Syrah or Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape with two different names.  Syrah is the original name while Shiraz is how it became known in Australia and the Americas.  The terms have become associated with a particular style of wine.

Syrah is the term that is associated with the Old-World expressions found throughout Europe.  It is lighter in body and alcohol, with finer tannins. Shiraz, on the other hand, refers to New World, intense wines, which are generally richer, with riper aromas and fuller in both body and alcohol.

The distinct styles first emerged as a natural consequence of the different growing conditions and microclimates.  The grapes in Australia have the potential of having higher levels of alcohol and more aromas than their European counterparts.

The varietal is believed to have originated in the Rhône region of France.  Some winegrowers in the northern Rhône distinguish between a small-berried, more concentrated version of Syrah, referred to as Petite Syrah, and the larger-berried Grosse Syrah. 

Until the 1970s, French Syrah plantings were mostly concentrated in and around the vineyards of the northern Rhône valley. Since then Syrah has had an extraordinary surge in popularity throughout southern France and has become France’s third most planted red wine.

Australia’s history with the grape began in the 1830s.  It flourished and was quickly adopted by New South Wales and from there to the whole country, eventually becoming Australia’s most planted variety.  The country makes a range of styles, the most recognisable is the distinctively rich, ripe styles from both traditional Barossa Valley and newer Heathcote regions.

There is now a growing trend towards more subtle, elegant, cool-grown Rhône style wines that are less concentrated and have a lighter touch. These are often labelled as Syrah instead of Shiraz. These wines are most likely to be found in the Adelaide Hills region.

The grape was introduced to California in the 1990s.  A group of vintners, known as the “Rhône Rangers”, eagerly promoted the grape as being equally suited to California as Cabernet Sauvignon. Californian winemakers consistently produce very vibrant, refined wine.

In addition to California, Washington State also produces Syrah.  Further afield, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay are producing interesting varieties. It is worth noting that some of those who make the finest South African examples label them Syrah.

There are some noteworthy Syrahs found in Italy, the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain and the Alentejo region of Portugal. Another unexpectedly successful site for mature, concentrated Syrah is the Valais in Switzerland, particularly around the upper reaches of the Rhône valley.

Some Canadian wine makers are growing the Syrah grape as well, though the cool climate limits the growing season and thus the intensity of the flavour. Some winemakers label their offering as Syrah while others choose Shiraz.  While some would argue that British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has a long, hot growing season that supports the Shiraz style of wine, most of Canada’s wine regions cannot.  Wines made in the majority of the country only truly support the Syrah style of wine. 

One of my pet peeves is to see an Ontario winemaker labelling their wine as Shiraz and not Syrah.  I pity the unexpecting consumer who purchases a Shiraz, expecting the bold peppery flavour of a true Shiraz.  Unfortunately, the wine will not live up to its name.

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Italy’s Aglianico Grapes

Along with Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, Aglianico (pronounced alli-yawn-nico ) is generally believed to be on of Italy’s three best wine grapes.  It is a full-bodied red grape found in the Campania and Basilicata regions of southern Italy.  Aglianico wines are known for savory flavours of leather, white pepper, black fruits, cured meat, cracked pepper, dried cranberry, mushroom broth, smoke, cocoa, nutmeg, cinnamon, cedar, tobacco, coffee and dried oregano. 

Photo credit: drinkitalian.eu

Aglianico is full-bodied with high tannin and high acidity.  It contains a medium to medium-plus amount of alcohol and can be aged ten to twenty years.  The best Aglianico wines don’t start to come into their best until they are about ten years of age. The passage of time softens the wine’s firm tannic structure and acidity, revealing lush layers of sweetened fruit and dried floral aromas intermixed with dusty and spiced smoke, savoury flavours.

Given Aglianico’s rigid nature, some producers make it into a much fresher, easy-drinking style. Because the grape has so much tannin and acidity, it easily holds up to new oak aging and modern winemaking. The winemaking techniques are meant to quell Aglianico’s ferocity into a chocolatey, ripe, rich wine with moderately high alcohol and acidity. The modern style of Aglianico won’t age as long as the traditional method and has less of an expression of flavour.  However, it is easier to drink at a much younger age.

