Australian Terroir

26th July 2014

The Oxford Dictionary defines terroir as:

  • The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.
  • The characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.

What these definitions fail to capture is the people involved in the production of the wine. It is my view that terroir is the effects of the natural environment, combined with the collective memories of the people involved in making the wine.

For example, in an area like Bordeaux, it is the people who select the grape varieties grown, and the people who decide on how the grapes will be treated (both in the vineyard and the winery).

In Australia, a classic example of terroir is Coonawarra. Here is a region that has a proud tradition of producing quality wines. Perhaps more so than any other region in Australia, it is a single grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon) that made the region famous.

That said, many good wines from Coonawarra have been made from Shiraz, particularly under the Wynns (white) label. What has always interested me is that these wines taste as much of Coonawarra (mint, eucalyptus and herbs) as they do of Shiraz.

In the current tasting, there was a fascinating opportunity to look at two pairs of wines, one pair from Coonawarra and the other from McLaren Vale. Both pairs had one Cabernet and one Shiraz. In both cases, the region is famous for one variety. In McLaren Vale however, this is Shiraz.

In each case, the region from which the wine came was clearly identifiable, independent of the grape variety.

Hollick – Cabernet Sauvignon – Ravenswood – 2010 (18 – 18.5+). Wow. This is a step up in terms of fruit intensity and quality. The nose opens with ripe blackberry and mulberry, over menthol, licorice and spice. The palate is tight and refined, with drying tannins masking the (high quality) fruit. Very long, the texture and mouth-feel are a highlight. A superb wine that, whilst refined and elegant, is a classic example of the Coonawarra terroir. (RRP $77).

Hollick – Shiraz – Wilgha – 2010 (18.5). Menthol and cedar over beautifully ripe fruit. The quality oak adding to the overall package. On the palate, this has it all: Balance, power, refinement and subtlety, all melded into a complete and compelling package. The length of flavours and the mouth-feel are outstanding, the tannins extraordinarily fine (though abundant), and the texture spot on. This wine drinks beautifully and has Coonawarra stamped all over it. Whilst this will age well, why not drink this over the next 10 years, while waiting for the Ravenswood. (RRP $54).

Shottesbrooke – Shiraz – 2012 (17.8). More density here, though not over-ripe in any way. Opens with McLaren Vale choc-mint notes over ripe fruit, with spice highlights. The palate has ripe fruits, though there is remarkable restraint given its origins. Excellent length, with firm tannins and texturing oak to close. Chewy tannins shut down the mid-palate fruit, so give it some air or 5 – 10 years in the bottle. (RRP $19).

Shottesbrooke – Cabernet Sauvignon – 2012 (17.5). Quite tight and restrained. Pretty red fruits with hints of cedar and cherry. Only medium-bodied, but a lovely example, with dusty tannins to close. Will age well for several years. An impressive wine that is elegant and refined, this is clearly Cabernet Sauvignon, but also recognisably McLaren Vale. (RRP $20).