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Syrah and Shiraz: The Same Grape

February 15, 2012 04:57 PM ET | Sharla Blanz | Permanent Link

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Last week I conducted an Old World vs. New World wine tasting in a client’s home. This is one of my favorite tastings to do blindly because you have to rely on your senses; pre-conceived notions are useless.

Each flight has one Old World wine and one from the New World. Old World represents wine from European countries such as France, Italy, Spain or Germany to name a few. North and South American wines fall under the New World category, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The last flight of the tasting was Syrah vs. Shiraz. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. It is referred to as Syrah in its country of origin, France, and most other countries, yet in Australia and New Zealand it is know as Shiraz. It produces a deep red wine with bold flavors of red and black fruit. When grown in France, Syrah/Shiraz can also display a smoky quality. Give this wine a little time to age and it will have leather, chocolate and tobacco flavors.

I chose Laurent Betton 2009 Saint Joseph ($29) from the Northern Rhone Valley region in France for the Old World Syrah and the Charles Cimicky 2008 Trumps Shiraz ($19) from Barossa Valley Australia, as the New World respresentative. I brought all of my preconceived notions to the tasting table and was sure that I could spot the differences between these wines. New World wines typically will have riper fruit flavors while Old World wines can show an earthiness or minerality. The wine bottles were covered in brown paper bags.

I tasted the two wines, and then tasted again. This was more challenging than I thought. Both wines had an abundant amount of black fruit on the nose. One wine was balanced in all aspects; flavors, acidity, alcohol and tannins. The other was also well-balanced with bolder flavors. The brown bags were torn-off and the wines were revealed. I was stumped. I had guessed that the Australian Shiraz was Old World and the Syrah from France was New World.

The story doesn’t end here. The next day I wondered, how could Betton’s Syrah taste bigger and bolder than an Australian Shiraz grown in the hot Barossa Valley? Perhaps it had to do with vintage: 2009 was an excellent year in the Northern Rhone Valley and the wines are displaying abundant fruit flavors. I had to try these wines again.

I poured the wines again, and tasted them blind. One wine had more oak aromas and flavors. I had researched both wines and knew that the Australian Shiraz was aged in American oak, I guessed that was the Trumps Shiraz and I was right. Did I accidentally switch my glasses at the tasting a few days before? Maybe I did. What I do know is that both of these wines are made by small producers who tend their own vineyards and put much care into their wines. Both wines were a pleasure to drink and worth trying, whether they are Old or New World.

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