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Friday 13 October 2017

From small beginnings. An ongoing Australian wine success story.

It was 27 years ago that Michael Hill Smith, only recently named as Australia's first Master of Wine, hit Sydney to show off a new wine to some of the wine scribes in Sydney.

It was a sauvignon blanc, then, as now, a variety often treated with disdain, and it seemed an odd choice as the wine used to launch Shaw+Smith, as Hill Smith named his collaboration with his cousin Martin Shaw.

But this sauvignon blanc was longer, and had more palate interest, than its Kiwi counterparts, and was far less herbaceous.

The Shaw+Smith Sauvignon Blanc became an instant benchmark - a status it maintains until this day.

I was reminded of that launch all those years ago (I was barely out of short pants at the time, of course) when I attended a Shaw+Smith yum cha lunch at Hobart's excellent Me Wah Cantonese restaurant earlier this week.

The event was packed to the rafters. There's nothing like the Shaw+Smith name and great Chinese food to pull in a crowd.

Martin Shaw, who was scheduled to attend, was unfortunately unwell. Michael Hill Smith, one of the busiest men in the wine industry, was otherwise engaged. As he often is.

The two of them decided to make wine together over a long lunch in 1989 and to base themselves in the rolling Adelaide Hills, part of the Mount Lofty Ranges east of the city of Adelaide, where they now own two vineyards in a wine region that is cooler than most in Australia.

The set out to make a sauvignon blanc that was leaner and less pungent than those from Marlborough - and the 1990 release was an immediate hit.

Nowadays the Shaw+Smith range includes chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir, and a small amount of riesling - all exemplary and well priced.

Former Petaluma winemaker Shaw is still the guiding hand, aided and abetted by one of Australia's most talented young winemakers in Adam Wadewitz. Today they have vineyards in Lenswood and Balhannah with Balhannah also home to the winery where their Tasting Room is open daily.

In 2011, Shaw and Hill Smith purchased the Tolpuddle Vineyards near Richmond in Tasmania, planted with 20 hectares of mature pinot noir and chardonnay. Like the Shaw+Smith wines, these, too, are benchmarks.

This family affair is a long-running success story with a global reputation and sales that show no signs of slowing down.

My notes on the new-release 2017 Shaw+Smith Sauvignon Blanc ($27): Superb value for what has become an icon wine. Very much in keeping with the house style with brightness, freshness and natural acidity, it has spent a short time on lees to add complexity but is all about the fresh citrus and green apple characters. Drink young with fresh seafood.    

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