*Shiraz is popular. It’s been that way for some time and the popularity is due in no small part to the mass influx of the Australian version of Shiraz. At a recent tasting, I was reminded of the power of kangaroo wine, both from a value and flavor standpoint.
Shiraz and Syrah are one in the same grape. Think tomato or tomatoe, quail or Quayle. Not only are the spellings and pronunciations different, but the flavor profile can also vary greatly from the Pacific Coast of America to the kangaroo fields of southeastern Australia.
BlackBilly Shiraz 2004 ($19)
A wise man once suggested to me that many wine lovers often flock to the same importer over and over gain because they have a certain degree of trust in the style of wines they represent. I took his advice to heart and discovered that it’s true in most cases. One of my favorite importers from Down Under is Australian Premium Wines (APW). From their Wishing Tree Shiraz to Elderton Tantalus, their Shirazes have always offered a polished style and and a friendly character.
The same can be said for their release of the 2004 BlackBilly Shiraz. Grown in McClaren Vale, BlackBilly may have a nose reminiscent of a barnyard but its fresh flavors of blackberry and dark chocolate offer up a rich and delicious profile and an elevated level of complexity. So take a wise man’s advice: when you find an imported wine you like, check out the back label and remember the name of the importer. It could lead to a long, happy relationship.
Marquis Philips Shiraz 2005 ($15)
If you like that over-the-top fruit in your red wines, then you’re going to love the 2005 Marquis Philips Shiraz. Its intense fruit flavors are so diverse and all over the place, that something in there is bound to give you deja vu. Originally a joint venture between winemakers Sara and Sparky Marquis and import owner Dan Philips, the wine is currently under the guiding hands of Chris Ringland and Lisa Wetherell. This simply means that for the sixth straight year, the Marquis Philips Shiraz is an incredible wine.
Its lush, velvety texture is a great match with “steak au poivre” from the Northshore Brasserie. And although it’s a whopping 15.9% alchohol, the spices and slender pepper notes weave together perfectly with the dense extracted fruit palate. This wine is never a bad date.
Blackwing Step Rd Shiraz 2005 ($11)
One thing you might notice about the color of these Aussie reds is that they’re much darker if not blacker than their American counterparts. In fact, their names signify the difference as well. Not surprisingly, the 2005 Blackwing Shiraz lives up to its billing as well. With deeper hues and flavors of plums and black fruit, this little bird sings a sweet song. Slight aromas of peppermint on the nose provide an interetesting debut, and the heat on the finish of this Shiraz will make barbecue lovers “grin like a butcher’s dog.”
From renowned importer, Fran Kysela, the screwtop Blackwing Shiraz is perfect for those times when you don’t know a wine tool or might have already broken off one cork in the bottle neck. It happens to the best of us. But with a case of Blackwing on hand you won’t have to stray down to the local tavern for a round of redemption.
Neyers Napa Valley Syrah 2002 ($32)
Allright, I have to confess. I had to taste a lot of California Syrah to find one that I liked. If I could use the word dreadful to describe affordable California Syrah then I would. Anybody can be a critic, but some of these winemakers might consider going back to school. I’m not one to throw a rock at a glass house, but with descripters like funky, mushroom, old boots and overly oaked it’s no wonder I had to go a up a few price points to find a winner like Neyers Napa Valley Syrah. But I’m glad I did.
Recently poured at the L’amour du Vin fundraiser for the Knoxville Museum of Art, Neyers will make you think kaboom, this wine is the bomb! With provencial herbs and a distinctly Rhone style, Neyers has a touch of brickish color and requires some polite patience while it opens up and is ready for Friday night dinner.
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz 2002 ($10)
If California falls short in producing quaffable Syrah, Washington state more than makes up for it. Columbia Crest has been around for years and my friend, Katy, from Chicago refers to it as grocery store wine: it can be found everywhere. I first heard about some great accolades of the 2002 Columbia Crest from a national periodical that dubbed it the number one value of the year for under $25. So I had to pop one.
The bottom line is that here’s the epitome of excellent American Syrah, and it’s a super value for ten bucks. With dark fruit, closer to the Aussie style, and a ready-to-go gulpability, the 2002 Columbia Crest Grand Estate Shiraz is a sheer knockout.
* A version of this column was publishes in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel