This week we look at a grape and a region that make some of the best wines I know to pair with hearty winter menus, especially dishes that emphasize mushrooms and red wine.
Try a new wine this week!
Syrah has long been established as one of the world’s greatest red wine grape varieties. It’s considered an “international” variety, because it’s now grown in just about every country that makes wine. Its dry red wine typically shows a deep dark color and bold, berry-like flavors. They’re a great match for hearty winter menus and flavorful cheeses.
Like most of the world’s best-loved wine grapes, syrah came from France. Along the northern Rhone River the syrah grape reigns, especially for the famous wines Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. Each will often contain a small amount of white wine grapes, but the syrah is so deep in color that it adds complexity without making the wine appreciably lighter. Some of these wines sell for over $150 a bottle!
Forunately, both Cote-Rotie and Hermitage have neighbors that are perhaps less great, but also less expensive. St. Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage are two. Southern Rhones combine syrah with other local varieties like mourvedre, grenache and others. These are called “Rhone Blends”, whether they’re the French originals or grown somewhere else.
It was Australian winemakers who really popularized the syrah grape (which they call shiraz) during the 1990’s. As production increased, prices dropped, and many shiploads were shipped from southern Australia’s wine regions to the U.S. and around the world.
Today you can find syrah from many countries, from Chile to South Africa, California, even Italy and Spain. One of the best places to have emerged is Washington state. It’s sunny, dry climate and chilly nights provide ideal conditions.
Ron Bunnell of Bunnell Family Cellars has been making Washington syrah for a long time. At $40+ per bottle it’s not inexpensive, but shows what is possible for a single vineyard syrah, with limited yields focusing flavors into a wine that is deep in color and rich in flavor.
Only 274 cases of this 2004 Yakima Valley hillside vineyard, which is at 1300 feet elevation, one of the highest around. Limited irrigation provided small, intensely flavored grapes. It was aged in Hungarian oak.
Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.