The structure of Aglianico pairs well with high intensity foods. Aglianico goes well alongside rich meats with high fat content or vegetarian dishes with a rich umami note, such as black bean sauce, soy sauce, tempeh or dishes that welcome roasted mushrooms.

Meat selections that pair well with Aglianico include beef brisket, smoked pork, barbecue beef, seared prime rib, venison, beef stew, chili, rabbit stew or oxtail.  Cheese pairings include Pecorino, Asiago, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Provolone. Vegetable pairing include portobello mushrooms, roasted mushrooms, baked beans, black beans, lentils, crispy kale, purple potatoes, roasted purple cauliflower and arugula.

A few warm and dry regions outside of Italy are beginning to produce rich, chocolatey styles of Aglianico wine, in particular California and Riverina, Australia. The grapes ripen late, even in these warm climates, with the best examples offering aromas of chocolate and plum.

Aglianico wines are bound to become more available as growers all over the world look to varieties that grow well because of the rapidly changing climate conditions.

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Gewürztraminer

Alsace, a region in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany, is the home of Gewürztraminer. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since the early 1680s.  As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.

Today the varietal is grown in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the U.S.

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape variety that grows well in cooler climates.  It has a high level of natural sugar and the wine is white and usually off dry.  Gewürztraminer generally contains a gram or two of residual sugar but because of the heightened aromatics, higher alcohol and lower acidity, many of these wines will taste sweeter than they actually are.

The aroma or “nose” will be that of lychee or ‘sweet rose’.  However, it may also have hints of red grapefruit, allspice, cinnamon or ginger.  The flavour will consist of hints of grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, orange or cantaloupe.

When serving with food, Gewürztraminer is a great compliment to duck, chicken, pork, bacon, shrimp and crab.  Highly spiced and aromatic herbs such as cayenne pepper, ginger, clove, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, madras curry, sichuan pepper, shallots, soy sauce, sesame, almond, rose water, lime leaf, bay leaf, coriander and cumin are a great match.

Gewürztraminer goes well with less stinky and delicately flavored soft cow’s milk cheese and dried fruit, as well as roasted vegetables and veggies with natural sweetness including red onion, bell pepper, eggplant, tempeh, squash and carrots.

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Wine for a Summer Picnic

With summertime fast approaching it will soon be time to focus on going to the beach and picnics.  The recipe for a great picnic is great weather and food and of course, wonderful wine.   A good picnic wine will be refreshing, balanced, and will pair well with the foods you pack. A picnic should not require a lot of fuss and muss.  The focus should be on sharing good food and wine with family or friends.  If it requires a huge amount of time and effort to prepare, the outcome is probably not worth the effort.

Photo credit: foodbankwma.org

One thing not to do is consider a picnic the same as a barbecue.  The wines that pair well at a barbecue are not necessarily the same ones that work well at a picnic. Barbecues are all about bold and spicy where picnics are more about a broad spectrum of lighter fare. Most of the foods served at a picnic will be cold and on the lighter side.

Common picnic foods include things such as potato salad, cold fried chicken, cheeses and crackers, charcuterie, fresh bread and fresh fruit. Wines best suited include cool, crisp, whites, rosés or very light reds.

White wine options include Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc which are dry, crisp, herbal whites that are ideal for summer sipping. They won’t overpower picnic food.  Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio or Pinot Blanc are fruitier but still light and perfect for a picnic. They are bright, acidic and loaded with crisp citrus fruit and minerality.

A dry Riesling with crisp acidity and light mineral flavours will pair well with spicier foods such as charcuterie.  Moscato d’Asti is a lightly fizzy white with apricot and almond flavours that will pair well with fruit and salads.

A freezer sleeve that slides over a standard 750 ml. bottle will keep your wine chilled.

Rosé or blush wines are versatile. They should also be served chilled the same as whites. These lightly acidic wines offer fruit flavours such as melon, strawberry and red fruit qualities that pair well with cheese and crackers, seafood, salads or cold chicken.

