Wine Education Wednesday: Syrah vs. Shiraz

 Lately I’ve been craving Syrah for two simple reasons: It pairs well with hearty meals and, best of all, it costs much less than other popular varietals. With so many options for wine lovers out there, one question I get from time to time is,  'what is the difference between Syrah and Shiraz?' Answer – Nothing!  In the true spirit of Australian individualism, the Aussies planted Syrah and called it Shiraz.  The two grapes are genetically identical, though in taste profile, you will find some differences.

Since Roman times Syrah has been grown in the a Rhône region of France.  Hence, it is commonly referred to as a Rhône varietal.  Syrah has seen a surge in popularity and is now grown in California, Washington, South America and South Africa. You can find it in just about every region, though those listed are most popular.  Despite these new challengers, I prefer Australian and French Rhône wines.   Syrah from these regions offer intense richness and a full-body.

French Syrah

French Syrah comes from the Rhone Valley, which is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône.   Northern Rhône wines command a high price and produce some of the most sought after and long-lived Rhône wines.  Northern Rhône wines are made primarily from Syrah, though in some areas a small percentage of white can be blended in. Familiar appellations in the Northern Rhône include: Côte Rotie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas.

The Southern Rhône produces much more accessible wines in that they are priced affordably and made for much earlier consumption than Northern Rhône wines, which can take decades to mellow. The freshness of Southern Rhône wines is a result of blending Grenache with Syrah, as well as a myriad of other grapes, including Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre.  In fact, Grenache is considered the dominant grape in the Southern Rhône and Syrah is often added to beef up the blend with powerful tannins and flavor (a practice also followed in Australia). Familiar appellations include: Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Northern Rhône Syrah offers leather and spicy black pepper qualities coupled with intense tannins and a higher natural acidity than its Shiraz brother.  Complex flavors lead to a long wonderful finish worthy of contemplation. Southern Rhone wines, having a smaller percentage of Syrah and different growing conditions, are much softer, though still providing some spicy, earthy notes.

Notable Producers:  E. Guigal, Jean-Luc Columbo, M. Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel

Shiraz

Australian wines are booming and winemakers have made huge strides understanding which varietals grow best in each region.  Australian Shiraz is planted in several areas, but the best come from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Coonwarra (also noted for its Cabernet Sauvignon).  These areas experience high temperatures resulting in very ripe fruit with lower acidity.  The ripe fruit coupled with Australian winemaking techniques create luscious, silky, mouth-filling wines.  The Barossa Valley in particular excels in the Aussie style offering round tannins and dark fruit flavors, accented with chocolate notes. Thirsty yet?

Notable producers:  Penley Estate, Penfolds, Hewitson, Tait, Peter Lehmann

My Picks

Delas St. Esprit Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2007 ($9.99). Contains soft tannins with smoky aromas of black pepper and burnt brown sugar.  Pair with roast chicken. A steal at $9.99!


Tait The Ball Buster 2007.  Luscious dark fruit with cocoa nuances.  Pair with steak or roasted lamb.

 

Royal Bottle Sizes

You may have seen huge bottles in restaurants and wine stores and thought ‘There’s got to be a name for those bottles, other than Really Big Bottles.’ And there are. Pretty cool names, too.

A few numbers: A standard bottle holds 750mL and is the most common bottle size you will see.
A magnum holds 1.5 liters or 2 bottles

After the magnum, the names of bottle sizes come from the names of kings noted in the Old Testament.

Jeroboam
Bottle – 3 liters/4 bottles in Champagne & Burgundy (as well as most New World). In Bordeaux this size is called a Double Magnum.
King – After the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led a revolt against Rehoboam and became King of a newly independent kingdom of Israel.


Rehoboam
Bottle – 4.5 liters/6 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called a Jeroboam, just to confuse you).
King – King of Judea after the death of his father, Solomon.

Methuselah
Bottle – 6 liters/8 bottles (in Bordeaux this size is called Imperiale).
King – Here is an exception, as Methuselah is not a king, but rather the oldest man cited in the Bible at 969 years old.

