2017 Howard Park -- ‘Flint Rock’ Syrah -- Great Southern, Western  Australia

2017 Howard Park -- ‘Flint Rock’ Syrah -- Great Southern, Western Australia

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Australia is simultaneously mysterious and familiar to the large majority of American wine enthusiasts. Familiar because of the ubiquity of cheap-and-cheerful Australian wines that first inundated the lower shelves of our wine markets beginning in the 90s, and mysterious because the very success of those inexpensive wines insured that the perception of Australian wines as “cheap” made selling even medium priced Australian wines difficult, thereby making it nearly impossible to get high end Australian wines other than a handful of globally recognized prestige labels such as Penfolds. In fact, because Australia has the highest per capita wine consumption in the English-speaking world, Americans would be smart to lend extra credence to medium-to-high priced Australian wines that have enough local success and, therefore, courage to attempt exporting to our shores and shelves. This Syrah is just such a wine. And note that the label says “Syrah” instead of “Shiraz”. While the two names refer to the same grape, one or the other is often used in Australia to distinguish between two somewhat distinct styles. Wines from cooler climates that have peppery, gamey and mineral notes, a la the Northern Rhone, are called Syrah, and the warmer climate, soft and fruity wines are called Shiraz. Western Australia is the largest state in Australia but accounts for just 5% of the production of the country, and, therefore, a miniscule portion of the imports into the US. The Great Southern wine region within Western Australia was first planted in the 1970s and its less extensive use of American oak compared to other regions allows the cool climate, Southern Ocean-influence and granite soils more opportunity to express themselves. Despite their relative anonymity here, the owners of Howard Park, the Burch Family, are one of only ten to belong to the prestigious Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) which is a trade organization that promotes the quality of family-owned Australian wineries . Their Flint Rock Syrah is 80% from the Frankland River sub-zone of Great Southern and 20% from the Mount Barker sub-zone of Great Southern. Traditional winemaking methods are used, with 20% new French oak for aging this wine, but you would never know it. The ‘Flint Rock’ in the name alludes to the mineral notes common to the wines made from the multiple sub-zones of the Great Southern region. Flavors of black pepper, game meats and violets and rather subtle blackberry and blueberry, reminds one of Northern Rhone and certifies the coolness of the climate, while the hint of eucalyptus shouts its Australian origin. The Burch family employs certified sustainable farming, so enjoy guilt-free with Asian-inspired beef dishes or steak au poivre, and it will benefit from decanting for an hour+.