Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wine Study- "Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz"

- Jancis Robinson

We continue a series of sessions with the Francesca's at Sunset and Brannon's Cafe teams we are calling "Wine Study."  We are meeting every other Saturday for the purpose of expanding our knowledge and experience with wine.  Our guide is Jancis Robinson's Wine Course DVD, an excellent resource!  The more times I watch an episode the more depth and detail I see that Mrs. Robinson has poured into the television series.  Aired in the United Kingdom in 1995 and is fascinating to see both areas where the wine industry has not changed and areas where it has changed dramatically!

Episode 5- Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz is a example where we can see a change in the wine world; in the mid-late nineties Syrah was a darling variety, many of us expected to see it explode in sales.  Myself included and we can see the anticipation in the faces of the Syrah growers and vintners. Only that sales explosion never happened, and today many wine drinkers still think of Syrah as one of the "other reds" and not as one of the greatest wine grapes in the world.  Jancis and the personalities she introduces to us will show us otherwise... 

Jancis has shown us in episode 1 through 3; where the New World and Old World are different; climate, geology, and techniques. She has also shown us the commonality of the monumental struggle to overcome the unique challenges each region and each producer faces. Episode 4- Sauvignon Blanc added another layer of complexity as Mrs. Robinson showed us the dynamic and bold people who made the world's most famous examples of the wine; their personalties mirror the "savage" characteristics of the grape!  All this foundation comes together is this show about our beloved Syrah!  Here we will see the how two men in very different parts of the world use the same grape to bring their communities  together and make them prosperous at the same time, in such a way that it positivity effects the very livelihoods of everyone in the community... 

We start out in the Northern Rhone Valley, in France, as we hear about the sinister side of success; in this case attracting an armed gang that attacked the home Marcel Guigal of E. Guigal fame. As the information is filled in we find out that in addition to threats Monsieur Guigal has received other offers/demands for his wine; including blank checks, Ferraris and women!  As the tour continues we see the cave where the barrels of aging wine are lined up in a peaceful setting they call "The Cathedral to Wine."  In bright contrast doors open to the mechanized and computerized receiving lines, two of them in case one fails, where there is a buzz of activity as growers are bringing their crops in to sell to Marcel. We are shown how tough and detail oriented he can be and we can see how his success supports this thriving farm community and how the community supports the Guigals and the dynamic tension this relationship creates. 

As an intermission to the drama we visit California with Jancis... Fred Cline, of Cline Cellars, has a vineyard gold mine in the Oakland area where the sandy soil  has some of the oldest Mourvèdre vines in California, planted by the European immigrant farmers.  Next we meet Doug Danielak who has a bad case of Syrah fever as he shows Jancis the Paras Vineyard where the famous Jade Mountain Syrahs were coming from, alas the brand was sold off and lost it's former glory. However the wine is still being made by Doug under the Paras Vineyard label!!! “Syrah is one of the world’s greatest grapes!” Doug says, and he should know as someone who has made some of the best!

"In California Syrah was an ultra fashionable rarity in and in Australia it grew like a weed..." Jancis expalins as she gives us the brief history of the Barossa Valley which was settled by Lutherans fleeing Germany's turmiol of the time. Their hard work build this community and transformed it into a little bit of Germany in Australia. In the 1970’s the big wine business came to the Barossa, the Accountants had full control.  The accountants had worked out the cost of making wine and when a glut of grapes came along in 1979 the big business did not honor their contracts and refused to buy ANY grapes from the Barossa Valley.  In steps Peter Lehmann, son of a Lutheran pastor, built a local winery on the fly and bought the Valley’s entire production for the vintage; saving many of the local farmers from financial ruin. Affectionately his peers nicknamed him the “Bishop of Barossa.”  He rules from the "weighbridge" at his winery where the growers bring him their grapes to buy.  Here too his support of the community and the communities support of Peter is the only way all of them were able to find success. You can see the growers gratitude and appreciation of Peter in their faces. There is a very genuine, honest and sincere atmosphere here at the weighbridge, it has a comfortable and friendly feeling. Mr.  Lehmann also says; “Shiraz is one of the world’s greatest grapes.”

So, the same way the dynamic personalities said a lot about the wines in episode four; similarly these generous, supporting and driven men who make some of the world's greatest Syrah also mirror the wine they make.  I have not had any other wine as frequently and I can not find another wine that delivers so much complexity and flavor at all price points. For me; Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz IS the world's greatest grape variety!!!

If you will read this handout which has a few notes from the video and a lot of information and links to more on the web related to the topics Jancis covers, hopefully it adds to the subjects and fills you in on where the personalities from the video are today.  It is my sincere hope that you are finding this blog informative and instructional

To check your learning experience and highlight the most important information here is the quiz.  And the quiz with answers.  And please reply to this blog; is Syrah A.K.A. Shiraz your  favorite wine?

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