With so many grape varieties going under different guises in different countries, choosing wine can be a confusing business. For instance, most wine drinkers are familiar with hefty red grape variety, Shiraz, but a wine labelled Syrah, the grape’s original name, rings far fewer bells of recognition and, as a consequence, drinkers often miss out on wines that may really appeal.
Thankfully, in our shop, missing out isn’t much of an issue, as we chat to our customers and advise them accordingly but, even so, a few words about the respective merits of Syrah and Shiraz may prove useful to others keen to explore. So, here goes.
Genetically, Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape but the wines they produce can be very different in style, depending on origin. The grape originates from the northern Rhône Valley in France, where it is known as Syrah, but, to the chagrin of the French, it has achieved greater popularity and prominence as Shiraz in Australia.
Stylistically, Old World (European) Syrah is lighter and leaner than the intense Shiraz wines from the New World, which tend to be richer, riper and more full-bodied. In certain areas, the name you get on the bottle – Syrah or Shiraz – will be an indication of style rather than where it is from.
In France’s northern Rhône Valley, Syrah is king. There, it is responsible for the dense, burly, deep-coloured, long-lived, savoury and peppery wines of Hermitage, and the slightly more seductively perfumed (thanks to a co-ferment with white grape Viognier) wines of Côte-Rôtie.
Regrettably, the wines from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie don’t come cheap and it’s to nearby appellation, Crozes-Hermitage, that we must travel for the best-value Syrahs in the northern Rhône. Recently, I did just that and, at the end of a long day, found myself ensconced in the Crozes-Hermitage cellars of Philippe Jaboulet and his son, Vincent, drinking and – in words I’m still surprised to say – really, really enjoying wine from a box.
Keen to know more about the wine, I walked to the back room of the cellar to examine the box more closely but, disappointingly, it was a fairly nondescript cardboard affair that simply stated the names of Philippe and Vincent and the wine’s classification, IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée Drôme) Syrah, but gave no real clue as to why the wine within was so good. Mon dieu, it was time for my faltering French.
Quite a few minutes later, I’d finally discovered the wine’s secret – it was effectively de-classified Crozes-Hermitage. To explain, the wine was made of grapes from young Crozes-Hermitage vines that hadn’t yet reached maturity but would, in time, be introduced to the grand wine. Temptingly, it was less than a third of the price of authentic Crozes. So, I speculatively ordered 30 or so cases in the hope that there’s an, as yet untapped, market for posh wine in the box. Fingers crossed!
There’s definitely a market for quality Aussie Shiraz and one that’s been ever present on our shelves is the Mitolo `Jester` McLaren Vale Shiraz. Enterprisingly, back in the 1990’s, potato merchant, Frank Mitolo, got into winemaking as a hobby and the first Jester Shiraz was made in his garage. Later, in 2001, he went into partnership with one of Australia’s best winemakers, Ben Glaetzer, and the fusion of Frank’s knowledge of the land and business acumen and Ben’s winemaking talent has resulted in Mitolo becoming one of Australia’s most awarded wineries.
The Mitolo `Jester` McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012 has abundant flavours of blueberry and blackberry with underlying notes of mocha and sweet spice and a big, big finish.
Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet IGP Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah £ 55 for 5 litre box