Barossa Chapters: Varieties
Barossa’s uniqueness is its diverse palette of varieties and flavours and textures – certainly Shiraz but also dry grown Grenache and black-currant Cabernet, high country Chardonnay and old vine Semillon. It is a testament to its survival and longevity as a global region.
Barossa is more than Shiraz. Even though half of the region’s vineyards are planted to this popular variety that seems to grow well in just about every creek and crevice across the region…there is more.
Take Grenache – the old workhorse variety that partnered Shiraz in so many fortified “ports” and “sherries” during the 20s, 30s and 40s that is now finding a lively new life for itself as a varietal table wine.
Like all Barossa wines there is a spectrum of Grenache styles depending on soils and climate – from deep, rich old vine reds that compete with Shiraz in complexity right through to pink and salmon coloured rosés that are made for uncomplicated summer sipping.
But the greatest re-imagining of this trusted variety is the fresh, young medium bodied Grenache styles that are appearing on many Barossa cellar door shelves and restaurant lists – succulent and juicy with a potpourri of spices and herbs on the nose and palate they meet today’s demand from consumers for lower alcohol and food friendliness.
Classic Cabernet is also finding a new Barossa personality, again as winemakers and grape-growers learn more about the influence of place on wine style and flavour.
Barossa Cabernet is not a recent phenomenon – few wine lovers would know that Penfolds Block 42, planted in 1888 is one of the oldest surviving Cabernet vineyards in Australia and even fewer would know that it comes from Kalimna in the northern Barossa.
But for much of the last century Cabernet was blended with Shiraz to make “claret” style wines – medium to full bodied, long living wines with richness and palate length.
Now growers are rediscovering the variety, seeking out richer soils with greater clay content, often in higher altitude locations, that maximise the cool climate varietal flavours that are distinctive to the region: blackcurrant, plums and cherries.
It is also these cooler aspects that produce the best known of the Barossa’s white varietals – Eden Valley Riesling. An internationally recognised style that has a unique purity and minerality, Eden Valley Riesling is distinguished by its lime-lemon bouquet and a remarkable palate softness, that offsets its considerable acidity and length.
Clinging to the traditional Eden Valley “rubbish over rock” – granite outcrops with schist subsoils – the vines work hard to give forth wines that, protected under screwcap, will age into “toast and marmalade” treasures after 20 – 30 years.
These steep windswept rises and rocky gullies are also home to an exciting new breed of Chardonnay.
The variety found its Barossa feet in the 1960s and 1970s at Heggies and Mountadam, up in the High Eden ranges, but were unfashionable until the early years of this century. Now new Burgundian clones are putting their roots down in small plantings based on soil type and microclimates with spectacular varietal success – complex, yet fresh and zesty Eden Valley Chardonnay will be the next big thing in Barossa.
The next re-invention will be Barossa Semillon. The other trusted workhorse of the fortified era it has played second fiddle to many other white varieties over the last 20 years giving richness and balance to multi-purpose blends.
True believers such as The Willows and Peter Lehmann Wines (Barossa’s most famous Semillon is named after Margaret Lehmann) continue to keep the true varietal style alive – crisp freshness, great palate weight and extraordinary ageability – while young guns such as Marco Cirillo are defying fashion with a lemon and honey masterpiece from some of the oldest Semillon vines in the world.