Due in no small part to the critical acclaim of Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier, the shiraz viognier blend has become synonymous with the cooler climate regions of Australia like the Canberra District and Victoria’s Heathcote, Bendigo and Yarra Valley appellations.
Consequently, you may be surprised to learn that the first stellar Australian example of the blend in fact hailed from the ‘warm’ climate of Barossa Valley. Dave Powell of Torbeck added around 5% viognier to his first -the 1995- vintage of the RunRig. In doing so, he married the elegance of the Côte Rôtie style with the richness and power of Hermitage – another great red wine from the Rhône region – to create one of Australia’s most renowned wines.
This year another Barossa shiraz viognier, Head’s The Blonde Single Vineyard Stonewell Shiraz Viognier 2010, topped James Halliday’s list of the best shiraz viognier blends in his 2013 edition of the Australian Wine Companion.
Like Powell and Clonakilla’s Tim Kirk, proprietor and winemaker Alex Head of the eponymously named Head Winery is fascinated with Rhône region wines and in particular the steeply terraced Côte Rôtie.
In Côte Rôtie the terroir of the southern slope imparts an elegant, feminine quality to the shiraz that is quite distinct from the intense, less accessible character of its northern slope neighbour.
When Head was in search for two Barossa vineyard sites, he deliberately chose sites where the soils were likely to produce contrasting styles of shiraz. The Blonde comes from a vineyard in Stonewell, which consists of sandy loam mixed with quartz on a limestone base – a terroir which gives the wine accentuated perfume and complexity.
In contrast, his other flagship shiraz, The Brunette, comes from a high elevation vineyard in Moppa, which consists of heavy soils of deep red clay and ironstone. The shiraz from this vineyard typically has more structure and is less accessible, demanding more cellaring time to fully develop.
The naming of the two wines, ‘The Blonde’ and ‘The Brunette’, is in homage to Côte Rôtie, where the southern and northern slopes are still referred to as ‘Cote Blonde’ and ‘Cote Brune’ – a reference to the daughters – a blonde and and a brunette – of the Middle Ages’ proprietor Count Maugiron.
Here’s Halliday’s 96 point review of The Blonde Single Vineyard Stonewell Shiraz Viognier 2010:
Outstanding bright purple-crimson; this proves an exception to the rule that shiraz viognier blends only truly succeed in cool climates, for both the texture and the aromas and flavours of this elegant, medium-bodied wine mark the synergy of the blend, the bouquet highly fragrant, the palate with vivid spicy cherry and plum fruit, the tannins important but fine. (James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 2013 Edition)
Vaucluse Cellars has the Head The Blonde Single Vineyard Stonewell Shiraz 2010 available for $36 a bottle.