Shiraz, Syrah. You say tomato, I'll say to-mah-to.
Yeah, it’s the same grape. They more delicate spelling, Syrah, has formed the foundation of elegant French wines for generations. History tells us that the grape came to France with the Romans. All I know is that it appreciates the poor soils of of the Rhone, where it evolves into the delicious wines Cotes du Rhone and Cote Rotie.
In Australia, the grape goes by Shiraz, a bolder, more scoffing name for a tough little grape that revels in the equally poor, rocky soils of the Barossa Valley. This hard scrabble landscape forces vines to reach deep for nutrients and water — and produces grapes high in concentrated flavors and character.
We’re all very familiar with the bold, brazen all–Shiraz Aussie wines. At the lower end of the price line, they are fruity and bold. On the higher end, more balance comes to play, but the wines are often wanting for a slumber — they are just to young to drink.
The French tackled that problem long before the Aussies in the vineyards of Cote Rotie. Here, Syrah is not the only dominate varietal — Viognier also loves this terroir. Viognier by nature is floral, with hints of honeysuckle. The French blended the two — and produced a wine that’s accessible — but has powerful Syrah character and the balm of Viognier.
Yalumba Shiraz/Viognier 2008, Barossa, Australian, is a downunder take on France’s classic Cote Rotie. It’s easy on the wallet, in the $10–$15 range, versus $25 and up for good Cote Rotie.
I could have sipped this all night long, and nearly did. Imagine draping your taste buds in a velvety wrap of blackberry, chocolate and espresso. It is rich, elegant and immediately memorable – without any real presence of tannins on the finish.
Score a win for the Aussies!
Sweet wine drinkers aren’t left out of the fray. A South African entry, Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, comes from the Paarl region, similar to the Cote Rotie in terms of soil. However, this is a sweet, semi–dry Shiraz — consider it Shiraz with training wheels.
The popularity of Moscato has kicked open the door on sweet wines again — and Jam Jar is an excellent option that will hopefully provide a gateway to new wines drinkers’ exploration of the grape.
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