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Wine Advocate Reviews Clarendon Hills Syrah

international shiraz day

Wine Advocate Reviews Clarendon Hills Syrah

Erin Larkin of the Wine Advocate recently released two unique reports relating to Australian Grenache and Australian Syrah and Clarendon Hills featured prominently within each article. Lets take a look at the 2021 vintage Syrah report:

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Australia: Shiraz – Australia’s Crimson Tide Remains King ERIN LARKIN , September 2023

NOTE: This is a follow up to last year’s “Australia, South Australia: The Pendulum Swings from Shiraz to Syrah” report published in the September 2022 Week 2 issue.

The priority with Shiraz/Syrah as I see it, is to clearly define the spectrum of style that exists not just in a national context in Australia but more specifically within the regions and to classify the wines based on two key things: their ability to convey and express the terroir of their regions but also their capability for aging in the cellar. The wines that aspire to the greater aesthetic pursuit of beauty (suppleness, balance, complexity, nuance, etc.) is a far more subjective part of the assessment, but it factors in the final scores.  

So, firstly, the spectrum absolutely exists. The trend currently is toward alternate maturation vessels (concrete/clay/terracotta, etc.), larger-format oak and older oak and a push toward more whole bunch in the wines. This lends the wines complexity and levity, but it also dramatically alters the way the wines perform in the mouth in the early-drinking part of their journey. Picking times are also a significant part of this sector: favoring lower pH/baumes to harness the flavor and textural detail that that decision makes possible.  

Secondly, the “other” end of the spectrum—the end that was “here first”—still favors smaller-format oak, some American oak, longer élevage in newer oak, long extraction/time on skins and later picking, all of which are employed to emphasize or boost flavor. This is the style that gave Australia a reputation on the global wine stage, so it’s not to be trifled with. But the question I ask in 2023 is: is it still the only way (the right way?) to proceed?  

There is no right or wrong, and certainly diversity is necessary, but I do take the view, as I did last year, that there is no sense in coaxing expression, definition and terroir from the soil, only to mask it with stylistic overlay. Of course, the question there emerges, which is more important, the vineyard or the maker?

The best wines in this report (and, indeed, in the country) come from a range of areas and producers: Canberra, McLaren Vale, Victoria Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, Hunter Valley, Frankland River, Mount Macedon… The reason why these wines were the best was not down to how long the wines rested in oak; it didn’t have anything to do with time on skins or picking baumes either, because across all fields, there was great diversity. These wines are the best due to the detail, intention and precision of the viticulture and winemaking, and the wines were, honestly, a thrill to behold. The vintages, too, provided diversity—they’re not all from the same.  “

Clarendon Hills 21 Syrah

Another stunning report from Erin Larkin at the Wine Advocate. And to the Clarendon Hills wines. There’s 5 Syrah in total in the 2021 vintage. We received 3 wines that scored 95/100 spread across the varietal hierarchy of 5 Syrah vineyards, so indeed a great result. The wines are from a cooler year and the fruit is brimming with deeply aromatic perfumes and silken layers. The 2021 vintage has been described as a goldilocks vintage and represents a cooler harvest after 2020’s warmth. A combination of cooler than average weather in a La Niña growing season and slightly above average crop levels resulted in a later than usual harvest. The wines will be very long lived an have already  developed substantially in bottle. 

Erin goes much further detail in her Syrah report and goes on to provide the following Clarendon Hills reviews:

2021 Domaine Clarendon Syrah

“The 2021 Domaine Clarendon Syrah is aromatically clenched and closed and shows nothing of its fruit spectrum on the nose, trapped as it is by resinous oak. In the mouth, the fruit has more opportunity to expand, opening with cranberry sauce and blueberry bramble. The acid feels very bright, both in the mouth and lingering through the finish. At this stage, this is disjointed, a mess of indecision between ripe and underripe flavors. Although I find the truth of the latter hard to believe. I would fervently suggest decanting this prior to drinking, as I believe the oxygen will assist in harmonizing some of these qualities. 14% alcohol, sealed under Diam.” 90/100

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2021 Liandra Syrah

“The 2021 Liandra Syrah is meaty and spicy, layered with raspberry jam, pepper-rolled pastrami, cracked cumin and fennel seeds, violets and a streak of black tea. The tannins are firm, and there is a purity about the fruit. The acid is tangy and fresh through the finish, working with the malt/caramel oak to distract the mouth from the fruit, which is, and should be, the main show. There’s a raw/bloody character to this that I find both cleansing and attractive. 14% alcohol, sealed under Diam.” 93+/100

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2021 Sandown Syrah

“Of the three Syrahs tasted alongside each other today, the 2021 Sandown Syrah has the clearest display of fruit purity. The tannins are earthy and savory and even a little gritty (which only adds to the charm for this taster), and they counterbalance the purple fruit. It is elegant and fine—if a wine this big can be called that—with a squid-ink disposition, salted licorice, a hint of pistachio and rosewater, petrichor, wet slate, graphite and black tea. This is a wholly terrestrial wine here, like kicked autumn leaves, vineyard dirt and hot granite. It is angled, beguiling and complex. The acid through the finish has a sweet orange character to it—I want to say blood orange, but it’s not quite right. Mandarin zest, perhaps. This is the most complex and restrained of the Shiraz in 2021. 14% alcohol, sealed under Diam.” 95/100

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2021 Onkaparinga Syrah

“The 2021 Onkaparinga Syrah is aromatically framed by malty/sandalwood/caramel(?) oak, suggesting that a decant prior to drinking is necessary. The fruit that sits behind it is purple and succulent, filling the mouth with flavor, wall to wall. Clove, star anise, blueberry coulis, salted licorice, roast beef crust, deli meats, molasses and crushed black pepper. There are some pink peppercorns, perhaps. There is black olive and dark bitter chocolate there, too. It has gritty tannins, in the best way. 14% alcohol, sealed under Diam. 95/100

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2021 Astralis Syrah

The 2021 Astralis Syrah leads with a distinctly charry, black nose. The black and purple fruit that resides within the core of this wine is really hunkered down within the trenches of the wine, beneath the tannins and oak (which has a distinct biscuit character to it in these 2021s). It’s an interesting outcome of a cooler vintage, and the wine feels as though it has been injected with squid ink. The density, darkness and depth of the Astralis has been accentuated in this vintage rather than what I expected, which was a lighter, finer and more spacious expression of cool-year fruit. If anything, this is compressed, coiled and tightly woven. Fascinating. As it opens up in the glass, it is obvious that the fruit will emerge victorious, but it will require time and patience. This is a big, brooding, firm, tannic wine, currently. 14.5% alcohol, sealed under Diam. 95/100

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Overall 2021 is a magnificent vintage and its cool climate origins deliver wines of admirable depth and complexity. The new vintage abounds with buoyant fruit, lifted perfumes and each exhibits a layered, individual expression that highlights its ancient Blewitt Springs terroir origin. The beautiful old vines demonstrate their superiority and deliver layered wines with long and highly polished tannins.

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