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Barossa's chameleon Shiraz

Updated: 2012-05-07 15:15
By Han Bingbin (China Daily)
Barossa's chameleon Shiraz

Six generations of grape growers and winemakers have established the Barossa as Australia's leading region in crafting wines of great distinction with consistently outstanding vintages for the past 150 years.

While some of the greatest winemaking names of the country are based here - Penfolds, Henschke, Peter Lehman, Wolf Blass, Yalumba - the area is also home to another 160 boutique wineries and more than 80 cellar doors.

The Barossa is also internationally renowned for its typically full-flavored and luscious shiraz, which in fact has become an iconic wine from the region.

Barossa shiraz is generally considered to be very generous and impressive. It's often described as the irresistible enchantress, rich and lingering with dark berry fruit, licorice and, in the best examples, fine silky tannins that run through cocoa powder to chocolate.

According to Robert O'Callaghan, the winemaker and founder of Rockford Winery in Barossa, most vineyards across Barossa are owned by more than 500 small and independent grape growers because of the way the Barossa Valley was originally settled.

Many of these fifth-generation farmers broke their vineyards down into small patches of different varieties, soil types and ages. The result is an extremely diverse "patchwork quilt", O'Callaghan says, with each grower giving his or her patch its own distinctive character.

For example, when the Tasting Australia media group visited the Chateau Tanunda, which won the world's best syrah and shiraz in the 2010 International Wine and Spirits Competition, the three different types of shiraz we were offered vividly reflected the different terroirs they were grown in.

The shiraz of Lyndoch, grown in the brown earth and red clay of southern Barossa, is full of soft and dark cherry fruit, while the Ebenezer District's shiraz has lifted aromas of lavender and a palate full of red fruits, leather and definitely more tannins, thanks to the sandy loam and gray clay. Shiraz grown at Greenock's heavy brown earth and red ironstone tastes of rich plum and licorice, with a longer persistent finish.

The best thing about Barossa shiraz's diverse tastes is that they can be paired with equally diverse foods. Wherever we go, local people have always surprised us with a creative combination of shiraz and different dishes.

For example, on a cool and breezy morning, we had a colorful breakfast at the Rockford Winery that featured some of the winery's proudest organic produce, such as four leaf oats with dried fruit and pomegranate syrup and a thick mixture of smoked salmon caviar and brioche.

What closely followed was Rockford's most-loved easy-drinking sparkling black shiraz, with a refreshing sweetness and brisk cherry fragrance that lightened up the milky rich breakfast.

Then during a dinner at the Jacob's Creek visitor center at Barossa, we had this much more complex Jacob's Creek St Hugo Barossa Shiraz 2008 that offered a powerful bouquet of chocolate and plum.

A dense texture with ripe tannins and well-integrated oak combined for an elegant taste of spice. Its rich taste of fruit and long, persistent finish illuminated the texture of the venison that was itself cooked with red wine and chocolate sauce.

The shiraz itself can also be a perfect match with chocolate. The other night, at Auge, an Italian restaurant in Adelaide, the Moorooroo Park Silentium Sparkling Shiraz 2006 was an elegantly foaming big purple shiraz with a fine bead. It has intense cherry and plum flavors under a strong bouquet of spice.

We had so many admirable dishes that night, including pasta infused with squid ink and Berkshire pig belly, but the wine didn't shine until it met the white chocolate mousse.

When the spicy and mouth-puckering wine embraced the creamy sweet mousse, it was like a hard-hitting strong man meeting a fair lady who had instantly melted his heart. That's what we call a "predestined pairing".

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