Wine Review: Three First Drop Shiraz from Down Under

First Drop WinesAs most of you know, the wine-related part of this blog mainly focuses on Italian wine, although non exclusively as now and then I post about non-Italian wines that I have tasted and enjoyed: so far, I have posted about French, Portuguese and New Zealand wines: it is now time to talk about Australian wines.

Australia is one of the largest wine making countries of the New World, coming right after the USA and Argentina. A few official data: in 2012 in Australia there were 91,000 HA of red wine vines (almost 50% of which were Shiraz/Syrah, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the South Australia region accounted for almost 60% of the entire red wine production. In terms of white wines, in 2012 Australia had 57,000 HA of white wine vines (almost 50% of which were Chardonnay, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and the South Australia and New South Wales regions combined accounted for over 70% of the entire white wine production. The overall Australian wine production in 2012 was about 1.2 billion liters (Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics)

One of the obvious consequences of so large a production is that out there you may find some excellent Australian wines but also some… less than stellar ones. So, not wanting to go through a potentially long trial and error process, I decided to ask Laura, an Australian wine expert, accomplished cook and last but not least author of the food blog Laura’s Mess, if she would be willing to help me in my quest for quality Australian wineries whose wines I could taste and review, by giving me a few pointers (by the way, should you not be familiar with Laura’s blog already, do pay her a visit because it is a food blog that is definitely worthwhile following, both for the great content and for the beautiful food photography).

Well, Laura went above and beyond what could be considered “fellow blogger courtesy” as she went to great lengths to provide me an overview of Australia’s main wine regions and a detailed description of her favorite producers and wines in each of them. Laura, thank you so much once again for your invaluable guidance in helping me learn more about the Australian wine world.

Anyway, after going through Laura’s terrific survey and cross-referencing the producers that impressed me the most with the reality of what is available in the US market (and the awful lot of good stuff that unfortunately is not), I decided to start my Aussie tasting experience from First Drop, a young winery based in Australia’s prime wine region of the Barossa. This is because they came highly recommended from Laura, they focus on a variety that I like a lot (Shiraz/Syrah), their vineyards are in one of the premium Australian wine regions (the Barossa Valley, in South Australia) and last but not least I managed to find a US online retailer who carries most of their lineup. So I went ahead and placed a sampler order, buying four of their red wines, from entry-level to top of the line, which would hopefully give me a nice overview of the First Drop range.

These are the four bottles that I bought:

  1. First Drop, Shiraz “Fat of the Land” Greenock Cru, Barossa 2009
  2. First Drop, “Two Percent“, Barossa 2009 (a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend)
  3. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk“, Barossa 2011
  4. First Drop, “Half & Half“, Barossa 2010 (a 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend)

Today I will publish my tasting notes of wines number 2, 3 and 4. The Fat of the Land will have to wait both because of my impressions about the three wines that I have tasted (keep reading if you want to know how I liked them!) and because wine number 1 is one First Drop’s top of the line single-vineyard crus, which in the US retails for a not inexpensive $72 price tag and therefore I want to give it a few years of cellar time before enjoying it since it is still pretty young. Now, of course, were First Drop’s US importer to ever send me a sample to try out right away, I would be very happy to oblige… 😉

But let’s now cut to the chase and see how those three First Drop wines that I tasted performed.

As always, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

1. First Drop, “Half & Half”, Barossa 2010 ($18)

First Drop, Half & HalfAs mentioned, this is an unusual 50% Shiraz, 50% Monastrell blend. The must ferments for 6 days on the skins, then the wine goes through malolactic fermentation and ages for 15 months in French oak. In the US, it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Half & Half poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intense, moderately complex and of fair quality, with aromas of cherry, red berries, coffee, black pepper, and hints of animal fur and tobacco.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, moderately tannic and moderately tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fair mouth flavors of cherry, red berries, red fruit candy, and dark chocolate. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, Half & Half was a pretty good, entry-level red in the First Drop range, a wine with no frills: smooth, with medium tannins, easy to drink and quite pleasant in the mouth. One might wish that its bouquet were a bit more intense and complex (maybe some decanting/aeration could have helped, despite the wine’s young age?), but all in all it is a solid, every day wine, given especially its reasonable price point.

