Capel Vale, Mount Barker (Western Australia) Shiraz 'Regional Series' 2005 ($22, Tom Eddy Wines): As the Australians focus their promotional efforts on highlighting regional diversity in wines, one of the great benefits for wine lovers will be discovering that not all Aussie Shirazes fall into one of two common styles: the soft, delicious, totally fruity style of the inexpensive wines, or the lusty, powerful, dense style of the famous Barossa labels. Cool climate Shirazes from various parts of Victoria and Western Australia, for example, offer a completely different Shiraz experience, as they are leaner, fresher and more food-friendly.
Capel Vale 2005 Shiraz from Mount Barker in Western Australia is a terrific example of a Shiraz that's more elegant and refined than the Barossa model, and far more nuanced than the ubiquitous and popular South Eastern Australia brands. It's the kind of Shiraz that will intrigue thoughtful tasters and yet provide plenty of straightforward pleasure for more casual drinkers.
Mount Barker is a sub-district of the vast Great Southern wine region, a remote area that's hours southeast of the better-known Margaret River region. The Mount Barker vineyards are northerly within the Great Southern, away from the maritime climate of the coastal districts. Some people characterize the climate of the northern districts as being similar to Bordeaux, although variations in altitude and aspect create variability throughout. Shiraz is the most widely planted variety in the Great Southern, followed closely by Cabernet Sauvignon.
Capel Vale produces a wide range of red and white wines, only some of which are available in this country. The Mount Barker Shiraz belongs to the winery's middle tier, its 'Regional Series.' Founded in 1974 by Dr. Peter Pratten and his wife, Elizabeth, the winery is family-owned, and is situated in the Geographe region north of Margaret River. Some wines come from vineyards in that region, while others, such as this Shiraz, come from vineyards that the family owns in other parts of Western Australia.
At the recent Critics Challenge wine competition, this 2005 Capel Vale Shiraz earned a Critics Platinum medal--not surprisingly, considering the wine's complexity of aroma and flavor and its well-modulated weight and balance. This is a fully dry, somewhat full-bodied red with fine-grained tannins that create a texture somewhere between velvety and gripping. The wine's aromas and flavors suggest spicy black pepper, blackberry, plum, and just the slightest vegetal nuance--a welcome relief from Shirazes that express only fruitiness, with or without oak. Although it has 14.5 percent alcohol, you wouldn't think so, because the wine is so trim and firm, even somewhat compact. Its flavors are concentrated and pure rather than flamboyantly expressive.
The combination of fruit purity and lean structure gives this wine great flexibility with food. It has enough fruitiness for spicy dishes, enough flavor for bland dishes such as simple roasts, and enough lean structure to complement rich dishes such as a cheesy meat lasagna. It has the capacity to age and perhaps soften a bit over the next five years, in my opinion, although it is perfectly enjoyable now. That's quite a lot of flexibility, quality and longevity for a $22 red!