Wine Sipper 

Aussie Shiraz

Looking for a wine category that provides consistent quality and value across the board? Australian Shiraz is a pretty safe bet. Not that many years ago, the government paid growers to rip out their old vine Shiraz and plant something more in vogue like Chardonnay. Fortunately some people didn't take the bait. Today in South Australia, the driest state of the driest continent on earth, notable wines like Penfold's Grange or Henschke's Hill of Grace fetch top honors and top dollars. But you can find outstanding Aussie Shiraz priced well under 20 bucks. Here are the panel's top picks in that value category.

2002 D'Arenberg Shiraz, The Footbolt, $16.99

With vineyards dating back to the 1880's, D'Arenberg has been making excellent wines for almost a hundred years. The Footbolt, named for the founder's chestnut colt whose winning ways helped purchase the winery, offers big ripe berry aromas with ample oak, pepper, herb and anise. Lighter oak in the mouth, this is a supple Shiraz with beautiful balance and bright cherry flavors. A nice bit of smoke and dark chocolate come through on the long, silky finish.

2004 Piping Shrike Shiraz, Barossa, $12.99

Named for the Australian Magpie whose presence helps ward off flocks of grape-thieving blackbirds, the Piping Shrike opens with richly perfumed aromas of candied cherries, big oak and subtle herb. A meaty, beaty, big and bouncy wine with round cherry and blueberry fruit flavors and a big bright finish. This richly extracted wine comes with a very attractive price.

2002 Yalumba Shiraz, Barossa, $16.99

Founded over 150 years ago, Yalumba is South Australia's oldest family owned winery. Their Barossa Shiraz borrows a technique from France's Rhône Valley, blending in a little Viognier to concentrate the color and to contribute a floral fragrance. The aromas are intriguing and exotic with creamy cassis, cedar, violet, cherry and graham. Nice ripe tannins in the mouth with soft blackberry flavors and impeccable balance. A consistently fine wine.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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