An evening dedicated to a grape I usually actively avoid. What had possessed me!
Being a WSET tasting I knew the wines would be top quality, and there was the added fun of sharing the experience with my best wine buddy, Melanie.
Even so, why was I paying good money to spend two hours tasting wine I don’t much like?
The reason could be summed up in two words, Mad Dog!
Location, location, location. It really does matter
The tasting was an “Around the World Tour” of Syrah/Shiraz. That meant tasting wines made from the same grape variety but grown in different countries. The impact on the wines produced can be dramatic and this fascinates me.
Sangiovese! Are you sure?
The thing that stunned me wasn’t the wine itself (good as it was) it was the grape. Sangiovese is used to make Chianti. But Mad Dog has a richness and depth of flavour that I had never tasted in a Chianti.
One of the crucial reasons for the difference comes from climate. Growing your grapes in the heat of Australia’s Barossa Valley is quite different to the cooler, though stunning Italian countryside of Tuscany. My fascination with the impact of location on wine was born.
Back to Shiraz
Australia’s Barossa Valley is most famous for their big bold reds made from Shiraz rather than Sangiovese.
My thinking was that if the Barossa Valley, whose usual wines made from Shiraz I don’t much like could make a wine I loved by using a different grape variety, did that mean there might be a Shiraz/Syrah made in another country that I would like?
There was no better place to find out than on an intensive two hour tasting.
Let’s get tasting, 8 wines from 6 countries
The evening lived up to its name. We did indeed go around the world, France, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA and Chile to be precise.
Our tutor, Nina Cerullo, was engaging, informative and fun and I learnt a lot about the grape, the countries where it is grown and the wines it makes.
You can read my top tips from the evening at the end of this blog. However one of the most useful things I learnt was the difference (or not) between Syrah and Shiraz which led onto an even more useful tip for interpreting wine labels.
Syrah vs Shiraz, what is the difference?
Turns out absolutely nothing if you are talking about the actual grape since they are exactly the same. It’s just that when wine makers first took the Syrah grape to Australia they renamed it Shiraz.
It is now much more about marketing. Australian Shiraz becoming synonymous with big spicy oaky alcoholic red wines (all the rage in the UK for a while).
In comparison Syrah wines from old-world wine countries like France are more elegant. Designed to be at their best accompanying food like a delicious cassoulet, rich with meat, sausage and beans.
Useful short hand in interpreting a wine label
Helpfully, the current trend is to use Syrah and Shiraz on the label as short hand for the type of wine you will find inside the bottle. No matter which country it comes from.
“Shiraz” – expect a big spicy (probably high alcohol) oaked red.
“Syrah” – more elegant, restrained wine. Good with meaty food.
did i learn to like syrah/shiraz?
The short answer is that I did find some wines I liked. Incredibly even a big Barossa Valley Shiraz.
Crucially I had gained confidence. I now feel confident enough to select Shiraz or Syrah from a wine menu or pick a bottle off a shop shelf.
However I doubt it will ever be my favourite grape variety. The fundamental flavours of the grape are black fruits and black pepper.
Even though you also get smoked meat when it is grown in moderate climates and dark chocolate when grown in hotter climates, for me that doesn’t compensate for the basic pepperiness of the grape.
However the tasting did make me appreciate the range of flavours you can get from these wines and appreciation how well it can work with the right food.
My Top Tips!
- Shiraz on the label, expect a big spicy (probably high alcohol) oaked red. Syrah expect a more elegant, restrained wine. Good with meaty food.
2. When selecting French Syrah look out for a Côte-Rôtie from the Northern Rhone. Up to 5% Viognier can be added and this adds peachy aromas and flavours and a rounder smoother “feel” to the wine which I liked.
3. Hawkes Bay in New Zealand is producing some excellent Syrah, look out for wines from the Gimblett Gravels region. We tasted a 2014 Vidal Reserve Syrah which would have paired well with streak.
4. Chile is one of the most exciting wine regions today.
Nina’s description of the changes in grape growing and wine making in Chile means it has gone (almost) to the top of my list of regions to try.
Biodynamic Matetic EQ Syrah 2014, Vinos y Torismoltda. Fruity. Peppery tannic finish.
5. The region which is now top of my list is Santa Barbara county in California.
Before I knew much about wine I used to visit Santa Barbara and fell in love with it. Now I’ve discovered they produce great wines, sounds like a good excuse to go back
2015 Kunin Wines Syrah. Dry fruity elegant, jammy, liquorice and coffee flavours. Delicious!
6. Even I can find a classic Barossa Valley Shiraz I like!
To be precise this 2013 Filsell Old Vine Shiraz from Grant Burge.
Full of flavours of blackberry, plum, liquorice, pepper, coffee even chocolate (heaven!)
My fascination with location is rapidly becoming an obsession.
Trying the same grape variety grown in different parts of the world is a great way to learn about the grape variety and different countries.
And discover great wines.