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Passport Magazine

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» Around the World with Shiraz

This month, the Knights of the Vine took a trip around the globe to test the Shiraz wines (or Syrah depending on the country), that have become a favorite around Passport magazine, especially the Big Australians. We quickly found in our voyage through Moscow’s wine boutiques that there are dozens of good, if not great Australian Shiraz wines, but it was much more difficult to find examples from other countries.

by Charles W. Borden

According to legend, the Syrah grape, known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa, was brought in the 13th century to the northern Rhone river valley from the Iranian city of Shiraz by the Crusader Guy De’Sterimberg. De’Sterimberg planted vineyards in the Rhone valley and also became a hermit, thus the district he lived in became known as the Hermitage. Though most of the legend is correct, from DNA tests it now appears that De’Sterimberg’s vines, which have become the backbone of French Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Cote du Rhone wines among others, are truly French.

Two Syrah grapes can be distinguished in the northern Rhone. The Petite Syrah (which is not the same as the Petite Sirah grape grown in North and South America) has small berries and is superior to the larger Gross Syrah. Syrah’s black grape produces dark and dense wines that do well with oak aging and have great potential for longevity. Syrah grapes do best in warm climates.

John Ortega and David Lane
examine a bottle of wine
In the 1970’s, Syrah began to spread to other areas of France and in the 1990’s to Spain near Toledo and to the Tuscany region of Italy. There is now a new Italian DOC, Cortona Syrah; around Cortona in the far south of Tuscany, a city celebrated by the best seller, Under the Tuscan Sun.

The Syrah grape journeyed to Australia much earlier, from Montpellier in 1832 by James Busby. Since French grape growers were reluctant to properly identify grape varieties that were exported, it received the name Shiraz. Once in New South Wales, the new grape adapted quickly and spread widely. Shiraz became the most widely grown grape in Australia. There it produces powerful, broad, fruity wines, more expressive than the Rhone Syrah counterparts, though the grape variety is identical. In Australia, Shiraz is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to produce Cabernet Shiraz.

On Australian Shiraz

“Basically, there are four styles of Australian Shiraz: the black pepper/spice Rhone Valley look-alikes of Central and Southern Victoria, north of Melbourne; the lush, concentrated, dense wines of the Barossa Valley northwest of Adelaide, exemplified by Penfold’s Grange; the smooth, red cherry and mint style of Coonawarra and Clare Valley, both near the coast in the vicinity of Adelaide; and the earthy, velvety reds of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, northwest of Sydney.” Steve Pitcher, Vintner’s Choice

We had to issue a warning for this tasting: Shiraz wines have been pushing the 16% “alcohol limit” that defines wine – a potential problem for our wine tasters at the table this night as our tasters are not big on the “taste and spit” tradition of the industry. We started our world tour in South Africa and finished with the Big Australians.

Shiraz Around the World

South Africa

Patrick O’Dolan with
Tony Wong
Several years ago Preston Haskell, the Chairman of Moscow’s Colliers International, purchased vineyards in the Stellenbosch district of South Africa. His Haskell Dombeya Shiraz 2003 scored very well in previous tastings at 3.84, but fell short this time. Since personal experience on a follow-up with this wine has confirmed its high quality, I can only conclude that the result this evening was a problem with this particular bottle. Glen Carlou is a top winery from Paarl, and the Glen Carlou Syrah 2004 scored well with Wine Spectator, though not at our table.

Glen Carlou Syrah 2004 WS 90
Big, juicy Syrah, with dark plum, blackberry and cocoa flavors. Plenty of structure too, with a smoky, muscular finish. Hint of mineral. Drink now through 2007. 7,500 cases made. –JM.
Source: Wine Spectator

Italy

Our next stop was the new Cortona Syrah DOC for a taste of Collezione de Marchi Syrah 2003 from Isola e Olena, the leading Syrah innovator in Italy. This wine came in second in the Non-Australian group.

Isola e Olena Collezione de Marchi Syrah 2003 WS 89
Lots of blackberry, raspberry and black pepper aromas. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a medium finish. Best after 2007. 875 cases made. –JS.
Source: Wine Spectator

Then we took a quick hop south to Sicily for Planeta Syrah 2004. Planeta is one of the leading modern wineries on the island.

California

Sammy Kotwani
Syrah has been making inroads in California (where it must be distinguished from the entirely different grape Petite Sirah), but acreage is still small. The best California Syrah wines come from the Central Coast near Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, of Sideways fame. The press descriptions of the only two California Syrahs we could find in Moscow were not promising so we skipped the Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah for Francis Coppola’s Syrah 2000. Despite this wine’s Wine Spectator 78 score and description as “murky, with weird flavors,” this wine exceeded expectations with KOVR.

