Three whole bunch shirazes
Fermenting shiraz with its stems, in other words, fermenting the entire bunches of grapes, is an ancient technique which is enjoying a revival. It’s especially popular with younger generation winemakers who are trying to push the boundaries on shiraz and works especially well in cooler climates where shiraz naturally makes a wine with a spicy character. It’s especially caught on in the Yarra Valley, Canberra District, Adelaide Hills and various other southern Victorian districts.
In Australia, whole-bunch fermentation has been popular for longer with pinot noir than shiraz. It is a common technique in Burgundy and is also known for syrah in the northern Rhône. It polarises opinions: some winemakers think it detracts from fruit character and freshness; others like the extra complexity of flavour and aroma it imparts, as well textural enhancement. The higher the proportion of whole-bunch the more ‘stemmy’ the wine tends to taste and the more polarising. Generally, a moderate percentage seems to work well.
Here are three high-quality examples from different regions.
Charlotte Dalton (full name Charlotte Dalton Hardy) is a New Zealander who is making a strong impression in the Hills today. At just 12.6% alcohol, this is a graceful, elegant shiraz loaded with mint and other fragrant herb aromas. It’s medium-full bodied with fine-grained tannins and seamless texture. A gorgeous wine. Grapes grown at Balhannah; 30% whole bunches. Charlotte says this is the oldest shiraz planting in the Hills and the clone is from Wendouree.
Stockist: Charlotte Dalton Wines (AUD $47)
Made by Rory Lane from 60% whole bunches, fermented in oak; unfined and unfiltered. A brooding style of shiraz with lots of undergrowth, humus, vegetal touches, and a trace of licorice. The tannins are persuasive and supple. The term syrah is used to draw a parallel with cool-climate, northern Rhone wines such as Hermitage and St Joseph, many of which employ some whole-bunch fermentation.
The Story also has a 40% whole-bunch shiraz blended from Westgate and two other Grampians vineyards, ‘That Inward Eye’, which is also very good.
Stockists: The Story Wines (AUD $75)
Toolangi, owned by Garry and Julie Hounsell, has a substantial planting of chardonnay and pinot noir in the Yarra Valley but purchased these grapes from the Hamer vineyard at Yarra Glen, which has 30-year-old vines. They don’t own a winery, preferring to get skilled outside winemakers to vinify their wines. This one was made at Giaconda. One-third whole bunches; one-third destemmed whole berries; one-third destemmed and crushed fruit. A very complex, characterful shiraz whose multi-dimensionality is a result of generous bottle-aging as well as the complex mix of winemaking techniques. The aroma and texture strongly reflect stem inclusion.
Stockists: Prince Wine Store, Sydney and Melbourne (AUD $60)