Aussie Shiraz 

If you've been following the news lately, you might think things are pretty grim on the Australian wine scene. Record heat, fires and devastating vineyard pests have hit Victoria particularly hard. Things are a little better in South Australia, but it is still the driest state in the driest continent on Earth, and global warming has had an effect on this already arid climate. Despite that, Australia has had a string of highly successful vintages going back to 2001. Still, demand is down and sales are off—which is surprising, given the quality of the wines we tasted. It's time to remember that there is more to Aussie Shiraz than Yellow Tail. Here are the panel's top picks:

2007 d'Arenbeg, The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier, $27

In the time-honored tradition of Rhone producers, this wine adds a white wine grape, Viognier, to the dark-skinned shiraz. The combination contributes an exotic element to the bouquet of blackberry and blueberry fruit that are laced with chocolate, black tea, ginger and earth. A tart cherry twang adds balance to the riper dark fruit flavors. Mocha comes through on the finish, which is punctuated by smooth tannins. A top wine from a top winery.

2006 Hewitson, Ned & Henry's Shiraz, $23

A classic Barossa shiraz, but with a refined element of elegance. On the nose, it exhibits a concentrated core of sweet berry fruit, which is straightforward and appealing. On the palate, things get more interesting with a constantly shifting cascade of flavors: berry, plum, sweet cherry, licorice, vanilla, cedar, green olive, mineral, smoked meat and firm, ripe tannins. The finish is lush and velvety with remarkable persistence. Great now, but it should age gracefully for five to seven years.

2007 Tait, The Ballbuster, $18.99

As the name implies, Bruno Tait unapologetically makes wines with broad shoulders, but they still have a surprising sense of class. A blend of shiraz, cabernet and merlot, the former dominates in flavor, and the latter contributes balance, structure and complexity. This wine offers a broad mix of aromas such as blackberry, currant, licorice, tar, cedar, earth, espresso and leather. It's rich and supple in the mouth, and raspberry and cassis caress the palate, while fine-grained tannins mark the expansive finish. Buy it now, as this one usually sells out before the next vintage is released.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Michael Molinengo, Idaho Wine Merchant.

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