Light red wines with less alcohol, such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Beaujolais would be good choices for a picnic, particularly charcuterie and cold cuts. While these wines don’t need to be served chilled, they should not be overwarmed so transporting them in a cooler would be a good idea.  Set them out about 10 minutes before serving.

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Rosé With a Difference

Now that the warm weather is here it is a great time to crack open a bottle of Rosé.  Pale Rosé is by far the most common and thus the most popular type of Rosé but there is a second less known, darker Rosé.

Photo credit: winefolly.com

Darker Rosés can have a fuller body and a greater concentration of flavours.  They may be more complex and structured, making them able to pair well with a wider array of summertime foods.

The most common types of red wine grapes used to make Rosé are Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and Pinot Noir.  The skins are generally exposed to the wine for only a short time. Where some red wines ferment for weeks at a time on red grape skins, rosé wines are left for just a few hours.  However, when making dark Rosé, only dark-skinned varietals are used, such as Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Syrah, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grape skins are also exposed to the wine for a longer period of time in order to gain more flavour.

Where light and medium bodied Rosés pair well with cheese, creamy sauces and dips, savoury canapés, mezes and tapas, darker Rosés will go well with smoke and char flavours of grilled meats and vegetables, as well as full-flavoured sauces.

The occasion for serving Rosé varies by type as well.  Light or medium-bodied ones are best served chilled and lend themselves well to sipping while relaxing at the cottage or in the backyard.  Darker Rosés, on the other hand, fair well served chilled, at a backyard barbecue.

Whichever Rosé you prefer, now is the best time of year to sit back, relax and enjoy a glass.

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Wine From the Canary Islands

Wine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the Canary Islands.  The Islands are a popular European tourist destination but they also have a thriving wine industry.

Photo credit: foodandwine.com

Wine production has a long history in the Canary Islands, but the modern era didn’t start until about the mid 1980’s. Since then wine exports have been increasing as more people discover these wines.

The Canary Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean about 100 kilometres west of Morocco. The main islands, from largest to smallest, are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa. They are a popular tourist destination because of their subtropical climate.  However, it is the distinctive volcanic wines that have been gaining global attention and critical acclaim over the past 3 decades.

Six of the eight islands, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera produce wine.  The soils vary from island to island, formed by volcanic eruptions, landslides and erosion.  The soil ranges from light stone to very heavy basalt rock.

The climate also varies across the archipelago. The eastern islands consist of older geological formations with lower, more uniform altitude and a dry, desert-like climate. The western islands are higher, steeper and have a greater variation of microclimates.

There are 20 unique grape varieties found in the Islands along with more than 20 new varieties that are currently being studied.  Listán Blanco (aka Palomino) and Listán Negro are the most widely planted grapes on the Islands. Others include white wine grapes Malvasía Volcánica, Malvasía Aromática and Albillo Criollo, along with red wine grapes Negramoll, Vijariego Negro and Baboso Negro. There are a few plantings of international varieties, such as Syrah.  Each of the Islands has its own specialities.

Dry, high-acid whites and light, fruity reds are typical of the Islands but richer, oak-aged options exist as well.

The wine industry is very focused on gaining international recognition based on the unique and ancient grape varieties grown. The aim is for these wines to reach markets where they can gain more exposure and have the opportunity to grow in popularity.

In 2020, around 15 million gallons of wine (51% red and 49% white) were produced in the Canary Islands.

Some of the grapes from the Canary Islands can be found in South America. They were brought there by Spanish settlers in the 16th century.  One of the varieties was Listán Prieto, which can now be found in California (known as Mission), Chile (País) and Argentina (Criolla Chica).

Wine from the Canary Islands is occasionally available in the specialty section of wine stores in Canada.  These wines will be included with the other wines from Spain.

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The Forgotten Grape of the Loire

The Lignage grape was virtually extinct several years ago.  The last known vine was situated in the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) nursery at Montpellier, France.  Today, the number has increased but there are still well under a thousand vines in existence.

