The higher and wetter you go in the Adelaide Hills the better wine you are going to produce, according to Michael Hill Smith MW, one half of the dynamic duo Shaw + Smith who has been making exquisite wines with his cousin Martin Shaw for the past 30 years. Earlier this month our resident chef and wine explorer, Roger Jones, was invited along to the Shaw + Smith 30th Anniversary lunch at Roka Aldwych in London to taste through the new vintages of Riesling, Chardonnay and Shiraz from their Adelaide Hills Vineyards, plus Pinot Noir from their most recently-established vineyards in Tasmania. So what is it about these wines that has caused Roger to list them on his wine list for the past 18 years?
I think a few guys in Gevrey-Chambertin have copied the style of the Shaw + Smith Tolpuddle Vineyard in Tasmania, argues Jones.
Having attended the 20th Anniversary lunch, I was delighted and honoured to be asked back to their 30th Anniversary as one of Shaw + Smith‘s family of friends. We have listed wines from this Adelaide Hills winery for over 18 years and besides visiting the winery on a few occasions, have got to know Michael Hill Smith MW very well in his capacity as one of the Dons on the Decanter World Wine Awards where he keeps me in check, and has gently advised me over the last decade on how to judge Australian wine.
Shaw + Smith was set up as a partnership between cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith MW, however in recent years they have solidified their business by bringing in a formidable team of experts, including another MW in David LeMire to run their global sales and marketing, senior winemaker Adam Wadewitz, business manager Grant Lovelock and group viticulturist Murray Leake.
I recall the menu heading for their celebration lunch stating – “It’s only 30 years but not a bad start”. I don’t see these guys slowing down, more importantly it is their vision and adaptability to change and move with not only time (palate changes) but with climate changes, never afraid to conquer.
Michael Smith is a regular globe trotting traveller, especially to the UK, whilst Martin Shaw must have a much more restrained lifestyle, maybe too busy totting up Michael’s business travel receipts to leave the winery! But my word what wonderful wines they produce, and have always championed the refined elegance that Australia now do so well.
Shaw + Smith own two vineyards in the Adelaide Hills, at Balhannah and Lenswood, totalling 55 hectares. The vineyards are planted to varieties that they believe perform well in the region, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Site selection is particularly important in the Adelaide Hills, with its diversity of altitude, aspect, microclimate, and soil. Michael says that the wetter, cooler, higher region they are based in is ideal. They use a number of different ‘clones’ of each grape variety, which contribute different qualities to the final product.
Having set up in 1989, Shaw + Smith’s first vintage was in 1990, and the early vintages were made at Wirra Wirra and Petaluma. In 1999 they purchased the property at Balhannah, where they planted vines, and built the winery and tasting room in time for the 2000 vintage. In 2012 they purchased an established 20 hectare vineyard in Lenswood. More recently Tasmania has been on their radar, with some monumental Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being produced and evolved.
Interesting at the lunch, with their usual marketing brilliance, together with Liberty Wines, they decided to showcase their more recent releases rather than give us a history lesson.
Here are some highlights from a lovely celebratory lunch shared by many of the icons of the UK wine trade and press at Roka Aldwych, all well respected by the Shaw + Smith family.
Shaw and Smith Riesling, 2018
I had not tried this in the UK before and it is very limited, but what a marvel, it was textured, restrained lime, fresh and vibrant, full of flavour. This is not taught and acidic but had body and, although great now, will continue to evolve – more top Germanic style than Dry Aussie Riesling.
Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay, 2015 (from magnum)
This is the classic Shaw + Smith style that got me into this stable; delicate nutty and soft citrus background, elegant and easy drinking. Does not jump out of the glass, but that’s not what the M3 is about.
Tolpuddle Vineyard, Tasmania Chardonnay, 2017
Chablis-like on first taste, then evolves on the palate gaining a delicate buttery depth, it’s still tight in places but there are murmurs of brilliance starting to evolve. Love the Mosel-style acidity that gives it freshness… a wine to treasure.
Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir, 2018
Light and fragrant, sappy, whole bunch but restrained, so important to understand the concept of whole bunch and not use it as an additive. Delicate savoury stem with strawberry to balance it, perfect with sashimi of tuna and bass.
Shaw + Smith Tolpuddle Vineyard, Tasmania, Pinot Noir, 2017
I think Michael called this “Imperialist” and so he should, I think a few guys in Gevrey-Chambertin have copied this style. Dark fruit, roses, hints of cocoa, concentrated with such power but also so elegant. Wow.
Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz, 2015
Golden Wonder Smoky Bacon crisps, chewy, meaty, clean focused fruit freshning it up, spiced plums, with the finish having a gentle, perfumed palate. Great balance.
Shaw + Smith Adelaide Hills Shiraz, 2002
Well yes they did throw in a slightly older wine, and this demonstrates how Australia can make beautiful Shiraz that ages gracefully. Loved the silky purity and hints of fine vanilla on the finish, this will evolve even more.
So thank you Michael (and, of course, Martin) for a wonderful lunch and your continued free tutorials you give me. I look forward to the 40th Anniversary.
Wines imported by Liberty Wines.