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Most consumers are familiar, if not enamored with, the easy-sipping, mass-produced Australian table wines. But, Hardys, Australia’s largest wine producer, is keen to bring our attention to its premium wines. Last week, Bill Hardy, a fifth-generation descendent of the company’s founder, was in Napa to spread the word about one of the winery’s finest products, Eileen Hardy Shiraz. Shiraz, of course, is the Aussie name for the grape known elsewhere as syrah. But the difference between shiraz and syrah is more than skin deep. Syrah is generally earthy, complex, and heavy; shiraz, fruitier and more accessible. Conceived as a tribute to the wife of the original Mr. Hardy, the Eileen Hardy Shiraz has been produced for 35 years. Hardy winemakers select the finest shiraz grown from vineyards in three prime Australian regions � Clare Valley, McClaren Vale, and Padthaway � to create a blockbuster wine with longevity. Hardy pointed out that these vines average 50 years of age, meaning they produce relatively small amounts of complex, top-quality fruit. The blend is vinted in the oldest facilities in the Hardys cellar, handled in open cement fermenters, and aged in American oak for from 20 to 24 months. “We were seeking elegance and a slightly more savory, finer wine,” said Hardy. “Eileen Hardy has a good depth of flavor, but is not a massive wine.” To prove his point, he led a tasting of 11 vintages � 1992 to 2002 � of Eileen Hardy Shiraz. This proved to be a satisfying tasting, with no disappointments. Eileen Hardy retails at about $85, and you’ll have to keep a watchful eye to find it. According to the company, which is owned by Constellation Brands, only 500 six-packs of Eileen Hardy Shiraz will make it into American hands. • 1992: One of the best showings of the group, this wine still had powerful dark-cherry flavors, spice, and vanillin oak. • 1993: Aromas of dried berry and spice. This wine had lost its primary fruit, but retained its complexity with good acids, dark-chocolate flavors, and a long finish. • 1994: A muted bouquet with flavors of cedar, mint, and eucalyptus. Hardy joked that nearly every Aussie vineyard is near a stand of eucalyptus trees. • 1995: A standout year, according to Hardy. Blueberry fruit predominates this wine with a powerful finish. • 1996: Light-bodied, with flavors of herbs, spice, and chocolate. • 1997: Tremendous smoky aromas, dusty essence with chocolate, pepper, and a subtle finish. • 1998: Dark chocolate on the palate along with very concentrated and extracted ripe fruit, with cedar and oak notes on the finish. • 1999: Bursting with fresh cherry fruit, blueberries, and plum. More-classically structured, it displayed leather, tar, and a silky finish. • 2000: Full-bodied with licorice and chocolate flavors. This wine will be released in four months. • 2001: Vanillin with plum and blackberries. Cedar and oak on the finish. Not yet released. • 2002: Rich and concentrated, with plum and blackberries core and spice and smoke undercurrent. Not yet released. Elisabeth Frater is an attorney based in Napa, Calif. “Wine Counsel” can be reached at [email protected].

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