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Tasting Note

Posted July 14, 2017 Rich and generous, with toasted walnut and sandalwood accents to the rich, velvety blackberry and plum flavors. Spicy and detailed on the very long, lingering finish.

And the answer is...


Varietal

There is a lot packed into this big red, with its rich and velvety dark fruit, exotic spice and savory flavors. That gives us plenty of clues to unravel the identity of our mystery wine.

We can start by eliminating the lighter-bodied grapes and working our way up. Blaufränkisch is the first to go, since this grape is known for its refreshing acidity. Pinot Noir doesn't fit the description either. While the grape can make rich, full wines, it's typically light- to medium-bodied and more acid-driven than our note suggests.

Once an important player in Bordeaux, prior to phylloxera, Carmenère has found a new home in Chile. It can make rich wines with dark fruit and spice flavors that are marked by savory herbal notes, along with soft tannins. That's close but not quite what we are looking for.

Cabernet Sauvignon produces wines that are typically rich, full-bodied and tannic. But we would expect more herbal and tobacco character in a Cabernet, so off it goes.

Our final grape on the list is Syrah. Well-known for its role in France's Rhône Valley, Syrah can take on a range of flavors, including dark berries, spice and tar, along with roasted nuts and mineral notes. The best versions are typically rich and complex, with supple textures and smooth tannins. In cooler climates, Syrah's savory flavors and structure are more pronounced, while versions grown in warmer climes can be bold and opulent in style. That sounds like our wine.

This wine is a Syrah.

Country

Syrah performs well in a variety of climates, from sun-drenched California to the New Zealand's North Island. In Portugal, Syrah can be found in some red blends; however, producers tend to focus on indigenous Portuguese varieties. A few vintners dabble with the grape in Germany, but they mostly focus on grapes like Pinot Noir (locally called Spätburgunder) for their reds, which ripens better in these northern terroirs.

Syrah is an emerging star grape in Chile. First planted in the mid-1990s, it's mostly grown in the country's warmer interior, although there is an increasing emphasis on cooler sites near the Pacific Ocean. Chilean Syrah is made in a range of styles but is typically marked by beefy, savory notes and juicy acidity. This knocks it out of contention.

The Rhône Valley in southeastern France is the heartland of Syrah. Vintners blend it with Grenache, Mourvèdre and other local grapes in the south, but Syrah takes center stage in the Northern Rhône, which has a cooler climate. It is the only red grape permitted in the north's AOC wines, although vintners may add a touch of Viognier to the blend. Styles vary, but the wines are generally more structured and less overtly fruit-forward than our wine. Let’s move on.

Syrah is Australia's signature grape, too. Also known as Shiraz, it's planted throughout the country, with production mostly centered in South Australia. Australia's vintners are increasingly focused on the country's varied terroirs, to achieve greater diversity in the wines. When bottling the wine as Syrah, they are typically aiming for more elegance and freshness. Those bottled as Shiraz are generally riper and bolder in style, with generous, lush flavors.

This Shiraz is from Australia.

Age

The generosity and richness of the fruit in the tasting note is a key indicator that our wine is still relatively young. The toasted walnut accent is more a trait of Syrah than a sign of oxidation. We should focus on current vintages in Australia.

Wine lovers can find several vintages of Australian Shiraz on the market today. The 2016 reds are just starting to reach the U.S., but these are generally early-release wines. The most widely available vintages include 2015, 2014 and 2013.

The 2015 vintage had one of the shortest growing seasons in Australia in recent years. It was marked by warm, dry weather in South Australia, with frost and wildfires reducing yields for some vintners. Shiraz was one of the star grapes of the vintage, showing plenty of intensity and rich fruit. That sounds like our wine.

This wine is from the 2015 vintage, making it two years old.

Appellation

Now that we have dialed in on Australia as our country of origin, we can eliminate Chile's San Antonio, France's St.-Joseph, Germany's Baden and Portugal's Dão.

That leaves Tasmania and Barossa Valley as our choices. Since our wine is made in a fruit-forward and generous style, we can safely assume it's not from Tasmania. Cooled by breezes from Antarctica, this large island located off the south coast of Australia has a maritime climate ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. What little Syrah is produced here is made in a cool-climate style.

The Barossa Valley, on the other hand, is known for its bold Shiraz. It's one of two distinct areas, with Eden Valley, that make up the Barossa region. With its warm, dry climate and array of soils, the wines can be distinctively ripe and fleshy, with supple tannins and dark, rich flavors. The best are nicely balanced, while taking on a savory character that can include roasted nuts. We have a winner.

This Shiraz is from Barossa Valley.

Wine

This is the Glaetzer Shiraz Barossa Valley Amon-Ra 2015, which scored 93 points in the June 15 issue of Wine Spectator. The wine retails for $110 and 1,100 cases were made. To learn more about the wines of Australia, read senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec's tasting report, "High Road," in the July 31 issue.

—Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator

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