Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale Shiraz Viognier 2005
The key ratio in this powerful young wine from Australia is 92% Shiraz to 8% Viognier. Yes,
Viognier is a white grape. In The Rhône region of France, some Viognier grew among the
Syrah (the term for Shiraz outside of Australia); rather than waste the white grapes, the
French threw it into the mix. This economy led to the discovery that a single-digit
contribution of Viognier tends to add touches of both floral warmth and some citric tang to
While Syrah is blended with wines made from grapes like Grenache and Carignan all over the south of France and in fact the wine-growing world, the Syrah-Viognier combination is unique because the grapes are fermented together. You cannot hence add a little more of one or the other to the blend once you realize your wine.
This $19 Shiraz is a big, young wine, unquestionably of the fruit-forward New World configuration. Extracted fruit is the key feature of the nose and also of the palate; in fact, you only have to look into the deep ruby of this wine to see the thickness of the fruit. The wine has been aged 14 months in mostly new French oak, a definitive commitment to the wood. The first note on the nose is the result of the 14.5% alcohol level: a little heat. Fruit includes a reduction of cassis, black cherry, raspberry, prune, and dried apricot, with further notes of licorice, dark chocolate, black pepper and clove.
The Kangarilla Road is very dry with medium acidity that has aspects of tangy citrus. Despite the wine's fortitude and true full body, the tannins are soft and supple, even as they are resilient. On the palate I was stimulated by tart blackberry, apricot, cranberry, orange peel, eucalyptus, black pepper, chocolate, mocha, and cigar box (that would be a cigar box with at least half the cigars still inside). The last three notes, of course, are characteristic of ambitious oak. The finish is fruity and clean, with little trace of the wood beyond a pleasant aura of smoked lavender and sage.
While I can sense the youth of the wine (although Southern Hemisphere vintages are always six months older than the same-year vintage up here) and can agree with those who want to send this baby to charm school down in the cellar for a few years, I am having a great deal of fun with this liquid in the here and now. The tart acidity and tamed tannins—both of which I ascribe to the Viognier element—are enhancing factors for the no-nonsense fruit. The oak, whose numbers are a bit off-putting on paper, is in fact well-used. Though bone dry, this wine has many aspects of a fruit-filled, chocolate-covered confection.
Though the hoped-for floral notes from the Viognier are nowhere to be found, the white
grape's other aromatic elements add a great deal. This only goes to show that when you
co-ferment rather than blend, you have a bit less leeway with the final result. It's a good
thing then that Shiraz and Viognier are on such good terms.
Shiraz (Syrah) and Viognier, a black grape with a white, make for a brilliant marriage.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman