Impressive Australian Shiraz

I recently organized a wine dinner for a corporate client the theme of which was Old World vs. New. Under this formula, wines made from the same variety of grapes but originating from different continents were paired in a blind comparison.

If this isn't exactly an original idea, it is one that's decidedly popular, and this time it was the European wines that were preferred by the assembled guests in five out of the six pairings. The New World entrant that broke the trend was from Australia: the Keith Tulloch Hunter Valley Kester Shiraz 2004 ($35). It was chosen over a French Hermitage by a large majority of the guests, a decision with which I was in full accord as it is a delicious wine.

Too many New World shirazs have that jammy, overcooked, sweet character that makes them work as an aperitif for those who drink red wine that way, but which then fall apart with food because of lack of acidity.

Not the Kester. The Hunter Valley in New South Wales is cooler than the better-known South Australia regions such as Barossa and McLaren. Hence it tends to yield less overblown wines. Then there's Keith Tulloch himself. His family has been making wine in the Hunter for over a hundred years, yet he is an innovative and enterprising winemaker who is enamored with the wines of the Rhône Valley. He even spent the 1996 harvest working at top Rhône producer Paul Jaboulet.

This influence shows in his wines, especially the Kester. It still has the generous fruit one expects in an Oz shiraz, but it's dryer than most. All that luscious, earthy fruit is balanced by a fine, bracing acid structure and a smoky, chocolaty finish. In style it falls somewhere between Aussie fruity overkill and the sort of French restraint which, in poor years, can become lean and parsimonious. The overall impression, however, is one of unalloyed luxury, a viscerally indulgent wine that is a pure pleasure to drink. And drunk it was, with enthusiasm, by the guests that evening.

To find this wine near you try

When to Drink: Now, and for the next 5 years

Breathing/Decanting: One hour breathing helps

Food Pairing: Roast meats and game, pasta with tomato sauces

Grapes: 98% shiraz, 2% viognier.

Appellation: Hunter Valley

Region: New South Wales

Country: Australia

Price: $35

Availability: Moderate

Web Site:

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