The best shiraz in Australia?
Is Taylors 2014 Estate Shiraz (tasting) the best shiraz in Australia? It’s a large-production wine that retails for just $20, less when discounted, yet it beat 375 other shirazes (from 60 regions) for the trophy as top wine of the 2015 Great Australian Shiraz Challenge.
How did this happen? Is it really as good as that? Did the judges stuff up?
The answer is complex. It is a very, very good wine, but is it really the best shiraz in Australia?
Answer: no, it was not deemed the best in Australia, just the best of the 376 entries. Entry is voluntary. The field included some of the greatest Australian shirazes, but not all of them – that would never happen – but the win is a big feather in Taylors’ cap. (The same wine also won the trophy for Best Shiraz Under $25.)
If I, and half a dozen of this country’s other wine writers, put together our lists of the dozen best shirazes in the country, I doubt the Taylors would appear on any of them. It might certainly appear on a list of best-value shirazes.
But, as always, a wine judging is simply a snapshot. It’s a committee decision (and we all know what a horse designed by a committee looks like!); the wines are all very young, and the result has little relevance to how well the wines will age or how they’ll taste when mature. The Taylors is not a wine that’s specifically built to age, although I suspect it will age well for a decade if well cellared.
Approachable wines nearly always do better in shows than highly structured wines, or wines intended for long aging. And the Taylors is certainly approachable. There are a few other key factors which would have helped its case.
It’s a fruit-driven style. In other words, it’s not oaky. Fruit-driven wines are fashionable today. In years past, the Taylors top-line shiraz, St Andrews (tastings), won the same award – a very oaky wine in the years when very oaky wines were winning all the prizes. Fashions change; judging preferences change.
The Taylors shiraz exhibits beautifully ripe, but not overripe, fruit. The tannins are soft. It has generous flavour as well as a good but subtle structural backbone. The style is accessible: very drinkable young.
The judges were headed by Gary Baldwin, who is not a big fan of stalky red wines, and although he was only one member of a jury, it would be surprising if a wine showing stemmy whole-bunch character were to win the trophy.
And yet many, including myself, would argue that the better examples of whole-bunch fermented shiraz are among the best Australian shirazes today. Think Jamsheed (tastings), De Bortoli (tastings) and several others from the Yarra Valley; Clonakilla (tastings) and several others from Canberra district – including the 2014 Nick O’Leary Shiraz, which won the NSW Wine of the Year two weeks ago. By the way, this is an extraordinary achievement: O’Leary (tastings), a micro-boutique winemaker, has won back-to-back NSW Wine of the Year trophies (last year’s was his Bolaro Shiraz 2013 – tasting).
But, to be fair, and to return to Taylors – who have an impressive record in the Great Australian Shiraz Challenge. In the award’s 21-year history, Taylors won the People’s Choice Award in 2000 for the 1997 St Andrews Shiraz, and scored the top trophy for Best Australian Shiraz the following year with the 1998 St Andrews. Taylors has also received the trophy for Best Shiraz Under $25 before – in 2011 for the 2010 Promised Land Shiraz (tasting). Bravo.