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Pity the poor Syrah. Complex, versatile, balanced, but often misunderstood by wine enthusiasts.
How can this amazingly expressive and versatile wine be misunderstood? There are two reasons. First, many wine drinkers associate Syrah with the ultra jammy, juicy, high-octane and often sweet red Shiraz from Australia that can be had for less than $10 a bottle. This style essentially has defined the grape variety for many wine lovers. After half of a glass of Shiraz, your palate can be overwhelmed. At its best (less sweet versions), this is a wine that is an acceptable accompaniment to your favorite burger or pepperoni pizza.
Second, Syrah is a grape variety that, more than any other, tastes different depending upon whether it is grown in a cool or warm climate. It’s a distinction worth knowing.
The best Syrah is grown in a cool climate such as northern Rhone (France), the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley in California and the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. These wines possess a fabulous savory quality with flavors of smoked meat, white pepper and black olive, accompanied with seductive black cherry. They also have a silky mouth feel without the dry tannin you get from younger reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This means they are enjoyable in their youth. As for food pairing, these Syrahs are as good as any red wine, including my beloved Pinot Noir. Consider them when serving non-beef and fish dishes such as roast lamb, grilled pork tenderloin or sausages, cassoulet, roast duck and chicken.
Warm climate Syrahs from areas such as South Australia (Shiraz) and Napa Valley typically don’t possess the same balance of fruit and acidity and often have a bit of residual sugar with high alcohol, taking on more of the attributes of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (a different grape).
As for the effect on your pocket book, cool climate Syrahs from the regions named above are not of the everyday price point. However, when you are budgeting to spend in the $20-$50 range, there may be no greater value.
This week’s guest blog is by George Staikos, noted educator and founder of The Educated Grape, a company dedicated to interactive wine classes, tastings and special events.
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.