like it’s the birthright of every Barossa winemaker to make a jammy, full-bodied Shiraz that routinely gets 90+ points from the big-deal wine reviewers.

Problem is, many of them seem too big and too jammy. Oh, they’re spectacularly delicious for the first several sips, but then about halfway through your second glass you start feeling like there’s a small furry animal sitting on your tongue. They’re just too much — they tire out your palate.

So I look for more balanced, more restrained Aussie reds (of course, restrained is a relative term, right? “Restrained” from Barossa is nothing like restrained from, say, Bordeaux) .wines

So anyhow, last night we had a grill full of ridiculously large dry-rubbed steaks. I wanted to see if Small Gully Winery’s Robert’s Shiraz 2006 could stand up to Rib-Eye.

I read that the grapes for The Formula Shiraz are sourced from vineyards in the Adelaide Plain, which is just west of the Barossa Valley. It has the distinction of being the most arid (i.e. having the least rainfall) of any Australian wine region. It’s also pretty damn hot, and that doesn’t sound like a prescription for quality wine grapes. What saves it, though, are the cool sea breezes that sweep across the vineyards, cooling down the grapes and slowing the ripening time. Another plus is that most of the vineyards are mature (40 years old for Robert’s), and that helps create more complexity and flavor. Finally, controlled irrigation and limited yields produce intense and concentrated flavors.

So good, let’s get back to the wine. When I read that the alcohol content was skating close to 16%, and that it had been aged for 36 months (that’s a lot!) in American oak, I feared the worst.  But when Robert’s Shiraz hit my glass, I immediately loved the deep garnet color and the aromas that just about jumped out of the glass and hit me in the face. The first was intense, rich berry pie, with all the sweet/tartness that a good berry pie has. The berries reminded me of elderberries or mulberries, and then some spice drifted in. It was cedar or sandalwood — delicate but intriguing. Then the vanilla and chocolate crept in at the end.

Did I mention this was just the nose?? It may sound like I’m overdoing it, but I could happily have had my nose in the glass all night.

But my steak was calling my name, so I had to get down to eating and drinking. The palate started with the intense, concentrated fruit I’d expected, but it wasn’t  jammy fruit. A nice beam of acid kicked in right after the fruit, and brightened it up. Mocha and a touch of tobacco rounded it out, and then well-integrated tannins brought up the rear, carrying some lingering berries and spice.

And yes, it stood up to the big piece of beef. The tannins in the Shiraz kept pace with the fat in the meat, and I had a match made in heaven (if you’re a carnivore, that is).

This wine is now almost six years old (those Southern Hemisphere grapes are harvested half a year ahead of ours in North America, so for aging purposes this 2006 is really a 2005 1/2). It still has several years of peak drinking ahead of it. Grab some if you can, and enjoy. Cheers!

 

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