Photo credit: theglamorousgourmet.com

The revival of Lignage is part of a wider project overseen by a local group, the Union for Genetic Resources of Centre-Val de Loire (URGC).  URGC’s goal is to revitalize old grape varieties linked to the local area prior to the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s. 

Phylloxera is an insect that can damage grape vines by feeding on the plant sap from the roots. It is often described as an aphid-like sucking insect.

Officially, the project is experimental at this point so the Lignage varietal is not listed on any appellation documentation.  Lignage’s history in the region dates back to 1427. It was also known as Macé Doux,  Macédoux, Massé Doux and Lignage de Blois. By the mid 1800s it had become well established in a winegrowing zone known as the Côte des Grouëts.

The variety is similar to Pinot Noir in that it produces a light-coloured red wine.  Having purple skin and a green flesh it can also be made into a white wine.

Not much is known about the wine that Lignage produced but according to written accounts the grapes produced a fine, delicate, lightly coloured red wine with fine aromas and a low alcohol content.  More information should be known by 2024 when the first trial wines are expected to be produced. It is anticipated that by 2028 the varietal will return as an official vine and be available for more extensive planting. 

I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to try Lignage at some point in the future.

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Argentina’s Bonarda Grape

Bonarda grapes are pretty much unique to South America’s Argentina, where, after Malbec, it is the country’s most produced varietal.  It was first introduced in Argentina in the 1800s.  It is not the same grape as the Bonarda from Italy.  The Argentinian varietal is actually named Douce Noir, which originated in Savoie, France.

Photo credit: NatalieMaclean.com

It was initially used to add colour and a fruity flavour to Argentinian-produced blends.  However, it has since been found that it can stand on its own as a single varietal.  The key to using Bonarda on its own is to use grapes only from the more mature vines. There are plantings that are over 100 years old.

Bonarda grapes mature well in oak barrels and the resulting wines are characterized by complexity and spice with great structure and medium-full body.  The wine will have hints of plum, cherry and fig.  The colour is deep and dark. There is a medium level of tannins which allow it to be cellared for five to ten years, though it is ready to drink when it is released from the winery.

Bonarda will pair well with grilled pork, roast chicken or even grilled salmon.

If you haven’t tried it before, Argentina’s Bonarda is worth seeking out at your local liquor store.  Who knows, it may become your next favourite medium-bodied red wine.

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Wine’s “Best Before” Date

Photo credit: CanadianTire.ca

As a follow-up to my blog “To Age or Not to Age” from January 15th, I have put together a list of generally accepted retention times for common varietals of white and red wine. However, proper storage methods need to be followed in order to best achieve these results.  Refer to Wine Storage Options for information on how best to retain wine.

The information provided here refers to the length of time a wine can be retained, not the length of time a wine will necessarily continue to be enhanced.  In certain instances some vintages may be retained longer while others should be drunk shortly after purchase.

White Wine

There are a several white wine varietals that age well. The most renowned is Chardonnay, which gets its ability to age from a combination of higher acidity paired with oak-aging.

Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc in the white blend of Bordeaux. Sémillon has been shown to age gracefully and develop interesting nutty flavours over time.

Riesling is Germany’s aromatic and often subtly sweet white has proven to do well during aging. As it matures it turns a rich yellow colour with aromas of petrol.  It may sound disgusting but tastes wonderful.

White Rioja or Rioja Blanca is a white wine that begins with citrus and mineral flavours but then becomes increasingly rich and flavourful with age.

Chenin Blanc wines from France’s Loire Valley have produced some great choices of wines suitable for aging. There are also some new options from South Africa that are making a name for themselves.

Fortified dessert wines tend to age longer than stilled wines. Sherry, Madeira and some Marsala have shown to improve in flavour over decades.  There are several botrytized white wines such as Sauternes and Riesling that age nicely for up to 30 years.

