David 28 August 2014
I’m excited to finally offer this wine. I first saw it in barrel when I visited the talented Tom Shobbrookin the Barossa Valley in September 2012. I always enjoy seeing winemakers in their element and Tom showed me all his wines with his usual energy and enthusiasm - what a treat. But it was his flagship wine, the Shobbrook Syrah 2012, that really knocked my socks off. Tom is one of the most interesting winemakers in the country and this is one wine that’ll turn what you know about Barossa shiraz on its head.
Tom’s wines have a distinct smoothness and texture. I’m a fan and I’ve told Tom’s story many times but here it is again in a nutshell: Tom moved to Italy in 2001 to work at highly acclaimed Riecine, a Tuscan winery renowned for its traditional winemaking techniques. On his return to Australia in 2007, Tom set up in the Barossa, determined to make Australian wines using old world techniques. Tom uses biodynamic principles in the vineyard and in the winery he’s into wild yeasts, old oak and minimal sulphur. He avoids chemicals and additives and doesn’t fine or filter his wines.
These days Tom has several projects on the go, with wines under the Didi, Didier, Tommy Ruff and Natural Selection Theory labels, as well as his estate wine Shobbrook Wines. Along with Anton van Klopper and James Erskine, Tom’s at the forefront of the ‘natural’ wine movement in Australia. He’s also one of the few who’s been able to maintain a somewhat fringe ethos yet still receive serious, merit based mainstream recognition - a testament to his talent as a winemaker.
His skills were acknowledged in 2010 when he was awarded Gourmet Traveller Young Winemaker of the Year and over the ensuing years some big hitters have singled him out, including Jancis Robinson (MW), Alice Feiring (trendy New York critic) and Andrew Jefford (Decanter Magazine).
Last year Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for theNew York Times wrote of his excitement at finding Australian wines that break the stereotype. “Even more exciting were the shirazes I tasted, which were not remotely like the oaky, jammy, flamboyant style. They were far more subtle and savoury, very much owing their allegiance to the northern Rhône.” Tom was one of a handful of producers to whom Asimov referred.
Late last year the Adelaide Review held its Hot 100 Wines for 2013/2014 and the Shobbrook Syrah 2012placed 4th out of 1100 wines. An amazing feat for any wine let alone a natural one! And earlier this year Nick Stock gave the Shobbrook Syrah 2012 a big rap in the UK based Decanter Magazine, scoring it a hefty 94 points (tasting note below).
2012 was a stunning vintage in the Barossa, with long warm days, and cool nights. It rained (and didn’t rain) exactly on cue. These conditions allowed the fruit to ripen slowly and evenly and to attain good flavour. In Tom’s words, “perfect.”
The fruit was handpicked and fermented using wild yeasts. Like nearly all red varieties, shiraz juice is clear, so all the colour and much of the tannin must come from contact with the skin of the grapes. This is the reason grapes are pushed down into the juice during fermentation, a task carried out in large wineries by huge machines with sweeping arms. Tom’s at the other end of the spectrum, plunging his skins by hand, über-softly once a day, the aim being to infuse rather than extract colour and tannin. This gentle process is one of the key factors behind the incredibly fine and delicate tannins in this wine. The ferment takes about 3 weeks to complete, but Tom leaves the skins to soak for about the same time again. The grapes and juice are then very gently pressed with only free-run juice going into the Syrah. The wine is aged in old barrels for about 14 months, after which it’s bottled unfiltered and unfined.
It sounds so simple doesn’t it? But it’s a fine line to walk in winemaking and it’s a credit to Tom’s skills that he’s able to turn out such fine wine while employing this ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’ philosophy.
As for the wine… as soon as you pour a glass it’s clear this is no ordinary Barossa shiraz. It’s a beautiful purple colour, but not as dense as you’re expecting. But then the wonderful aromatics hit you - initially lifted and almost floral/rose petally, it quickly turns to more savoury and meaty/prosciutto-like characters. On the palate it starts lean, but gives way to a generous juiciness and as with all of Tom’s wines, there’s an incredible purity of fruit, velvety texture and smoothness. Its upfront winegum hit leads beautifully into savoury characters, with sour red currant, unripe plums, spice/pepper and chinnoto. There’s not much, if any oak, and the tannins are super fine. Definitely more like a northern Rhône shiraz than something from the Barossa.
“A complex and soulful Shiraz where the use of whole bunches offers great complexity. A very attractive musky perfume of red fruits and hints of citrus rind run riot. The palate has a sweet’n’sour tension to it bolstered by very fine and crisp tannins. It’s a wine full of energy and feels like it’s in a state of evolution.” 94/100, Nick Stock - Decanter Magazine.
“So savoury, almost impossibly distinct amaro and spice feel, orange rind, zest, freshness and a pop of VA that lifts everything. It’s cool and yet completely wild. There’s such freshness and vitality here. Very compelling but will also likely polarise classicists looking for quintessential Barossa, but who knows, maybe this is quintessence and we just don’t know it? Such a great drink. Layers of flavour, grunt of tannin, slosh of juice. The future from the past. Fantastic.” 93 Points,The Wine Front.
Like all of Tom’s wines, the Shobbrook Wines Syrah 2012 is made in small quantities and is hard to come by. But thanks to the support of Bottle and Glass customers, Tom gives us a small allocation each year. This is old world winemaking but a fresh take on the Barossa. Enjoy.
I can offer it for $55 a bottle (quantities are limited). Order this wine