2011 Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz. "I was in the Barossa Valley during the 2011 vintage, and no one was smiling - not even those who'd made all the right decisions through the non-summer.
Cautious optimism here and there was about as good as it got. Roll on a little under two years, and I'm on the never-ending tasting carousel, with at least half the South Australian shirazs from 2011. Some have anaemic colour, lower than normal alcohol, modest flavour, and little tannin structure. But there has been an amazing number of deeply coloured, full-bodied shirazs with alcohol levels of 14% or more.
So what is going on? The answer is a series of options for winemakers, every one of which is totally legal, none requiring disclosure.
Let's assume the juice is low in colour, low in alcohol, low in flavours and low in tannins. You cannot add sugar to redress the low alcohol, but you can add grape concentrate. If it's neutral concentrate, it will exacerbate the other three issues. So you turn to GrapEX, extracted by the South Australian-based Tarac Technologies from red grape skins. It is a coloured form of tannins, and is limited only by how much you can add.
It is possible the tannins will only serve to highlight the lack of fruit on the mid-palate. Here there is the option of blending 15% of shiraz from the stellar '12 vintage and 15% of '12 cabernet sauvignon. These could be from your own winery, or one (but not both) from the good '11 vintage in WA.
Finally, the purest solution of all, practicable for those who normally have two or three shirazs at ascending price points. They combine their best wines, and release what is thus made as their only release, selling or using their lesser batches elsewhere.
All of this assumes you wish to retain your right to stipulate a vintage (2011), variety (shiraz) and region (Barossa). Is there a give-away? Yes, bulky, rugged tannins that are disconnected from all that has gone before. This is the call-sign of heavy-handed GrapEX.
The three wines profiled today show no sign of excessive manipulation.
From vines over or approaching 100 years old, this was open-fermented with wild yeast, then spent 18 months in some new, mainly old, French oak barriques. Neither fined nor filtered. Even more deeply coloured than Dandelion's Lioness of McLaren Vale, with a full array of black fruits on the medium-bodied palate. Some sophisticated handling in the winery has produced a remarkable result. 14% alc; screwcap."
James Halliday, The Australian, March 2013.