HEAVY, ripe and alcoholic expressions of shiraz (or syrah) have given it an unfair reputation for brashness. While this generalisation was never completely true, the current popularity of cooler-climate versions has brought freshness, subtlety and balance more to the fore.
Given this trend, shiraz has been selected for this quarter’s Spectrum Seal of Approval awards. But what do we expect of it? Well, these wines are normally dark in colour with bramble and blueberry fruit along with a spice and black pepper backdrop. Sometimes there are also earthy and savoury touches too. To be given a Seal of Approval, they should not only exhibit those typical characteristics but must also be widely available and give better than average quality for their price.
Starting at the lower price points, an excellent French version is available from Languedoc – 2011 Extra Special Pays D’Oc Shiraz (£5, Asda). This provides all the customary touches of bramble and sweet spices (nutmeg in this case) but embellishes them with textured black cherry fruit and earthy, beetroot-style depth. It’s a well-crafted shiraz at a good price.
A light, modern version from Australia, Simply Shiraz Reserve (£4.99, Tesco) has appealing floral touches that underpin fresh raspberry and cinnamon flavours. The hint of bramble adds a little black fruit complexity to a delicate and restrained package that is a million miles from the oak-dominated blockbuster shiraz of yesteryear.
If brand is important, opt for 2012 McGuigan Black Label Shiraz (£6.99, Morrisons). This is a little fuller and riper than the Simply version but provides smooth, warm and slightly leafy wine with pronounced plum fruit. It also has a traditional spice finish that includes an enticing burst of menthol.
For quality and value, my favourite in this category goes to 2011 Cimarosa South Eastern Australia Shiraz (£3.99, Lidl), a juicy wine with classic spice and vanilla undertones, well balanced acidity and slightly minty cherry fruit. Complex and layered, it is not, but for well rounded, everyday shiraz at a cracking price, it takes some beating.
Top-level syrah with gravitas is significantly more expensive. For special occasion examples, go first to its spiritual home in areas such as Hermitage, Cornas and Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhône. A less expensive illustration of the region’s strengths is the delightful 2010 Taste the Difference Crozes Hermitage (£9.79, Sainsbury’s), with substantial cherry fruit, balanced, integrated acidity and tannins supplemented by influences of liquorice and perfumed hints of bramble.
But do not ignore the excellent (though top dollar) versions from New Zealand’s North Island or from the cooler, coastal regions of Chile. To get an inkling of why Chilean syrah attracts so much attention, seek out the smooth 2009 Mayu Reserva Syrah (£7.98, Asda). The tannin is a tad firmer than the Rhône version but the customary bramble flavours contain some extra damson and green pepper influences.
Skip over the Andes for the slightly lighter Argentinian 2012 Montemar Andes Shiraz (£7.75, Oddbins), which has traditional vaguely earthy, spicy bramble flavours but the lighter texture also gives some soft and juicy raspberry fruit with hints of herbs.
The 2010 Peter Lehmann BVS Shiraz (£9.99, Majestic) sneaks into the under £10 category and gets my top marks. Aromatic, stylish and robust, it delivers delightfully mellow and intense cherry, bramble and chocolate flavours that tick all the important shiraz boxes.
Today’s shiraz is a versatile food wine. Better still, there are reliable yet varied styles available at everyday prices. n
2011 Le Versant Viognier Foncalieu Languedoc, France, 13.5 per cent
This is an appealing, fresh, ripe white with delightful peach and melon fruit along with the textured depth viognier does so well. There is also a hint or two of juniper to lighten its long, lemon-influenced finish. £7.99, Wine Rack
2010 Barossa Valley Petit Verdot South Australia, 13.5 per cent
Because it ripens late in the northern hemisphere, petit verdot is often used to give a blend structure and substance. Here, all on its own, it provides dense plum, blackcurrant and beetroot flavours with flowery aromas, a spicy, vanilla finish and delightfully rounded tannins. £9.99, M&S