2015 The Story Wines Westgate Vineyard Syrah
What's the story with The Story Wines?
When it comes to wine, Rory Lane is a self-confessed late bloomer. His studies in ancient Greek literature did little to prepare him for the viticultural world, but there was no looking back once he took the leap. Like the ancient Greeks of millenia past, Rory fell in love with the humble grape and now, some 17 years since he began, it's beyond all doubt that the grape loves him back. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if Zeus himself had a bottle of The Story's cool-climate syrah decanting on the snow-capped peak of Mount Olympus.
The Story is not your average producer. With a winery located in the Melbourne suburbs rather than wine country, Rory's unconventional approach is reflected in his one-of-a-kind wines. Since first establishing The Story Wines in 2004, the brilliance of the vineyards and the growers he works with have been at the centre of his winemaking, with particular emphasis on selected sites in the Grampians and coaxing new expressions of the Rhône varieties from the shiraz-dominant region.
Of the various sites The Story works with, the Westgate vineyard is particularly special. Hidden among the rolling hills south of Great Western, it was originally planted in 1969 with the traditional varieties of the Rhône – grenache, mourvedre, marsanne, viognier and, most significantly, the rare St. Ethel clone shiraz. For Rory, it has consistently yielded the highest quality fruit in the region, producing exquisite and concentrated wines. And it's these grapes that make the R. Lane Vintner series Syrah, which was awarded 96 points by James Halliday and included in Matthew Jukes's Top 100 Australian Wines – not a bad effort, really.
Syrah vs Shiraz – same grape, so why the different name?
Syrah is a French grape variety native to the Northern Rhône, in the east of France. In other parts of the world, it sometimes goes by the name shiraz. Historically, this distinction has been linked to cultural and stylistic differences between wines from the 'old' and the 'new' world – essentially, Europe versus the rest. As a result, syrah came to be associated with the refined, savoury reds of the Northern Rhone, and shiraz with the classically bold, ripe wines of Australia. More recently, however, this interpretation has started to shift in Australia, with many producers taking the decision to refer to a wine as a ‘syrah’ or a ‘shiraz’. Today it has less to do with where a wine is made and more to do with signifying differences in climate and style.
Outside of France, when a wine is labelled syrah, it usually indicates a lean, elegant wine with plenty of spice and savoury character, typically produced in a cool or marginal climate. By contrast, Shiraz is not a term you're likely to encounter on a French label. But in the rest of the world, and especially Australia, it indicates the richer, riper style of wine that regions like the Barossa and the Hunter Valley have become famous for. And while syrah and shiraz can provide useful clues about the kind of wine in your bottle, it's important not to get too caught up in this distinction, and simply drink with an open mind.
"From the '60 plantings of the Westgate Vineyard, the R. Lane label reserved for exceptional wines in exceptional vintages. A very complex and compelling wine, with all the many components welded together so that no person should seek to set asunder. It is savoury and brambly, drenched in wild blackberry and black cherry flavours, licorice a fellow traveller, as are tannins."
What makes a great wine? There are the obvious considerations: amazing aromas and sensational flavour and textures, evolution in the glass and maybe a touch of the unexpected (and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy the buzz). But it’s often the story behind a wine that really captivates us. For Rory this is what his wine is all about ‒a way to connect, to share and feel present. Every wine is a story, and this wine tells a great story. Inky in the glass, the nose is elegant and enticing, with layers of brambly dark fruits, ripe blood plums, black cherries, and pops of liquorice and cracked pepper. Savoury notes of earth, mushroom and cured meat gradually emerge, likely the result of bottle age. On the palate, juicy fruit and spicy oak are complemented by lithe acidity and fine-grained tannins.
The Grampians really is a special place. Imagine a sheer range rising out of seemingly endless flat plains and you're starting to get the picture. It's a striking landscape just three hours drive from Melbourne, and best of all, it has proven to be a fantastic region to grow grapes in. Add the wine to a list of attractions including world-class rock climbing and hiking, an ever-growing culinary scene, historic towns and a dedication to cultural preservation (90% of Victoria's Aboriginal rock art can be found here) and you've got an incredibly varied destination.
In terms of wine, shiraz/syrah really does run the region. Wine critic Max Allen has said that the Grampians is responsible for some of Australia's best shiraz, so it's no surprise that the red, thick-skinned grape accounts for something like 75 per cent of the region's total wine production. Grampians shiraz is known for being silky, spicy and food-friendly with juicy dark fruits and notes of pepper; that said, there's more to the Grampians than shiraz, as you'd expect from one of Australia's oldest wine regions. There are some fantastic examples of pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and riesling, while many consider the region to be the home of Australian sparkling. Our recommendation? Get down to the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, which has won too many domestic and international awards to list, for the full Grampians wine-and-food experience.
Syrah is a wonderfully food-friendly variety. In terms of flavour, its core of dark berry fruits, sweet spice and savoury notes mean it is well-suited to dishes featuring gamey, earthy and umami characters. And, with naturally robust tannins and palate-cleansing acidity, syrah nicely complements fattier red meats, like lamb, or richly flavoured dishes - we're thinking grilled eggplant with a miso-glaze.
As for Rory, he recommends pairing the 2015 R. Lane Vintners Westgate Vineyard Syrah with a leg of saltbush lamb seasoned with rosemary and served with parsnip and an umami-infused jus. He says, "The wine has ample tannin to handle large protein, the whole bunch character supports the rosemary and umami characters... and parsnip is just underrated and has perfect background earthy flavours without too much sweetness.”
Relive the 2015 vintage with Australia's biggest music countdown: Triple J's Hottest 100. It was a year that saw hometown heroes The Rubens edge out Kendrick Lamar for top spot, with other Aussie acts like Gang of Youths, Tame Impala and Meg Mac polling highly too. To keep things fresh, why not hit shuffle and see which song comes in #1 once you've opened this bottle of wine?