Written by Michael Dijkstra
The first post in a new series ‘What’s the difference between’ looks at the two big players in Australian Shiraz: The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
They are always side by side in the bottle shop and for most people it’s hard to know what the difference is—ultimately it comes down to personal preference but knowing the regional characteristics of each can assist your wine buying decision.
The big difference between the two regions is the climate. The Barossa Valley is a Continental Climate and therefore experiences great weather extremes—cold winters and long hot summer days. McLaren Vale on the other hand is a Mediterranean climate. It has a more moderate temperature with a warmer, wetter winter and a hot dry summer. Being situated near the coast and the Mt Lofty Ranges, McLaren Vale also experiences cool gusts of wind in the evening and early mornings.
Barossa Valley Shiraz
Overall the more extreme summer temperatures (and more sunshine hours) that the Barossa experiences results in full bodied wines which are generously flavoured. The typical flavours are dark berry fruits (blackberry) with rich dark chocolate. The juicy berry fruit and depth of flavour that you find in a Barossa Shiraz is unmatched by other Shiraz wine growing regions. In pursuit of picking wines at optimum ripeness (fruit and tannin) the long hot summer days often result in wines with high alcohol (15%).
McLaren Vale Shiraz
The Mediteranian climate of McLaren Vale results in soft wines that develop rich red berry flavours (raspberry and cherry) accompanied by black pepper and spice (nutmeg and cloves). The cooler nights protect the grapes and allows the wines to develop great acidity and structure. McLaren Vale produces very approachable Shiraz wines and the complexity of pepper and spice makes them unique. Overall they are slightly more subdued than a big Barossa, saying that you can find plenty of big McLaren Vale Shiraz wines.
The Barossa produces generous wines with juicy fruit and unmatched depth and length. These are big wines and you often need to accompany them with food to get through the whole bottle.
McLaren Vale produces softer, more approachable wines with great fruit intensity and spicy complexity. Whenever we throw a cocktail party McLaren Vale Shiraz is always our go–to wine (they just go down so easy).
Keep in mind that the soil, altitude and the slope of the vineyard a wine comes from will of course have a great affect on the style and flavours. Each wine you drink will be a reflection of the site it has been grown on.