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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

The looming surplus, along with imaginative mythology' surrounding some icon wines, threatens top-quality Australian Shiraz, according to speakers at an Institute of Masters of Wine seminar in London. Richard Bampfield MW was in the chair on 5 December, and the four guest speakers from Australia were Andrew Caillard MW (Langtons Auction House), Peter Gago (Southcorp), Ron Laughton (Jasper Hill) and Trevor Mast (Mount Langi Ghiran). Caillard warned that pretentious marketing is the crown of thorns which threatens the fine Shiraz industry'. He also said that the froth' had blown off the auction market in the aftermath of 11 September. Nevertheless, he suggested that the price paid the previous week for a bottle of 1951 Penfolds Grange (Hermitage) - US$27,000 - confirmed the cult status of Australia's most famous wine, and marked the coming of age of its fine wine industry as a whole. According to Mast, a larger and longer-lasting problem will be the looming Shiraz surplus. There's really going to be a blood bath in another year. All of us are on a cliff edge.' Caillard emphasised that there is far greater vintage variation than is often supposed: 2000 was a damp squib in Adelaide Hills, but outstanding in Coonawarra.' Mast showed through four vintages of Mount Langi Ghiran that there can be great variation among wines from a single producer, too. Advancing what he called a classic case of terroir', Laughton showed that his Emily's Paddock and Georgia's Paddock Shirazes are chalk and cheese' - even though the respective sites are only a mile apart, were planted with the same clone of Shiraz in the same year, and the wines are made the same way (apart from the addition of 5% Cabernet Franc to Georgia's Paddock). Gago highlighted the importance of house styles. He showed that although the fruit for Penfolds' top two Shirazes - Grange and St Henri - often comes from the same sites, different treatment results in different wines, one the antithesis of the other'. He denied that cross-regional blending has had its day'. It's all about style,' he said, and offering a range of styles.' Anthony Rose said he thought that Robert Parker was swimming against the tide in his preference for richer wines, but was worried that the American critic's views might still influence the bigger producers. Gago denied this: We don't have to go along with his dictates. He's just another wine critic.' In response to concerns from the floor that consumers were being deterred by the high alcohol of many Shirazes, Laughton and Mast attributed this to more efficient yeasts or riper vintages, and insisted that they were not cultivating show-stopping styles.