Rating: Good Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

2. First Drop, Shiraz “Mother’s Milk”, Barossa 2011 ($18)

First Drop, Mother's MilkThis varietal Shiraz is fermented for 8 days on the skins, then goes through malolactic fermentation and is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $18.

In the glass, Mother’s Milk poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, moderately complex and fine, with nice aromas of plum, blackberry, sweet tobacco, leather, cocoa and black pepper.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and moderately tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of plum, blackberry, tobacco, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a medium finish and the evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, probably even better if you let it rest for a couple more years in your cellar).

Overall, I very much enjoyed my bottle of Mother’s Milk (sounds kind of creepy, I know, but that’s the name they picked!) Considering its appealing price point and how young the bottle I had was, Mother’s Milk was a good to very good performer, with intense and pleasant aromas and mouth flavors and a high ABV that was however well integrated into the wine’s structure and counterbalanced by already smooth tannins. Allowed to mature for two or three more years in bottle, I think the wine’s already pleasant aromas and mouth flavors would further evolve into an even more compelling, cohesive red that will be an even better value for money.

Rating: Good to Very Good and definitely Recommended Good to Very Good – $ 

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

3. First Drop, “Two Percent”, Barossa 2009 ($35)

First Drop, Two PercentThis is a 98% Shiraz, 2% Tempranillo blend that ferments for 8 days on its skins, goes through malolactic fermentation and then is aged for 24 months in French oak barrels. In the US it retails for about $35.

In the glass, the Two Percent poured ruby red and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant aromas of cherry, plum, raspberry, cigar box, vanilla, coffee, black pepper and rhubarb.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was acidic, tannic and tasty. It was full-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla, dark chocolate and black pepper. It had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., fine to drink right away, but certainly even better if you let it rest for a few more years in your cellar).

Overall, I loved Two Percent! Considering how young it was, it already performed as a show stopper: a big wine with an elegant, complex bouquet and lush, chewy mouth flavors, a silky smooth texture and perfectly integrated tannins, plus a long, lingering finish that just makes you want more. Definitely excellent value for money. Wow.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Now I can hardly wait to try that Fat of the Land bottle… 😉


17 thoughts on “Wine Review: Three First Drop Shiraz from Down Under

  1. Dana S. Hugh

    Well 1.2 bilions is something else, Romania has only 4 millions though we are very closed to top ten. I’m dying to read a review about our wine’s quality even though I can wait. 🙂

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Dana! Now, I would be very interested in trying out some quality Romanian wine. I will see what I can source locally. Do you have any recommendations in terms of solid producers/labels?

      1. Dana S. Hugh

        You are welcome, Stefano. Here we go: Murfatlar Romania; Jidvei; Vincon Vrancea; Cotnari; Pietroasa; Domeniile Coroanei; S.E.R.V.E…. I hope you can find one of the kind. I know they aren’t so popular in US but we sill can find them in NY, Boston, perhaps Hartford…my brother and I drove 3 hours to get some bottles :). I don’t know if it’s because we are Romanians and we prefer our wines or because they are really good in rapport qualitty&price. You tell me. (wink)

      2. Stefano Post author

        Thank you so much, Dana! This is incredibly appreciated: I will look into it and see what I can find. I am definitely intrigued and looking forward to tasting the wines of your country! I will keep you posted.
        Thanks again and happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  2. Maria Dernikos

    I think the labels jumped off the screen for me. Especially Mother’s Milk. They are certainly ones that will stick in my mind. Would they beckon me from the shelf to buy? – not if I was faced with just the labels to go on. Your notes certainly made me think I shouldn’t judge a bottle by its label!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hehe, I hear you, Maria – and as you can see from other comments, you are not alone! 🙂
      Generally speaking, several Australian producers have taken a light-hearted approach to their wines’ names and labels, with some of them pushing into the area of being borderline irreverent or mocking. It is a question of style and, to some extent, I find the idea of making quality wine in a more light-hearted way than the über-serious and sometimes intimidating way of certain European or even American producers sort of refreshing. I think it helps demystifying wine and making it more approachable.
      Regardless, I have to say that personally I care more about the content of the bottle than its “packaging” and I tell you, in this case the content certainly does not disappoint! 🙂
      Thank you very much for commenting and contributing to the discussion, Maria!