Spain

Although we had previously tried another excellent Spanish Syrah (April issue), Syrah Marques de Grinon 2002 (Dominio de Valdepusa), we found just one additional Syrah for this stopover. The Arrayan Syrah 2003 (Metrida, Spain) has a Wine Spectator 87 and was described as “expressive flavors of currant, black pepper and mocha, with firm tannins supporting a thick yet fresh texture.”

Chile

On to Chile, where Syrah plantings began in 1993. We landed in Elqui Valley, the earth’s magnetic center according to Age of Aquariusts, to try Alta Tierra Syrah 2002. We weren’t high on this one.

France

We could hardly do justice to the Syrahs of Cote du Rhone with just one wine, but we selected one of the best, the Hermitage 2002 Paul Jaboulet Aine, described by Wine Spectator (88) as solid black cherry and briar flavors backed by the vintage’s crisp edge. Good weight and depth on the finish, with hints of toast and grilled herbs.”

Australia

Meena Mylvaganam-Tay
This was a return trip to Australia. We did an extensive review of Australian wines in January 2006, accompanied by PGA golfpro- turned-wine-pro Grant Dodd. In that issue we tried no less than 13 Shiraz wines, many of which are imported to Russia by Grant. We did not repeat them for this tasting but did select some of the pricier Shiraz wines in Moscow. We began with the spectacular Torbreck - The Factor 2003, a very high scoring wine (Wine Spectator 94 / Robert Parker 96) from Barossa Valley.

Torbreck - The Factor 2003
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate 96 The 2003 The Factor (100% Shiraz aged 24 months in old French oak) is a riveting effort that displays th e exquisite talent of David Powell. Its smoky perfume of blackberry liqueur intermixed with cherries, acacia flowers, and espresso roast is followed by a full-throttle, multi-layered palate as well as a 60-second finish. This stunning Shiraz should drink well for 10-15+ years.
Source: The Wine Advocate

We followed the top scorer with Haan Shiraz Around the World Sammy Kotwani Patrick O’Dolan with Tony Wong Meena Mylvaganam-Tay 20006 7 39 Shiraz Prestige 1999, which we had previously reviewed with a score of 3.64, which it well exceeded this time out. The Clare Valley Jeanneret Syrah 1998 was disappointing. To digress to a blend, we tried one of Grant Dodd’s pricier imports, Kaesler WOMS Cabernet-Shiraz 2004, also a high Parker at 95.

Kaesler WOMS Cabernet-Shiraz 2004
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate 95 An intriguing blend is the sensational 2004 Shiraz/Cabernet Woms (65% Shiraz and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon). Made in a more elegant style, it offers notions of Provencal herbs, pepper, garrigue, black currants, blackberries, and toasty oak. It should age well for 12-15 years.
Source: The Wine Advocate

We finished with Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2004, a pricy and disappointing finish.

Raters

John Ortega Master Knight, KOVR, Publisher and Owner Passport Magazine
Charles Borden Director Meridian Capital
David Lane President, Tablogix
Linda Lippner U.S. Embassy
Sammy Kotwani CEO, Imperial Tailoring
Meena Mylvaganam-Tay Editor
Patrick O’Dolan CEO Moscom Communications Group
H.E. Michael Tay Ambassador of Singapore
George Voloshin International Business Director
Alexander Stefanovic Film Director and Deputy Editor, Ineit Magazine
Tony Wong Director, Schering-Plough Russia

Ortega easy rating system

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.

The ratings

  Retail USD Retail RR Retailer Rating
Syrah Worldwide
Haskell Dombeya Shiraz 2003 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Palais 2.74
Glen Carlou Syrah 2004 (Paarl, South Africa) 3.01
Isola e Olena Collezione de Marchi Syrah (Tuscany, Italy) $112.45 2,890r. Magnum 4.05
Planeta Syrah 2004 (Sicily, Italy) $82.88 2,130r. KV 3.26
Francis Coppola Syrah 2000 (California) $43.31 1,113r. Magnum 2.90
Arrayan Syrah 2003 (Metrida, Spain) $75.10 1,930r. KV 3.49
Alta Tierra Syrah 2002 (Elqui Valley, Chile) $44.75 1,150r. KV 3.24
Hermitage 2002 Paul Jaboulet Aine (Cote du Rhone, France) $182.88 4,700r. KV 4.14
Total Syrah Worldwide $541.36 13,913r.
Average Syrah Worldwide 3.35
  
Syrah Australian
1. Torbreck The Factor 2003 (Barossa Valley) 4.50
2. Haan Shiraz Prestige 1999 (Barossa Valley) Palais 4.13
3. Jeanneret Syrah 1998 (Clare Valley) 3.49
4. Kaesler WOMS 2004 (Barossa Valley) $147.86 3,800r. Magnum 3.83
5. Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2004 (NE Victoria) $154.82 3,979r. KV 3.55
Total Syrah Australian $302.68 7,779r.
Average Syrah Australian 3.90
 
Purchases from: Palais (Palais Royal), KV (Kollektion Vino), Magnum (DP Trade). Wines without prices came from the cellar.



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