South Austalia, and especially the Barossa Valley, is typically associated with big, ripe, full-bodied shiraz. Many examples of this style have won critical acclaim from esteemed American critics like Robert Parker, partly because they typified a unique Australian take on the Rhône varietal.

But winemakers are by and large a very creative, innovative bunch who don’t like to be boxed in by stereotypes. While many South Australian wineries are still making fine shiraz in a big, bold style, the trend is definitely towards a more elegant and approachable style. In fact, Harvey Steiman of the Wine Spectator notes in his article, Renewed Allure: With ever more distinctive styles arriving on U.S. shores talk of Australia’s flagging appeal doesn’t compute, that “about half the Shirazes in the [Wine Spectator’s] 90-plus range come from somewhere other than Barossa, and even the Barossa wines show more elegance than generally ascribed to that warm area.” (Wine Spectator 31 July 2010).

The Adelaide Hills Shaw + Smith, founded by cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith in 1989, has consistently demonstrated the ability of this cool climate region to create wines of distinction.

Hill Smith credits Brian Croser for discovering the wine-growing potential of Adelaide Hills. “Brian Croser was the person who had the vision for the Adelaide Hills, and a lot us have followed that vision,” he told the Wine Spectator’s Jennie Cho Lee back in 2002, “Now the top Sauvignon Blancs and top Chardonnays come from this region.” (A Turn Toward Refined Elegance: Vitners in South Australia are pioneering a new style of Wine, 15 May 2002).

Since that time the Shaw + Smith winery has also created an award winning elegant, spicy shiraz to share the stage with its top-rated sauvignon blanc and M3 Chardonnay. The 2007 Shaw + Smith Shiraz won the trophy at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards for Best Australian Red Rhône Varietal over £10. Wine critic Nick Stock described the wine as “a stylish, cool, medium-weight Rhone lookalike.  Red fruits and sweet Asian spices float from the glass – on the palate it’s all fine-boned tannin and even, elegant flavour from start to crunchy swirling finish.  A superb Shiraz.” (Adelaide Hills Magazine Winter 2009)

Hill Smith and Shaw believe that careful site selection from the different sub-regions of the Adelaide Hills is key to the wine’s success. Fruit from the warmer sub-area of Macclesfield gives structure and richness, whilst Balhannah contributes spiciness and perfume. Vines are densely planted in vertical shoot position canopies, hand-pruned and hand-picked. Yields are restricted to 2kg of fruit per vine to insure concentrated aromas and flavours. While the winery hasn’t applied for organic or biodynamic certification,  it does employ many environmentally-friendly practices in the management of its vineyards and winery. Natural seaweed fertilisers, for example, are used as alternatives to synthetics and epsom salts are used to toughen skins and decrease disease pressure.

The pedigree of the winemaking team is also without a question one of the reasons Shaw + Smith has been so successful. Hill Smith, Australia’s first Master of Wine and a respected wine show judge, is a member of the Yalumba Hill Smith family. Winemaker Martin Shaw worked with Brian Croser at Petaluma for eight years prior to setting up the ‘Flying Winemakers’ network in France, Spain, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve read that their cellar door is one of the highlights of the Adelaide Hills, and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to sample their wines next week.

Photo Credit: Balhannah Vineyard, Shaw + Smith