Sunshine valley offers highly-prized crop

Shiraz and spice and all things nice . . . the sun has shone on vines in South Australia’s Barossa Valley since the 1840s, when settlers first planted their highly-prized crop. The most famous and largest wine region of the “big four”, the Barossa’s flat valley floor is blanketed with vineyards and has never been plagued by phylloxera.

Bug-free parcels of gnarled old vines still exist and produce some of the best low-yielding, powerful shiraz (syrah) in the world.

Lush and concentrated, the fruit hides an average alcohol strength of 14.5%, and you need a firm hand not to get carried away with these fruity bombs.

A wine lovers’ playground, the warm- climate Barossa Valley has more than 60 wineries with an open cellar door, and it is home to some of the country’s most famous labels including Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob’s Creek.

Indeed, thanks to our thirst for big Aussie reds, there are plenty of spiced shiraz offerings on the shelves that manage to keep their richness, flavour and strength — with a touch of freshness.

For a cheap and cheerful weekday wine, try Kooliburra Australian Shiraz Cabernet (£3.99, Aldi). A blend of 60% shiraz and 40% cabernet sauvignon, what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for in taste with plenty of dark, brambly fruit and a lick of leather on the spicy finish. This wine is a great rustic red for casseroles.

New from the Tesco Simply range, Tesco Simply Australian Shiraz 2010 (£5.49, Tesco) is a refreshing and subtle red that punches above its price tag. With warming notes of vanilla and berries, it’s not too heavy on the tannins and very drinkable both on its own or with food.

Wine critic Oz Clarke has had his nose in a glass of De Bortoli DB Shiraz 2009 (£6.64, Waitrose) and ranks it in his 250 Best Wines 2011. Smooth and round with soft blackberry fruit, supple tannins and a fragrant nose, it’s a gentle-style shiraz but with a sting in the tail. Furthermore, it’s delicious with roast chicken. If you’re after something altogether different with an earthy whiff to remind you of the arid land, Extra Special Shiraz 2011, Barossa, (£6.98, Asda) could be up your street. The wine is big and bold with dark cherry and plummy notes, spices and a hint of mocha on the palate.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range seems to be improving all the time and Taste the Difference Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009 (£8.99, Sainsbury’s) is bold and intense with classic cherry and raspberry fruit, a layer of sweet spice and a twist of black pepper over ripe tannins.

This year’s International Wine & Spirits Competition awarded Patronus Barossa Shiraz 2009 (£8.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) a gold medal, and this lip-smacking shiraz offers excellent value at under £10.

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