By Celia Strong
Gone are the days of many things. At many prices. For instance, we’ll never see two thousand dollar Volkswagen Beetles again. Except in junk yards, maybe. Sold for parts. Gone are the days when it took ten French Francs to make one United States dollar. And the bargain traveling and shopping we got away with at that exchange rate. And gone are the days when we could find so many wines for less than they cost now. But! From out of nowhere. When you least expect it. It comes again. The hundred dollar case of wine. Yippee!
As we already know, or should already know, Shiraz is a red grape variety that is worth its weight in gold to the Australian wine industry. There is much more to Shiraz, and Shiraz wines, than just Australia. But, it is not called Shiraz everywhere, so we can be forgiven for not realizing how much of it is grown around the world. (I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “It’s Syrah!”) Shiraz and Syrah are identical to each other. Genetically. But the styles of wines that they make can be worlds apart. Shiraz, as it is called in Australia and most New World wine producing countries, is known for big, rich, bold, juicy textured, high alcohol wines. The first taste tells you everything. A style that has its place in our ongoing study wines and in our drinking repertoires. Syrah, as the grape is called in France, and most of Europe, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand as well as some cooler growing areas like Washington State, produces wines that are more subtle, although still powerful, with layers of complexities. (Yes, I know. Some New World sources, too.) A let-me-have-another-glass sytle, so I don’t miss any nuances. Both styles of wine are known for their blueberry, black cherry and black currant flavors, along with hints of chocolate or cocoa powder, pepper spiciness and cassis. A big, bold, heavy Shiraz can be great with a grilled steak, while a more subtle Syrah can be perfect with roast port, poultry and seafood. It’s so easy to see the style differences in terms of food.
Moving forward, we should review Shiraz as it lives and breathes in Australia. James Busby is known as “the father of Australian viticulture.” In 1831, returned to Australia from a trip through the vineyards of France and Spain. Syrah rootstocks were one of the treasures he brought back with him. The first were planted in the Sydney Botanical Gardens, then in the Hunter region and, in 1839, in South Australia. By the 1860’s, Shiraz was an important variety in Australia.
South Australia, which is the large region that covers the southeastern corner (duh!) of the country, produces more than half of all the wine made in Australia. (The country exports two hundred million gallons of wine a year.) Across this region there is a range of climates. The inland areas are very hot, while the coastal areas are cooler. Vines can grow on the valley floors (like Barossa) as well as up to two thousand above sea level (like Riverland). And soil types vary from limestone-marl to sandy, clay loam. Since the 1960’s, Australia’s wine laws have developed to distinguish geographic areas of origin for their wines. At least eighty-five percent of the grapes in a bottle have to come from the region designated on its label. The wine also has to be made from eighty-five percent of the grape named on a label. It seems, too, that there is now a symbol on Australian wine labels that tells the buyer how many standard size drinks are in a bottle. I haven’t seen it, yet, on bottles shipped to the United States, but the information I’ve seen says a seven hundred fifty milliliter bottle has eight and a third drinks in it. Really? That’s not even close to possible at my house. Or at anyone else’s house that I know. Maybe they use really small glasses down under?
So, now, we are at our wine for this week. S x S Shiraz. The name is actually “Side by Side,” but the S x S is a cute way of writing it. This is (mostly) an Australian style Shiraz. As it should be. It is full of rich dark fruit flavors and chocolate. There are plums, black currants, and blueberries all sliding across your tongue, along with a hint of white pepper and baking spices. It is juicy feeling in your mouth, which keeps you sipping. (Another reason I just can’t see eight and a third glasses in a bottle.) And, it has a long finish with mild tannins. Once you taste this Shiraz, you’ll see it is mostly Australian in style. But not quite completely. It’s only thirteen and a half percent alcohol, a bit high but not overpowering. And, it does show a range of subtleties as you sip through each glass. Complexities! The thing is, this wine is on deal for $9.97 a bottle. But, and here’s the return to prices long gone – a whole case is $100. Even. (Yes, plus tax.) But that means, if you buy ten bottles you get two free. So not only has the hundred dollar case come back. So have freebies. While they last. Enjoy.