      1. laurasmess

        Haha, you are completely right about the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek nature of Australian winemakers Stefano! Australians in general see themselves to have a ‘larrikin’ attitude that goes way back to the early days of settlement… whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure! I think I sent through some of the other slightly strange names we have in the Australian market… some others I’m thinking of right now are ‘Fifth Leg’ (their logo is a dog, which all of us know has four legs and…), Skuttlebutt, Tomfoolery etc. They appeal to the Aussie market but I never really thought about how they’d be interpreted overseas! Interesting point Maria!

  3. Just Add Attitude

    Hello Stefano,

    I have to say that unlike Tracy I quite like the irreverent wine labels and the quirky names. They are certainly memorable and, of course, that may well be part of a marketing ploy.

    Excellent reviews Stefano although I suspect I may never get to taste the wines you recommend as very few boutique (I assume First Drop is a boutique winery?) Australian wines make it to these shores.

    With good wishes from B

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi B! 🙂
      Thank you for your comment: I tend to be on the same page as you when it comes to wine names and labels. In particular, ultimately I think it all boils down to the quality of the contents of the bottle: if the juice is good, then for me it’s all good 🙂
      As to your question, yes, First Drop is a boutique winery and a fairly young one too (I think they started selling wine commercially less than 10 years ago), which is part of the reason why I am happy to publish a review of their wines and spread the word about their product, which in my view is really solid and has a reasonable quality to price ratio. Understand the difficulties in sourcing them though: I have been lucky to find a US online retailer that carries them after some research. Other Australian boutique producers I looked into are not imported into the US either. Hopefully, if they become better known, their wine will become more widely available.
      Thank you again for your always sensible and thoughtful comments, dear B 🙂
      All the best,

  4. lovefromtara

    I live half an hour from the Barossa valley and let me tell you, a lot of people here in SA take for granted our wine- mostly for the fact that it is so readily available and there are so many options to choose from. It’s so much fun for me as a wine lover to read about some of our fabulous wines that go unrecognised because of the larger more well known vineyards.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Tara, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment!
      You are right, it often happens this way: we tend to take what is closer to us for granted just because it is readily accessible and well known to us. We should instead make more of an effort to recognize and promote local quality products, especially if they come from smaller producers. I am glad and grateful to Laura for making me aware of First Drop and other smaller Australian producers and I hope this post contributes to spread the word about them.
      Oh, and by the way: you live in an amazing country – I hope sooner or later I will get to visit! 🙂

      1. lovefromtara

        that’s right!
        here in aus we’re very much a support local product kind of country I guess, we tend to buy locally or Australian made products over imported stuff mostly because I guess it helps our economy but that’s a whole different subject in itself haha. but no, some of our best wines come from the smaller wineries because they’re not mass produced like penfold’s etc,
        I am lucky, even luckier to live where I do, especially when it comes to wine haha I will never take for granted the fact that I can drive up theroad to buy a bottle of wine from a cellar door and a fraction of the cost ever again lol you should visit, it’s beautiful here.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Yes, I think we should give them a go and taste them for yourself: I think they would be an option worth considering for your wine bar. Those wines have a very good quality to price ratio.
      Thanks for stopping by and happy Thanksgiving 🙂

  5. laurasmess

    Stefano I am so, so glad that you enjoyed First Drop!! Your comments definitely reflect my thoughts on the varieties that you tried and I loved reading an international perspective on the Australian wine industry in general. You’re absolutely right about 2%, it is my favourite in consideration of the pricing and quality that you get for such a young wine. I can’t wait to read your review on ‘Fat of the Land’ and I’m glad that you’re saving it. It’s delicious to drink now but even better when cellared for a bit of extra maturing! Thanks for the kind words, I don’t know if I’d call myself an ‘expert’ (just a passionate consumer who’s taken some time to learn as much as possible) but I am proud of our developing Australian wine industry and it’s passionate people. Thanks again for this very balanced review, as always. It’s a privilege to have you as a fellow ‘wino’ and blogging friend. Big hugs to you and Francesca! 🙂

  6. the winegetter

    Nice reviews, again, as always. Your dedication to writing quality tasting notes is just awesome. I probably would shy away from the labels and names for being too gimicky (is that a sign that I am aging rapidly??), but given that the content seems to come together definitely worth a try.


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