St Henri is a time-honoured and alternative expression of Shiraz, and an intriguing counterpoint to Grange. It is unusual among high quality Australian red wines as it does not rely on any new oak. It was created in the early 1950s (first commercial vintage 1957) and gained a new lease of life in the 1990s as its quality and distinctive style became better understood. Proudly, a wine style that hasn’t succumbed to the dictates of fashion or commerce. St Henri is rich and plush when young, gaining soft, earthy, mocha-like characters as it ages. It is matured in old, 1460 litre vats that allow the wine to develop, imparting minimal, if any oak character. Although a small proportion of Cabernet is sometimes used to improve structure, the focal point for St Henri remains Shiraz.
AUSTRALIA VINTAGE REPORT: The 2017 winegrape crush is estimated to be 1.93 million tonnes, based on responses received by the Wine Sector Survey 2017. This crush is 5 per cent higher than the 2016 final crush figure of 1.84 million tonnes (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – Levies recorded figure). It is the third consecutive vintage where the tonnes crushed have increased.
Additional tonnes this year came relatively equally from the cool and temperate regions of Australia and the warm inland regions (Riverina, Murray Darling-Swan Hill and Riverland). However, the tonnes from the cool and temperate regions increased by 9 per cent compared to a 3 per cent increase in the warm inland regions.
Most regions recorded an increase in tonnes crushed including: Riverland, Riverina, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Wrattonbully, Margaret River, King Valley, Eden Valley, Heathcote, Tasmania, Orange, Gundagai, Grampians, Hunter Valley, Hilltops, Alpine Valleys and Rutherglen.
Regions where the tonnes crushed declined in 2017 included Murray Darling-Swan Hill, Langhorne Creek, Padthaway, Adelaide Hills, Currency Creek, Goulburn Valley, Cowra, Swan District, Mount Benson, Robe and Mudgee.
The 2017 red variety crush is estimated to be 1,062,660 tonnes – an increase of 112,000 tonnes (up 12 per cent) compared with 2016. The white variety crush is estimated to be 866,970 tonnes, a decrease of 19,000 tonnes (down 2 per cent) compared with 2016. Red varieties increased their share of the crush to 55 per cent, compared with 52 per cent in 2016.
The top three red varieties by volume were Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, together accounting for 85 per cent of the total red crush. Shiraz accounted for 47 per cent of the red crush (up slightly from 2016) while the Cabernet Sauvignon share fell from 27 per cent to 26 per cent and Merlot remained at 12 per cent.
Among the whites, Chardonnay remains the dominant variety. However, its share fell from 47 per cent in 2016 to 42 per cent this year with the Chardonnay crush down 13 per cent.
2017 will also be a good year for Grenache. It’s a grape whose time has come, and has indeed been coming for a few years. It’s a warm-climate grape that does particularly well in regions such as McLaren Vale. Now that consumers have got over their strange obsession with dark colour and lots of structure in their red wines, Grenache is allowed to do what it does best: make elegant, perfumed, somewhat lighter-coloured reds that are the equivalent of the Pinot Noir of the warmer climates.
Pinot Noir is also going from strength to strength, and superb examples are coming from Tasmania, Mornington Peninsular, Macedon Ranges and cooler parts of the Yarra Valley. 2017 will be a good year for Pinot, and also for Australian wines’ cool climate regions generally.
Chardonnay is one grape where there has been a shift in style, and 2017 could see it become even more interesting. ‘As you’re well aware there’s been a trend for quite a few years for "size zero” Chardonnay, early picked, skinny and with a very strong sulphidy character,’ says Wildman. ‘The better examples of these wines have dominated at the wine shows and therefore have further driven the style (think Vasse Felix Heytesbury, Penfolds Bin A, Oakridge 864). ’However, this style of Chardonnay has come under criticism because it’s almost as if the foot has been made to fit the slipper, and they aren’t actually all that nice to drink. As a consequence, Wildman notes, there are now fewer wines in this skinny-sulphidy style being seen. ‘The pendulum seems to have swung back (rapidly) towards the middle ground, where the wines have some weight, texture and ripeness, are not afraid of some new oak, and the sulphides have been dialed back to just a whisper of struck match, making the wines not too skinny, not too fat, but "just right”.’ He reckons that as the 2016 wines hit the shelves next year this trend for more balanced wines will increase.