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Archive for June, 2014

Syrah v Shiraz

June 19th, 2014 No comments

Battle of the Giants

The average wine drinker in America is not a connoisseur;  in fact,  far from it.  Most Americans who drink wine drink it because they like it  and they really don’t care about the factors which give wine its taste and body.  Most people can’t relate the price of a wine to the quality they can expect and because they are uncertain, tend to rely on name brands which they recognize.

In recent years, people seeking a big fat red wine have often opted for Syrah or Shiraz and both have their supporters. But there is something very interesting to learn about these two wines.

Syrah Grape

The Syrah Grape Story

The Syrah grape originated in the Rhone region of southeastern France. The grape has a long, documented history in the area, but its point of origin was up until recently in doubt, owing to several legends about how the grape made its way from Shiraz in Persia (now Iran) to the Rhone.

In a study undertaken by the University of California,  researchers used DNA typing and extensive material from the viticultural research station in Montpelier, France, to determine that the Syrah grape was the offspring of two grapes from differing regions in France – the Dureza grape, from the Ardeche , and the Mondeuse blanche, from the Savoy region. The parent grapes have almost disappeared, but the offspring has become one of the most planted varieties of grape in the world.

Syrah versus Shiraz

The grape used to produce both Syrah and Shiraz wine is in fact the Syrah, but in many parts of the world the name has in modern times been changed from Syrah to Shiraz by wine producers in Australia and New Zealand.

The grape is used primarily for the production of red wines, and the flavor of the wine is dependent on the climate and soil where the grapes are grown. In moderate climates, such as the Rhone region of France, or the Walla Walla region of Washington State, the Syrah wines produced tend to be medium to full-bodied, with medium to high levels of tannin. The wines have blackberry and mint flavors,  with black pepper highlights.  Syrah is often used as an element in Rhone style blends.

In hot climates, such as that of Australia, the grapes produce more full-bodied wines, with softer tannins, jammier fruit, and the spice highlights are licorice, anise, and earthy leather.

The grape, and the wines are called Syrah in France (the country of origin), Europe, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, and most of the United States and Canada. The grape was renamed Shiraz in Australia, and the wines from Down Under are also called Shiraz. The differences in the wines are due to the differences in the growing climates. How a wine is made can also make a difference in its flavor, and this comes down to the differences between vintners.

Who Wins?

Nobody wins, and nobody loses – both styles of wine are excellent, and both wines are enjoyed by the both the everyday drinker, right up to the fine wine connoisseur. Which one you like is a matter of your personal taste, and which one you serve to your friends and guests depends on the food you’re serving. A wine should complement a meal, not overwhelm it, so if your entre is not a bold one, stick to the quieter, slightly less assuming Syrah. If your dinner is out there in flavor – perhaps with a heavy hand on the spice, try a Shiraz with the entree – most will stand up boldly to vigorous competition.

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Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot Noir

June 16th, 2014 No comments

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot NoirAs most wine connoisseurs are well aware, the Santa Lucia Highlands have been receiving a great deal of positive attention over the last ten years in spite of the fact that the region is a relatively small part of California’s immense AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).

The Santa Lucia Mountains separate the Salinas Valley from the Carmel Valley within sight of state Highway 101 and the Santa Lucia Highlands consist of a narrow strip of around 5,900 acres of vineyards and 34 growers. The vineyards are centered around the picturesque town of Soledad and the region was awarded AVA status in 1991. The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA area has received most of its recent attention for its Pinot Noir, which happens to be the area’s most dominant grape.

Exciting Pinot Noir Flavors

Many wineries outside of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA which focus on Pinot Noir have been buying grapes from this region in light of their excellent quality. In addition, many of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyards have become well known to connoisseurs and have been producing wines which score extremely high with many major critics. A number of high-ranking wineries have grown up in the region, making it a source for some of the best Pinot Noir grapes as well as an intriguing and attractive wine tasting destination.

Californian Pinot Noir has a great price point when compared to the burgundies of the Côte de Beaune or Côte d’Or.   Santa Lucia Highlands AVA  Pinot Noir is known for its big, full-bodied fruitiness, with cherry and red fruit overtones.   The majority of the Pinot Noir from the region is lively in the mouth, the main flavor being cherry,  with mixed secondary flavors of chocolate and vanilla.

Some favorites from Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

2010 Lucia Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, at around $40 per bottle, sourced from Gary’s Vineyard and Pisoni Vineyards fruit.   It has a depth of  cherry and black berry fruit, gripping tannins and secondary spice notes, in particular, cinnamon and cardamon.

Pisoni Vineyards’ 2010 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, at about $65 a bottle, is a darker, deeper ruby red with crushed black cherry overtones, with just a hint of fresh flowers and vanilla. This Pinot Noir tastes lively and would benefit from decanting, as it is a bit tight straight from the bottle, even after being chambered.

2010 Testarossa Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir at around $39 really hits its mark.  Again, a deep ruby glassful with overtones of ripe cherry, herbal notes, and light spice for a balanced juicy finish underscored by cinnamon and leather.

Roar Gary’s Vineyard is a small-lot specialist with a single Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyard and their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir  can be found at about $52 a bottle.  Deep ruby red, a big black cherry nose, with berry undertones, this strong and supple wine has subtle flower and herb notes, even a touch of woody mushroom.  Well worth seeking out.

Something special at any time of the year

Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir wines are amongst our favorites  for their robust flavors, and their ability to surprise us with subtlety and wit.  These are wines that you can select without hesitation to accompany rich, flavorsome foods such as beef and duck – they will more than stand their ground.  We love them also for their understated class.  In the summer we are often drawn to frivolous whites and frolicsome roses.  How nice it is, in the evening, to pour out a glass of one of the many choices of Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir.   To slowly savor the complexities of a truly rewarding glass of outstanding red wine.

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