Over the past few months, I’ve talked quite a bit about how Australian winemakers are increasingly working with alternative or less well-known grape varieties, such as tempranillo, viognier and chenin blanc. But perhaps less evident to consumers is the number of wineries that have adopted non-conventional wine styles. Interestingly, Hobbs, the artisan Barossa Ranges winery, has embraced with great success the challenges of employing alternative winemaking styles on typical ‘Australian’ varieties like shiraz!

Hobbs of Barossa Ranges is owned by Greg and Allison Hobbs. They have 15 acres of  vineyards, which are home to some of the Barossa’s oldest shiraz.  Nestled in the cool, beautiful Barossa Ranges, where the elevation, climate and ancient decomposed clay soils, allow for the slow ripening of the fruit, the vineyards are dry-grown, biodynamically farmed, hand-pruned and hand-picked.

The Hobbs vineyards are contiguous with Chris Ringland’s famed Chris Ringland Shiraz vineyards (formerly Chris Ringland’s Three Rivers). Ringland acts as a consultant winemaker, working with Pete Schell from Spinifex Wines, who makes the wines for Hobbs. Previously Schell was the head winemaker at Turkey Flat before starting Spinifex in 2001.

Little wonder then that this enviable combination of wine growing and winemaking skills has helped Hobbs attain critical acclaim and a strong following for its small range (only seven different wines) of very limited production wines – typically 250 or less dozens of each.

Hobbs makes a very highly rated old vine shiraz and shiraz viognier, but it is the Amarone-style Hobbs Shiraz Gregor that represents a new direction in the style of Australian shiraz.

Amarone della Valpolicella is the rich, heady red from the Valpocella region near Veneto in northern Italy. Typically it is made with the corvina grapes, a variety unique to the region, and sometimes rondinella and molinara grapes are also added to the blend.

The Romans invented Recioto, a style of wine that employs a drying process (appassimento), in which the grapes are semi-dried on racks before the fermentation process. Recioto is a rich, sweet red wine, but in the 1950s a new generation of winemakers extended the fermentation process to remove all traces of residual sugar – thus creating the unique Amarone dry red wine style.

Typically, the best Amarones display loads of ripe fruit and spicy character, coupled with firm tannins and a solid structure, in which the high alcohol levels (around 15%) are balanced by acidity and a tarry mineral character. Sometimes the dried fruit character creates the illusion of sweetness even though all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol. Most Amarone require at least five years of cellaring and the best will last for decades.

The Hobbs Shiraz Gregor is made from shiraz planted in 1988. After hand picking, the fruit is placed into trays and semi-dried. The traditional drying methods are blended with Hobbs own style to create a full bodied Australian Amarone-style shiraz. The wine is aged for two years in new French oak hogsheads.

Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate scored the stunning 2005 vintage 96 points. Here’s his review of this big and complex wine:

The 2005 Gregor Shiraz was made from grapes dried on racks prior to crushing and fermentation in the style of Amarone. More deeply colored than its siblings, it has a liqueur, port-like character to its aromas and flavors. Large in scale and richly fruity, it conceals enough ripe tannin to evolve for 6-8 years. Drink this singular effort from 2015 to 2035. (Wine Advocate # 181 Feb 2009)