In Food + Drink

An Award-Winning Winemaker Spills His Secrets To Buying Shiraz

Named ‘Winery of the Year’ by 2019 Halliday Wine Companion, the Yarra Valley’s Seville Estate’s Dr McMahon Shiraz has also scored a whopping 99 points by James Halliday (with several of their other wines in the same ballpark.) We took some time to chat with winemaker Dylan McMahon about what makes a solid Shiraz and how you can feel confident you’re serving a good one.

“A good Shiraz makes you feel warm and comfortable, it’s the type of variety that plays into your pleasure senses,” says Dylan who calls himself a failed muso-turned-winemaker.

Shiraz (or as it’s often called elsewhere Syrah) arrived in Australia from France and is known for its deep red colour, so dark that typically if it’s held up to the light, you wouldn’t likely see much through it. It’s often bold, dry and traditionally offers up flavours such as dark berries, pepper and tobacco.

shiraz tips

The first vineyard was planted at Seville Estate by Dylan’s grandfather Dr Peter McMahon and his wife Margaret in 1972. Dylan says he grew up picking grapes and driving fruit from the vineyard in an old red Suzuki ute they called ‘Suzie’.

“The work was hard but I loved it. I never even considered working in the wine industry and after school accepted an entry into electronic engineering after realising my music skills weren’t going to save me,” he says.

“I deferred my degree for a year to travel and take some time out. It was only when I worked my first ‘real’ vintage at Seville Estate I realised this was for me. I was drawn to the interesting and changing job dynamic of the wine industry. One day you can be completely filthy plunging ferments and cleaning drains, the next you’re wearing a suit hosting a high-end dinner with wine stained hands!”

His Dr McMahon Shiraz is particularly special as it’s named for his grandfather who Dylan says had a huge influence on my early years as a winemaker, his attention to detail and love for life is what I really admired about him.

“The Dr McMahon Shiraz is made with these sentiments in mind, the fruit is hand selected in the in vineyard, then hand loaded into two new barrels where the whole bunches slowly ferment using wild yeast for around 60 days. The grapes are then pressed off and run back to one of the barrels where it matures for about 10 months, racked and then bottled without finning or filtration. The wine is 100 per cent whole bunch, 100 per cent barrel fermented, 100 per cent new oak, 100 per cent wild primary and secondary fermentation.”

guide to shiraz

Dylan says making a great Shiraz (as with all quality winemaking) is a philosophy to make wines that are true to variety, style and site.

Shiraz, he says in particular, should be “balanced and show purity of fruit with layers of complexity by retaining a degree of savouriness.” He also adds that he likes to see natural fruit tannin (not oak tannin) and get a sense of ‘place’ where it is grown rather than the influences of a winemaker.

But when it comes to buying a great one, it’s not always the case that an expensive price tag equates to a fine drop.

“Everyone has a different idea of the term ‘quality’ and differing tastes which is why we see such a vast array of wines and different styles,” he says adding that while he can only answer from his point of view, he’d suggest choosing a wine that’s been made with a purpose, whether it’s from a good producer or a single vineyard.

“The idea is to drink something that you can learn from and gather some understanding about the producer, variety, region or site. The great thing about shiraz is that it is our largest grown variety in Australia which means there are plenty of good examples out there. They are also great value for money, especially when you compare it to other varieties such as Pinot Noir.”

He says that many might be surprised to learn how supple and delicious Shiraz can be, particularly cool climate styles.

“The perfume, vibrant red fruits, spice and soft tannins often take people by surprise. I try to introduce our Shiraz to people by saying it’s more like Pinot Noir then the traditional Shiraz styles they may be familiar with,” he adds.

guide to shiraz

If you’re paring it with food, he suggests his personal favourites are chargrilled steak or lamb that’s been seasoned simply with salt and pepper.

Each Friday at Seville Estate, Dylan takes on the task of tasting the new dishes from the onsite restaurant and wine matching them and has found that they’ve used their Shiraz across a wide range of dishes.

“Grilled vegetables with a vinaigrette, duck dishes that use citrus or orange and pan-fried gnocchi with pulled pork are just a few, I’ve learnt that the wines are much more adaptable than originally thought which shows how diverse and interesting the variety is.”

While being named ‘Winery of the Year 2019’ has been among his proudest achievements, Dylan says that if we weren’t making stand-out wines, he likely be “teaching windsurfing Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands”.

“Although the reality would be doing something that involves working creatively with my hands and nothing that is monotonous or repetitive, I have a short attention span…,” he says.

Published 20 December, 2018