Red wine

Are wine judges in London – a significant market for Australian wines – sending a message to Australian shiraz producers?

This is the question after an Adelaide Hills shiraz trounced Australia's heavy-hitter shiraz regions, Margaret River, the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra, to be recognised as the best Australian red wine at the International Wine Challenge in London this week.

It's a big win not only for the region but the producer, Shaw + Smith.

Winemaker Michael Hill Smith of the winning Shaw + Smith label.
Winemaker Michael Hill Smith of the winning Shaw + Smith label. Photo: Supplied

The winning wine from 2012 ($44) is the antithesis of the traditional big, bold Aussie red. It's fragrant and medium bodied with plenty of spice in the fore. Oak plays more of a secondary role in the final taste.

The Shaw + Smith label released its first shiraz in 2002. “A group of UK judges finding new-wave cool-climate shiraz exciting is really significant for us,” says co-owner, Michael Hill Smith, who in 1988 became the first person outside the United Kingdom to be accredited as a Master of Wine. “The fact that they are looking for brightness and spice and a sense of vigour and energy in shiraz is exciting.”

The result could signal that wine judges in London are tired of muscular shiraz - particularly those high in alcohol and oak. The International Wine Challenge judges considered it “atypical for Aussie shiraz” - finding it “more black pepper than blackcurrant” and they were impressed by its “black cherry, damson and blueberry” notes.

The 2012 vintage is considered a classic year right across Australia, so the Shaw + Smith shiraz was up against some stiff competition. The wine won three trophies: best South Australian shiraz, best Australian shiraz and the big one, best Australian red wine.

The Adelaide Hills has a national reputation for its sauvignon blanc and increasingly, its chardonnay and pinot noir are celebrated, but less-so its shiraz.

“There have been some good shirazes over the years,” says Hill Smith.

He sounds relieved that his company is now known for something other than the grassy, zesty sauvignon blanc. “Martin [Shaw, his business partner] and I have for years felt uncomfortable being so reliant on sauvignon blanc,” he says. “Sauvignon blanc continues to be a force of nature, so in a way [the win] is quite good!”

The prestigious British-based International Wine Challenge is in its 31st year and draws on several hundred wine judges from around the world who blind taste about 10,000 global entries.

Other Australian trophy winners at the 2014 awards included: Morris Wines Old Premium Rare Liqueur Tokay (Australian Fortified Trophy), House of Arras 2004 (Australian Sparkling Trophy) and Domaines and Vineyards Robert Bowen 2011 chardonnay from Margaret River (Australian White Trophy).