Written on: 27/12/2009 by degbert (120 reviews written)
I'm no Shiraz expert. In fact, there was a time not so long ago that I thought Shiraz and Syrah were two completely different grapes, albeit both red ones. Silly me for not reckoning on the French insisting on using their own word for the same thing. Or is it shame on everyone else - especially given that the grape essentially hails from France? Well, I'll sit on the fence on that one, I dare say the discussion will continue elsewhere.
Anyway, having been taken aback by the brilliance of the blends of the Bordeaux region, and having been inspired by the restrained simplicity and fruitful brilliance of Burgundy's Gamay and Pinot Noir examples, I was steered towards the Rhone Valley by a friendly wine merchant.
Putting aside the well-known, well-documented and hugely blended Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhone, I decided to stay away from the too obvious and try my luck elsewhere. Crozes-Hermitages is a well-known area, for sure, less celebrated than the smaller (and more expensive) Hermitage area, so budget and a sense of exploration put me in touch with a 2006 Cave de Tain. This, it turns out, is made exlusively from Syrah, on sun-baked slopes to the east of the Rhone.
On the strength of other Shiraz encounters, from other parts of the globe, I was a little, well, unsure. I feared an uninvited taste explosion of sweet, baked dark fruit, topped with too much pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and a transparent whack of vanilla aridness as the heavy tannin kicked in. A sort of twilight mugging by a gang of antipodean thugs called Oaky, Spicy and Fruity, with their mate Headachey promising to turn up at any time. This is my experience of the New World Shirazes (is that the plural?). Perhaps a bit harsh, but you get the point.
It didn't happen, I'm pleased to say. OK, some of it turns up. But the dark fruit is not sweetened with a crumble topping, it is a plum jelly, not a plum tart; oak appears to be nowhere in the equation, or if used at all is very cleverly restrained, and as a result the finish is less abrupt, smoother in fact. Less alcohol makes the initial taste an easier ride too. The overall effect is impressive, and moves me to suggest that my previous belief that Syrah and Shiraz are different grapes, well there's perhaps more to this than we realised.
This is Shiraz that hasn't been sat in the sun too long, the grapes are worked for their dark fruit flavour, and little else is dragged along to help sedate them, because it is more subtle than a new world counterpart.
I've not even scratched the surface of Northern Rhone, but having spent less than 10 quid on this, I'd say that's a lot of wine for the money and certainly enough for me to continue looking at the area. The wine merchant in question was Majestic, who deserve their share of the credit for the recommendation.
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