Copper Moon Shiraz and ‘Screw it!’ Shiraz.

Syrah or Shiraz? What makes these red wines different?

Wine Wise with Doug Sloan

Until Australia’s inventive winemakers decided to call their Syrah-based wines ‘Shiraz’, the original historically correct and generally blended wines – grown in the Rhône Valley in south-eastern France – were quietly sinking into comparative obscurity.

Most of the wines produced on the slopes of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley are red wines made from the Syrah grape, sometimes blended with small quantities of white Roussanne or Marsanne grapes.  Despite the ‘edgy’ intensity and dusty blackberry fruit aromas and flavours of these classic reds, the wines were often confused with the riper and much more accessible reds – blends based on Grenache, as well as Syrah and Mourvèdre – from the much better known Châteauneuf-du-Pape region in the southern Rhône Valley.

Today, the best-selling Shiraz wines in British Columbia are consistently ‘Cellared in Canada’ blends of imported and domestic wines.  Most wine writers overlook these upstart and affordable wines on the grounds that they are chimeras – loosely defined by Merriam-Wester as monsters from Greek mythology that breathe fire and have a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail – a bit muddled?

Be that as it may, the popularity of these wines with everyday wine lovers in incontestable.  They dominate the market for Shiraz… even if they are rather difficult to define and virtually impossible to credit to any respectable wine growing region.

Rather than pooh-pooh’ing wines like ‘Screw It!” Shiraz (208801) $8.20 and Copper Moon Shiraz (874552) $8.85, perhaps we ought to be trying to decide what makes them so outrageously popular? This has apparently never occurred to more exalted wine writers.  With this in mind, WineWise convened an expert panel.

‘Screw It!” Shiraz (208801) $8.20 is dry and brightly acidic on first sip, aromas of fresh cut green pepper and some light woodsy vanilla are intriguingly overlaid with cassis – the French and more acceptably wine-sophisticate term for blackcurrant.  Those same flavours follow through into a clean, dry finish reminiscent of an affordable Chilean – or even French -red wine.

With a jammy, fruity cherry candy and cola flavour profile that slides into muddled blackberry and old wood, Copper Moon Shiraz (874552) $8.85 tastes like an Australian red made by a Californian winemaker.  With an abundance of sweet fruit, the wine needs no food. When Yellow Tail Shiraz (624544) $11.35 made its amazing debut in North America in 2001, it shook the wine world.  By 2003 it was by far the best selling imported wine and by 2005 it had sales of 7.5 million cases in North America. An overwhelming number of wine lovers obviously liked the sweeter, fruitier style of Yellow Tail Shiraz.

Qui Ocho Syrah (772582) $13.45 comes to us from the Colchagua Valley in Chile.  Without being totally dry and dusty in the style of the Rhône Valley, it flirts with dark berry fruit and finishes with a medley of bittersweet chocolate, sage and smoked meat.  A French winemaker would appreciate this red!

Still in South America but from Argentina, Decero Syrah (157396) $24.10 simmers with dark fruit aromas and spicy flavours.  Bushels of black cherry and blackberry fruit deceive the senses into thinking this luscious red is sweet before its combination of French oak, ripe tannic earthiness and peppery herbs linger into a dry finish. No slouches when it comes to Syrah, winemakers in South Africa are developing their own opulently fruity ways with the Rhône Valley’s noblest red wine grape.  Glen Carlou Syrah (153841) $24.75 adds 6 per cent Mourvèdre for spiciness and dusky dark colour to a melting pot of raspberry and dired cherry fruit aromas and flavours that finishes with a subtle twist of cacao and green garden herbs. Any French winemaker would be very pleased with this uncompromising, intense red wine.

Here in British Columbia we’ve recently been acknowledged internationally as a hot-bed of world-class Syrah.  Bench 1775 Syrah (441741) $27.55 is grown in Oxbow Vineyard, on the original ‘Golden Mile’ in Osoyoos. This darkly ripe expression of Syrah simmers with sage and sun-baked anise, savoury herb sliding into dusty new leather and bright blueberry fruit notes.

But when you have to serve a cheerful and easy to appreciate red at a barbeque for a large crowd – don’t overlook the popularity of ‘Screw it!’ or Copper Moon Shiraz!

Reach WineWise by emailing douglas_sloan@yahoo.com