Salmanazar
Bottle – 9 liters/12 bottles
King – King of Assyria, also known as Shalmaneser. Mentioned in 2 Kings, Chapter 17.

Balthazar
Bottle – 12 liters/16 bottles
King – In the Book of Daniel, King Belshazzar (or Balthazar) was the last king of Babylon.


Nebuchadnezzar

Bottle – 15 liters/20 bottles
King – King of Babylon (before Balthazar) who conquered and exiled many Jews. Also built the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon).  Seen here in painting by William Blake.

There are larger bottles said to be out there – Melchior for 24 bottles and Sovereign for 34 bottles. These are very rare.

The largest wine bottle made so far was commissioned by Morton’s Steakhouse in 2004. At 4.5 feet tall, the bottle held 130 liters (173 bottles, 1200 glasses) of wine. The wine itself was Beringer Vineyards 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

What’s the biggest bottle you’ve drunk?

Storing Wine Properly

bubble bottlesI just heard a story from someone who had to dump a bottle 1988 vintage Champagne because it had been stored in a regular fridge for almost two years. While that may seem like a harmless thing to do – you are supposed to keep wine cool while you store it after all – one very important component is missing – humidity! To keep food fresh, you need a dry environment. To keep wine fresh, you need a humid one. Humidity prevents the cork from drying. This is why you buy a wine fridge for your wine and a regular fridge for the food.

For the average consumer, most wines purchased will be drunk within a month, often within 24 hours. In this short amount of storage time you should not worry too much about where you put that bottle. But do if it’s going to be sitting somewhere for more than a day, keep these storage tips in mind.

– Don’t keep it over the oven or stove, in a hot car, in direct sunlight or anywhere else where it could be “cooked.” 
– Don’t keep wine in the fridge for over a week or two because of that humidity factor.
– Store wines on their side to keep the cork wet. Screw cap wines can be stored upright or on their side, but be careful that you don’t dent the cap – that could break the seal and let in air.

If you are planning to store wine longer than a month or two, you may need a more controlled storage environment. The same tips above apply, but you may try to make sure the wine hangs out in an area with regulated temperature – it’s not necessarily the temperature that can ruin a wine, but the swings in temperature, so even if it’s not perfect storage temps, staying constant is important. A dark closet in a basement would be good –no sunlight or drastic temperature changes and possibly a bit of humidity to help as well!

For super age-worth wines – invest in a fridge. There are small ones out there that will do the trick and not break the bank.

Share some of your storage tips, mishaps or questions with us!

What We’re Drinking | Kenwood Russian River Pinot Noir 2006

KenwoodWe brought two bottles of Pinot Noir to a dinner last weekend. One was a high-end Central Coast Pinot coming from Gary’s Vineyard. The other was the Kenwood Russian River Pinot 2006. The former was about $50 while the Kenwood rang in at $20. As we do at most dinner parties, you open the heavy-hitter first, then move on to the back up. Sure, everyone loved the delicious Gary’s Vineyard wine, but there seemed to be more comments on #2, the Kenwood Pinot Noir. I’d already ordered a few cases for the parents’ cellar because they had the same reaction- $20, really? This is good Pinot for $20.

This is not the only $20 Pinot Noir out there, but it has seemed to garner more interest than most. I’ll make an attempt to guess why – it’s the perfect blend of rich, ripe fruit, warm spices, alcohol & tannin. The finish is long and it’s full-bodied and smooth. Lots of people love “smooth” wines. It’s not my favorite descriptor, but it does fit some wine, and this is one of those wines. I think it has to do with those ripe fruits and that touch of glycerin the alcohol gives the wine. The resulting texture is “smooth.”

You won’t find layers of complexity or the delicate aromas and flavors of some Pinot Noir, but you will find an easy-drinking versatile food wine that will suit many a palate and for $20, that’s not too shabby.

Wrestling with Rieslings – How to Decipher their Labels

DrLoosenWSTBA-375ml_labelDoes reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway?  Thankfully, there is a method to the madness.   The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like.  Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like.

Continue reading Wrestling with Rieslings – How to Decipher their Labels

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