Terra Sigillata

If you’re in Australia or North America, chances are your first experience with Shiraz was in the form widely-available from Rosemount Estates. Shiraz is derived from the same stock as Syrah that is grown in France’s Rhone Valley. The Australian “father of viticulture,” James Busby, brought Syrah to the continent in the 1830s while collecting vines in Spain and France.

I think I bought my first bottle of Rosemount Shiraz in 1996 or 1998 for $7.99 USD; it can still be had for $10 or $11. In this grad student/postdoc-friendly price range, the wine was quite drinkable as compared with too-tannic or unbalanced Cabernet Sauvignons or watery Merlots – I think the pros call this one an “early-drinking red.” The Rosemont of my memory had a full fruit flavor of dark berries and a spiciness that worked alone or with burgers and pizza, but could still be reasonable with a decent cut of beef. (Some define the spicy flavor as jalapeño but I think it is more like black pepper.)

The quality and character of Rosemount seemed to decline over the last 5-8 years, perhaps coincident with the sale of the Oatley family-owned winery to Southcorp Wines. Interestingly, I’ve read in Wine & Spirits Daily that 80-year-old Robert Oatley and his children have launched a new wine brand under his name. Beginning with fruit from the family’s seven vineyards in the Mudgee region of Australia, they began distributing a half dozen varietals in the US in August that includes Shiraz. However, these more carefully crafted offerings are in the $18 to $20 range.

Most Shiraz I see today in the $15-25 range is an intense purple, rip-your-head-off 13%-16% alcohol that probably ages nicely, but isn’t quite what I’m looking for to go with the average Pharmboy meal. (Australian writer Jeni Port describes the “hijacking” of Shiraz by “out of town interests” to be one style: “big, alcoholic, and syrupy-rich.” You’ve got to love a wine writer whose surname is Port.)

But thanks to my local estate-grown wine purveyors, Wine Authorities, I’ve been turned on to the Shiraz of my younger days:

i-d93fae4acb18a04fe0b472202b34e57a-WA Nugan.png2006 Shiraz (Nugan Estate)
$11.99

Nugan Estate, Shiraz, Riverina, Australia, 2006
REMARKABLY DRY, BALANCED AND JAMMY FRUIT Amazingly, this is one of the few wineries that can produce such fine Shiraz made in a non-manipulated, well-balanced and refined manner in the “daily” category! Dive into spiced berry, restrained jelly flavors and black cherry jubilee. The black pepper and vanilla oak serve as a “pie crust” for the wine’s fruit. This is typical of Shiraz, but made in a beautifully well integrated manner. Forget the sweet, fruity, cheap stuff. Will the real Shiraz please stand up? And here it is…Nugan Estate Shiraz. Try With: Bleu cheese burger; braised short ribs with star anise, onions, clove and rosemary

I can’t get enough of this stuff. If you are in the NC Research Triangle area (Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh), the Nugan Shiraz is on the Enomatic this week at the Wine Authorities store where you can try 1, 2.5, or 5 oz pours with your Enomatic smart card. But at this price, just spend the $12 and get a bottle.

Nugan wines are also available around the world at your better wine merchants who focus on estate-grown and vinted wines. For example, Pascale’s Liquor Square in Syracuse, NY, carries the 2003 Nugan Shiraz. The Huntington Beach, CA, importer, Southern Starz, appears to be the US distributor for Nugan (this map will give you importer contacts worldwide). And our lucky readers in Australia can buy all of the Nugan wine offerings online.

Beyond the sensory experience of the wine itself, I find it sometimes equally interesting to dig into the winery’s website to learn more about the history, geography, and tidbits on the folks who brought this fine beverage to life.

The Nugan family has a rich history in Australia with patriarch Alberto Nugan emigrating in 1940 from Spain to Griffith, New South Wales, to launch a fruit and vegetable business. His son, Ken, took over the business but was claimed by cancer at a relatively young age, leaving his wife, Michelle, to lead the company. With Michelle’s leadership and vision and the support of their children, Nugan grew from a highly-successful fruit juice exporter to a winery about ten years ago.

The family is remarkable – Michelle Nugan has been honored by numerous awards business awards and her son, Matthew, and daughter, Tiffany, are equally accumulating honors for their contributions to the business community and economic development, particularly with regard to exports. While Ken joined the company when he was 19, Tiffany didn’t come onboard until 2001 when she left what sounds like a very successful law practice.

All this talk of South Australia really makes me want to pay a visit to my SuperReader, Prof Ian Musgrave, a pharmacology professer and astonomer in Adelaide. He’s been busy as of late with family business and training for a 6 km run to benefit the Brain Foundation. Shout out to Ian: have you tried any of the Nugan wines?

All other readers: let us know if you’ve had any experience with Nugan or if you have a particular favorite Shiraz.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Nedin
    October 17, 2008

    Traditionally, shiraz has been the big, ballsy red here in Australia, which takes a few years cellering to tame. Both the Barossa and Clare Valleys (South Australia)produce some exceptional shiraz, but they usually need a few years in the bottle.

    As a general rule avoid anything that says “product of south easterm Australia” or “product of southern Australian” as these are blends from a number of vineyards. The single vinyard offerings are usually superior.

    Personal favourites are Pike’s shiraz, Rockford’s basket press.

    As our dollar has cratered, there should be some good values offerings coming up in the US

  2. #2 Abel Pharmboy
    October 18, 2008

    Hi Chris – indeed, I would love to put down some big Shiraz but I neglected to do so 5-8 years ago. So, I’d better get to it now and have my early-drinking Shiraz for the time being.

    Yes, your Shiraz is very much like Zinfandel has become in the States.

    Thanks very much for the suggestions, especially those that denote factory-made wines – not sure if you have the same issues in Australia that were noted in this UK Telegraph article on factory-made wines.

    The gents at my local wine shop have some really good information on how to buy single-estate wines because, as you note, the terminology for huge cooperatives varies from country to country.

    Thanks for the tips on the Pike’s and Rockford’s – our dollar has cratered about as much as yours so the price here should be about the same as usual.

  3. #3 Mark Giordano
    October 20, 2008

    Abel,
    I quite liked your comments on Shiraz. The reason Bob Oatley, a spry 80 years young, has decided to start a new brand is because Aussie Shiraz can be quite elegant and balanced. You may be surprised to taste the new Robert Oatley wines as the comment I most commonly hear is “quite refreshing style from Australia”. We just launched a bit over two months ago in seven states as we want to be smart about putting one foot in front of the other. I noticed you mentioned RTP – I am a UNC-CH graduate and from NC originally (Winston-Salem). I presume you are in this area and if you are you will be pleased to note that we will be distributed in mid-2009 in the Tarheel State. Check us out on RobertOatley.com and if you want to try some of the wines – they are available on Wine.com. Thanks for the kind words about the Oatley’s – they are great people.

    Mark Giordano
    President
    Robert Oatley Vineyards

  4. #4 Abel Pharmboy
    October 22, 2008

    Mr Giordano, what an honor to have you visit. Thanks so much for stopping by with this information. I’m ecstatic that we will be getting distribution of the Robert Oatley wines in the middle of next year. I’m not sure if you are still in the NC area but you are welcome to come to any of our blogger meetups and assist us the tasting of Robert Oatley wines. Even though they are not being released here until mid 09, you may also consider visiting us at our international science blogging conference in Jan 2009, ScienceOnline’09 – I’ll contact you off-blog with details.