Big and bold, Shiraz is a superb wine to put away and drink years and years later, but what happens to Shiraz when it gets older? We put the Maximus Shiraz from Lisa McGuigan Wines to the test with a vertical tasting.
Synonymous with Australia, Shiraz is really our national wine variety. It’s the most widely planted grape and our biggest wine export, and one in four bottles on Aussie tables is a Shiraz.
But how much do we really know about this wine type that’s been going for over 4,500 years?
Most of us know that Shiraz is usually a powerful, fruit-forward wine with strong tannins that we usually drink with red meat, blue cheese and other strong-flavoured food. It’s the choice of the barbecue and roast dinner, and from its deep dark purple depths come an intensity that can be off-putting.
But that’s not all Shiraz.
Some Shiraz—particularly as Australia’s palate changes—is much lighter in body, especially when it’s from cooler climates.
Shiraz from warmer, lower-altitude regions like the Barossa Valley is quite often that big beefy juicy wine. But regions that are a bit cooler like Orange, the Hunter Valley or Mudgee produce a lighter style Shiraz.
You’ll still find those flavours you associate with Shiraz: blackberry, clove, sweet tobacco—but that mouth-coating unctuousness and sometimes overwhelming power is harnessed to create more structure and refinement in the wine.
What happens when Shiraz ages?
Generally speaking, as wine gets older, those fruity flavours you taste when the wine’s young diminish as does acidity and tannins that make your mouth feel dry. Wine smooths out, and savoury spicy notes develop.
This is what (generally) happens with Shiraz.
Sweetness turns to a silky mouthfeel, tannins and acidity act as foundations for darker fruit notes to sit on while oak, tobacco and spice lift so you’re left with a robust yet elegant wine. Some Shiraz can age for 20+ years.
Check out some of our other Shiraz stories:
What is a vertical tasting?
This is a deep-dive into the wine-maker’s skills and to see the effect time has on their wine as well as how different vintages with different growing conditions can change the wine.
Tasting the same variety from the same winery (and preferably from the same vineyard) but with bottles from different years, you can see a cross section of how the wine changes over time.
We tried this with Lisa McGuigan’s Maximus Shiraz from her flagship Platinum range, tasting the 2015, ’16 and ’18 vintages. Although this is a pretty tight grouping—the more time between vintages the better—there was still a clear change in all of these wines.
Maximus Shiraz by Lisa McGuigan
General tasting notes for the Maximus, whose grapes come from vineyards in Mudgee, NSW, are:
“Vibrant plum colour, aroma of black cherry, mulberries and fresh spices with hints of mocha, and rich plum notes, blackcurrants, mocha and spice on the palate.”
And that’s exactly what we found as a central backbone to all three vintages.
Drinking ‘backwards’—as in youngest to oldest—means you get to see the wine develop and have a baseline to compare the older wine against.
The 2018 vintage showed ripe plum and big berry notes that Lisa’s notes suggested. The wine had a medium body as per its region, and surprisingly short finish, though while you’re drinking it, this wine puts in the effort. It’s bold, full-flavoured and satisfying.
Next the 2016 vintage displayed some softening in those berry flavours, more spice and a little more length.
Finally, the 2015 wine gave a much longer finish, smoother tannins, bolder chocolate and liquorice notes and a finer acid structure. The fruit notes had receded leaving savoury, spice and French oak to play their role.
Lisa recommends a 5-10 year cellaring for this wine, so in 2022, we’re right on the money for this wine. There might be a couple more years where more of those savoury notes come forward, but why wait when it’s drinking so well now?!
What do you need for a vertical tasting?
Organising a vertical tasting is easy enough. At its minimum, all you need is the wine—at least three vintages all from the same winery—and glasses. To go the extra mile, you can have enough glasses for each bottle, tasting notes on each vintage, note books, matching food… you can really go to town.
If you’re having trouble finding multiple vintages of the same wine in bottle shops, search the winery directly. Some sell multiple vintages while others have a museum release program like Howard Park Wines.
The one thing that’s not hard to find for a vertical tasting is willing volunteers!