Harmonious match

Once known as Hunter River Burgundy or light dry red, the blend of Shiraz and
Pinot Noir might come as a surprise to some, writes wine expert Kasia Sobiesiak.

Created by Maurice O’Shea at his Mount Pleasant winery in the 1930s, this blend is not a novelty today. Whether it was his ingenuity or whether he brought the idea from France is hard to tell as there are very few mentions in the literature that it was widely practised in France back then.

Yet one thing is certain: the varietals complement each other perfectly. There’s something inherently enticing about both grapes’ perfume. Maybe it’s the aroma of rose petals and violets, maybe the savoury, decaying edge to their flavours. At the same time, their singular expressions are so cherished around the world, it feels as if the concept of blending them is lost, especially for Pinot.

For a winemaker, the optimal outcome of a blend is to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts, hence they will often marry grapes with opposing features.

Bordeaux blends are great examples. Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a firm structure of acid and tannin while Merlot adds its plush fruit. They contribute opposites but also similarities, including sharing the same father, Cabernet Franc.

So what about Shiraz and Pinot? They were believed to have originated from different areas in Europe until, in 2006, Dr José Vouillamoz proved via genetic testing that Pinot Noir is likely to be a great-grandparent of Shiraz. Maybe that’s why they merge in such perfect harmony.

The original Aussie blend, once forgotten, is now experiencing a revival across the country. I have selected four representatives that pay tribute to the Hunter’s master blender, Maurice O’Shea.

Regardless of the grapes’ proportions, sometimes the final wine takes Shiraz’s, and sometimes Pinot’s character to the front. It may even change from one day to the next.

Mount Pleasant Mount Henry 2022
This is the original blend named after O’Shea’s best friend, Henri Renault. These days it’s made by the chief winemaker Adrian Sparks. The proportion usually includes around 15% Pinot grapes (this time 18%) but the fruit comes from over 100-year-old mothervine and you can distinctly feel it in the wine. This one shows a lot of Shiraz’s character now, but give it a bit of time and Pinot’s rosy perfume will shine. For now, it’s mainly black-fruited, with toasty oak characters topped with lifted freshly ground coffee. There are herb-coated black olive notes and dark chocolate tannins. This wine has excellent intensity and length.
$40 | mountpleasantwines.com.au

Tyrrell’s Special Release Shiraz Pinot Noir 2022
Here the Pinot component of 10% was sourced from the HVD Vineyard with Shiraz selected from a few different blocks.
A cooler summer meant a slightly elongated ripening season and high natural acidity. Chris Tyrrell has created a charming wine that resembles some very tasty examples of the Beaujolais region made with Gamay. I really enjoy this flavour analogy. The bouquet is composed of plums and cherries, violets, cherry blossoms and dried lavender. It’s juicy and pleasantly bitter, earthy but fresh, energetic and very moreish.
$38 | tyrrells.com.au

Silkman Estate Shiraz Pinot Noir 2021
Made by award-winning Liz and Shaun Silkman in their boutique winery, this wine has quality and finesse written all over it. It’s a modern, fresh style with a savoury character full of tart red fruit like raspberries, cranberries and cherries surrounded by the perfume of potpourri, a mix of dried flowers. It’s medium-bodied, well-balanced, with earthy nuance and dusty spice. Tannins are ripe and fruity. It’s a pretty, appetite-inducing, mouth-watering style with an umami feel. You can’t go wrong here.
$35 | silkmanwines.com.au

Hart & Hunter Shiraz Pinot 2021
This Shiraz Pinot blend comes from the hands of winemaking couple Damien Stevens and Jodie Belleville under their Black Series. The 2021 vintage was a mix of warm and cool weather, of sunshine
and rain, resulting in a characterful wine that feels ripe but also fresh in its aroma profile. There are tart and some stewed cherries and plums in this wine. Flavours are spiked with pomegranate tang, orange peel with cloves and medium-weight black tea tannins. It’s chewy and vibrant, flavourful and so easy to sip on.
$48 | hartandhunter.com.au

Kasia Sobiesiak is a wine writer, a contributor to The Wine Front, a wine judge, an educator and a former sommelier. She holds a WSET Diploma in Wine and a Master of Environmental Engineering degree. Australian and Eastern European wines are her love.