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Albariño
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Moscato
  • Pinot Gris/Grigio
  • Prosecco
  • Dry Riesling
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Torrontés
  • Verdicchio
  • Vermentino
  • Vinho Verde

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Alsace White
  • White Bordeaux
  • Oaked Chardonnay
  • Oaked South African Chenin Blanc
  • Sémillon
  • Trebbiano
  • Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Oaked Grüner Veltliner
  • Kerner
  • Muscat
  • Oaked Albariño
  • Sweet Loire Valley Chenin Blanc
  • Hungarian Furmint
  • White Bordeaux
  • Burgundy Oaked Chardonnay
  • Chablis
  • Auslese German Riesling
  • White Cotes du Rhône
  • White Rioja/ Rioja Blanca

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • High quality Chablis
  • Beerenauslese Riesling
  • Ice Wine
  • Late Harvest Riesling
  • Sauternes
  • Rutherglen Muscat
  • Vendage Tardive Alsace

Some red wines with high acidity and high tannin are perfect to lay down and age for a few years.   Here are some red wines that are known to age well:

Cabernet Sauvignon has a high range of variability because there are a wide range of quality levels and regions. Look for wines with deep color, a higher level of acidity, balanced alcohol levels and noticeable tannins.

Merlot will age in a similar manner as Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines become softer and often smokier with age. Right-bank Bordeaux wines are a great place to start when looking to find cellarable Merlot.

Monastrell/Mourvèdre has extremely high tannins and colour. In the Bandol region of Provence, France, this grape doesn’t usually fully develop its taste until after at least 10 years of aging.

Tempranillo is one of the best varieties for long-term aging.

Sangiovese is another top-notch grape variety to age long-term because of its spicy acidity. Over time it will mellow out and produce sweet fig-like notes.

Nebbiolo grapes produce wines with incredibly high tannins that softens and seems to sweeten over time.  Barolo and Barbaresco are great examples of wines made with Nebbiolo grapes that age extremely well.

Red Wine

Drink Within 1 to 3 Years

  • Beaujolais
  • Dolcetto
  • Gamay
  • Lambrusco
  • Primitivo

Drink Within 3 to 5 Years

  • Barbera
  • Cotes du Rhône
  • Garnacha
  • New world Merlot
  • Petit Syrah
  • Most Pinot Noir
  • Crianza Rioja
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

Drink Within 5 to 10 Years

  • Most Cabernet Franc
  • Carmenere
  • Chianti
  • Grenache
  • Malbec
  • Old World Merlot
  • Pinotage
  • Reserva Rioja
  • Sangiovese-based wine
  • Syrah
  • Tempranillo

Drink Within 10 to 20 Years

  • Amarone
  • Bandol
  • Barbaresco
  • Barolo
  • Red Bordeaux
  • Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre)
  • Brunello di Montalcino
  • Douro reds
  • Most Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Dulce Monastrell (sweet red)
  • Nebbiolo
  • Red Port
  • Some Sangiovese
  • Some Tempranillo

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Triumph to Tragedy

My wife and I recently hosted a family dinner and for the occasion I asked my wife to purchase a Riesling to go along with it.  One of the challenges of living in a rural community is that the local liquor store doesn’t have a lot of choices when in search of a particular varietal. She returned home with Tawse 2017 Sketches of Niagara Riesling. 

When we opened and served the wine with the dinner my wife and I identified the bouquet right away, diesel fuel.  My wife was immediately turned off by it while I became positively excited.  This was the first Ontario Riesling that I have had that authentically portrays its Old-World style German cousin.

The wine was vibrant with subtle floral, nutty, fig, smoke and pear notes, a soft sweetness and long finish.   It is a great value at only $18.95.  Even though my wife was not a fan of the nose of a traditional German style Riesling, she did enjoy the overall flavour of the wine.

When I clicked on Tawse website to see if I could learn more about their German style Riesling, I saw that their wine maker, Paul Pender, had been tragically killed several days prior.  I never had the opportunity of meeting him but after tasting the Riesling, as well as other wonderful creations from Tawse, I certainly wish I had.  His untimely passing is a tragic loss to the entire wine community.

If you are a fan of Riesling, I suggest picking up a bottle or two of the Sketches of Niagara as a tribute to its creator.

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