The Enchanting Grape
At this time of year, my go-to wine is often a brooding and earthy syrah, usually from France’s northern Rhône region.
Syrah — or shiraz as it is known down under — is the ancient grape of Persia that found its way to France during Roman times. There it is the only red grape allowed in the northern Rhône (Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St. Joseph and Cote-Rotie and Cornas). It made its way to Australia in the early 1800s and is now the most widely planted red variety there. You will often see it in many different blends, usually along with its stable-mates grenache and mourvedre, and is used extensively in southern Rhône blends. You will also find it as part of the mix in most of the rosés from southern France.
If sauvignon blanc is a summer wine, syrah is its seasonal counterpart. Bold and assertive, these reds are lush and warming with raspberries layered on top of black fruit, white pepper, roasted coffee, spice and even more fruit.
These wines can often be a bit high in alcohol content. Our favorites tended to be 14 percent ABV or lower, while several we tried were 14.5 percent or higher. Though still juicy and balanced, if you are sensitive to alcohol you would want to be mindful of the ABV. That said, these are awfully tasty wines, and would be right at home beside grilled meats, pork tenderloin or burgers. One of my favorite pairings is with Cabot’s Seriously Sharp White Cheddar, which might be interesting sliced on top of grilled burgers.
California is doing a good job with this grape, and it seems to be a perfect fit for the cooler climate in Washington State, where it is becoming a major player. South Africa has also has embraced syrah, calling it shiraz, just like their south-of-the-equator cousins in Australia. Though we did not have any South African wines in this tasting, they would be worth a look.
These are quaffable wines, but they really find their sea legs when paired with food. Hearty winter fare screams for syrah: Stews and rich soups will both snuggle up to this rich red wine. We finished our wines with pork tenderloin sandwiches, bakes beans and potato salad. They would also be perfect with any sort of chocolate dessert — the darker the better.
California has six times more land growing syrah than Washington, and it won the numbers game this time. But Washington has plenty of untapped potential, with an ideal climate and soils.
If you haven’t tried syrah/shiraz lately, you owe it to yourself to sample a few of these delicious wines. They can be a stand-in for merlot or cabernet, whereas pinot noir is a touch more nuanced and almost in a class by itself, pairing better with chicken, or salmon. Grab a bottle and hang on until spring fully arrives.
score - notes - ORIGIN - price
Gordon Estates ’10 Syrah ★★★★ Best of Tasting, Washington, $20
Red Knot ’12 McLaren Vale Syrah ★★★★ Another Star/Best Buy, Australia, $14
Cave de Tain ’10 Haut du Fief, Croze ★★★★ France, $27
Napa Cellars ’10 Dyer Vineyard ★★★★ Another Star, California, $16
Penfolds ’11 Thomas Hylands Shiraz ★★★★ Big Wine, Australia, $16
Wind Gap ’10 Sonoma Coast Syrah ★★★★ Understated Elegance, California, $36
Qupé, Central Coast Syrah ★★★★ Another Big Wine, California, $15
Shingleback ’10 Davey Estate ★★★★ Another Big Wine, Australia, $20
Kestrel ’09 ★★★ Good Value Here, Washington, $20
Fire Block ’07 Clare Valley Shiraz ★★★ Another Best Buy, Australia, $17
Martin Ray ’11 “Red” ★★★ A Best Buy, California, $13
Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale:
★ Good (80-84), ★★ Very Good (85-87), ★★★ Very Good/Excellent (88-89), ★★★★ Excellent (90+).
All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to detract from your personal favorites.
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