McWilliam's Hanwood Estate Shiraz 2006
This $12 Shiraz brings certain specifications that challenge my brain's data capacity.
McWilliam's makes a good deal of it: 85,000 cases, more than a million bottles. The wine is
sourced from fourteen different wine-producing areas in three Australian states; the leader, at
27%, is the Heathcote region in Victoria, with big contributions from Hilltops in New South
Wales and South Australia's Limestone Coast. Having been to Australia three times already,
and not gotten much outside of the cities except for the Hunter Valley (.25% of this wine, by
the way), I am tempted to extrapolate this grape sourcing list into my next itinerary.
The wine even requires “oakarithmetic.” One to three-year old oak barrels shelter, at one time or another, 20% of the wine; another 60% is given oak stave contact. Winemakers are usually forthcoming (if not downright proud) about barrel aging but remain rather on the shy side when it comes to “admitting” oak stave use, since it offends certain purists. I don't have a strong opinion either way on this practice. The oak in this wine, however it got there, adds a sweet warmth and a satisfying layer of feel.
This Shiraz is a clear, medium-deep ruby in color. The nose is simplicity itself: black fruit, spice, oak and vanilla. The wine is dry, not too acidic, not particularly tannic, not over alcoholic. My first taste was a general note of spice—it comes with this grape—bringing touches of nutmeg and clove alternating with vanilla. Blackberry, black plum and raspberry hold up the fruit end of the equation. You also get some tobacco and cocoa, with a touch of candied cherry on the finish.
It would be easy to infer from the above analysis that the Hanwood Estate Shiraz is indistinguishable from most of its South Eastern Australia shelf-mates (even though it uses no “critters” on the label). To make such a judgment, however, would obscure the fact that this is some pretty tasty wine (and at a price that usually gets you less). It presents a few basic fruits rather well, does the same with the spice, and shows intelligent use of oak. It shows no obvious artificial elements (like inappropriate sweetness, or bitter vegetal notes). If not profound, it is decidedly friendly, and honest to boot.
Wines made in industrial quantities can be excellent, if conceived with intelligence and taste.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman