que syrah, shiraz!

You’ve heard me talk about Syrah here and there over the months. This is because I’m a huge fan of Rhone Valley (French) wines, both Northern and Southern alike (though for different reasons). Syrah is a grape you’ll often find blended along side it’s happy varietal partners Grenache and Mouvedre in the Southern Rhone in particular. I love these wines. They have boisterous fruit, a hint of spice and a rustic edge.

Syrah got it’s known kick off in slightly cooler parts of the Northern Rhone. What do I mean by “known”? Well, the grape’s precise geographic origins aren’t fully known with speculation the Greeks or the Romans had something to do with it. Nevertheless, in the village of L’Hermitage, named after the chapel that sits at the top of the town’s primary hill, Syrah has its claim to fame. (The nearby Cotie Rotie is also well-known for it’s Syrah.) The Northern Rhone boasts a cooler climate than its Southern counterpart because the Mistral winds bring cooler temps down from the Massif Central. Getting too technical on you? No worries… suffice to say it’s consistently cooler up North with few microclimates to permit variation vineyard to vineyard. That means there’s less opportunity for many different red grape varietals to thrive. In the North, Syrah can work its mojo. In the South, Syrah is one of 20 other major grape varietals that flourish – hence all the blending down in those parts (it’s so fun!). Meanwhile, the French have done the only thing that could be done: mandate Syrah is the only red grape varietal permitted in the Northern Rhone’s AOC wines.

Syrah is a “big” red grape. It is very dark in color, full bodied, fleshy and full of tannin. I always associate black pepper spice with these wines and look forward to picking out the myriad of potential aromas on the nose of each different Syrah wine. Sometimes it’s all violets, sometimes a bit of cocoa, and other times its all big, blackberry fruit. At the end of the day, they promise to be supple, sexy, smooth wines.

I often get the question “So, what about Shiraz?”. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, genetically. The minor name variation is just an Old World v. New World phenomenon. The flavor profile of Syrah vs. Shiraz wines certainly vary though. This is based on the winemaking style and climate of the wine’s origin. For example, Syrah from the Northern Rhone (and generally, other Old World areas) tend to offer a little less fruit, a little more smoke and a bit more subtlety in the many flavors that coalesce in the glass. Typical of New World winemaking practices, Shiraz wines from Australia or California tend to put their fruit foot first, their pepper foot second and otherwise tend to be higher in alcohol (due to the warmer climates from which they hail).

Neither Shiraz nor Syrah is better than the other; it just is what it is. The trick is to taste a few offerings of each. This way you’ll find your personal preference between the two styles. And before you taste, it’s a good idea to decant. Younger wines will lap up the oxygen on offer and provide a more integrated, ‘evolved’ flavor profile, if you will. Older wines relish the chance to throw their sediment (into the decanter, rather than into your glass).

Which syrah/shiraz style do you prefer?

Go for the Gold: 2 simple steps to wine heaven

I think many of you can relate when I say I have my “people” for certain services. Hair stylist. Massage guru. Acupuncturist. Physical Trainer. Plumber. You get the idea…. My relationships with these people are critical to the quality of service I receive. My hair stylist recently moved down to Florida, for example. She was fabulous and it took me three other stylist before I “found” her. We shared 3 years of snip-snip bliss. Now, I’ll have to make a new investment to find the right person to meet my needs. At least I’m one step closer to hair cut heaven – I like the place I go to.

It’s the same when it comes to wine. Two weeks ago I met a couple at a Pour Favor tasting. They were lamenting the selection at their local liquor store. Challenge #1? Liquor stores may (claim to) have a fine wines selection, but if they aren’t geared toward wine in particular then they likely aren’t seeking out new, quality selections. More likely the “fine” in Fine Wines is up for grabs; you’ll notice they stick to the mainstream wines we see so often. I doubt whether they even taste the next vintage of the standard wines they carry each year. Challenge #2? They likely do not have staff on hand who have specialized wine knowledge and are equipped to take you from Yellow Tail* to Yippee!

* I have nothing against Yellow Tail, just that there’s an ocean of wine out there even more worthy of exploration. I use it here merely as a reference point on this perspective – and because the ‘Y’ alliteration was fun…. what can I say?

You may have noticed above that I use the word “challenge” rather than “problem”. This is intentional. I believe there’s no such thing as a problem, only an opportunity for a creative solution. In the case of wine:

#1 ~ Find yourself a Fine Wines shop that offers a wide selection of wines from across the world at reasonable/competitive prices…

#2 ~ With staff who have specific wine knowledge and are available to help you find an appropriate selection given your particular search (e.g. dinner at a friend’s, wine to have on hand for whenever, etc.).

It is worth taking these two, simple steps. Everyone/store has a specialty. If your local is more concerned with beer or lottery sales than stocking their shelves with unique wine finds, you should search out a fine wine shop. Maybe you end up purchasing a case of wine (and enjoying the store’s discount as a result) and pop in every couple of months rather than every week because they aren’t as close by. It’s worth it. A store with a wine buyer who knows their craft is incredibly valuable. Just remember figuring out your wine preferences won’t happen over night. Just like with your beloved barber/stylist, you should be prepared to invest time in your relationship with the shop’s buyer. And remember the onus is on you to tell the buyer what you did or did not like about a particular wine they helped you to select. (Taking notes on a wine is never a bad idea.) Such due diligence will help get you to “Yippee!” a heck of a lot faster.

Do you have a Wine Shop/Buyer you rely on? What are your standards of ‘care’?

Splish splash wine in a glass… and other Friday finds!

It’s warm and sunny and… it’s FRIDAY! A few wine-related tidbits caught my attention for this post. Rather than “reporting” myself, I’m going to give you a few article links to help you get through your work day and get you closer to your weekend. We only have a few summer Friday’s left, so you might as well dig in!

First and foremost, I was pleased (and a little surprised) to read that the California harvest has begun and the outlook promising. I know harvest time can begin in August (depending on the grape and location); but it was a little frightening to realize how quickly summer has flown and how near September is. And there have been interesting reports on how the wildfires may/not impact this vintage. Seems like all is on the up and up so far! Check out what Jenna Hudson has to say at Wine Spectator.com.

Lovers of Italian wines and those who have developed particular affection for the grape Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are mourning the loss of another impactful member of the wine community: Gianni Masciarelli. At the young age of 53, Masciarelli died of a heart-related condition. He is known for revitalizing Abruzzo’s fame as a leading Italian appellation in the early 80′s with his Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Villa Gemma release. His friend Monica Larner of Wine Enthusiast wrote a beautiful, commemorative piece last week.

If you’re so lucky as to be pulling up your beach chair this weekend and breaking out your summer reading, you’re invited to join this month’s Wine Book Club. Natalie MacLean’s Red, White and Drunk All Over is on deck this month. If you’ve read Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover by Jancis Robinson then you’ll be in for a particular compare/contrast treat, I’m told. Give it a go! The dog days of summer are still among us. Before we know it we’ll be gearing up for the Holidays (egad!!).

Which type of enthusiast are you?

A) Satisfied Sipper ~ excited to see how the rest of the CA ’08 harvest unfolds.

B) News junky ~ saddened by Masciarelli’s death.

C) Beach Bum ~ grateful for another good read!