John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for October 1st – A Turkey Shoot, Shiraz/Syrah School & Top Smart Buys
The Shotgun Approach to Thanksgiving, Two Schools of Syrah/Shiraz: Where do You Fit In? & Top Ten Smart Buys
Top Ten Smart Buys: The Top Ten wines for savvy buyers this week includes a terrific $20 Niagara chardonnay from the winemaker who is setting the pace for the grape in Canada, a very fine 1er Cru Chablis for $26.95, a single vineyard Barolo from the great 2004 vintage for just $33.95, and a Chilean Malbec that will have the Argentines across the border questioning their South American domination of the grape. See them all here.
Thanksgiving Wine Menu
My approach to drinking over long thanksgiving meals is to dispense with the rigidity of specific wines with specific courses, and take the ‘shotgun’ approach instead (the scattergun variety, un-rifled for less accuracy but greater coverage): lay out a bunch of different bottles on the table at the same time, and let family and guests taste whatever, and in whichever order they wish. If your shotgun is well loaded with buckshot and the spray wide enough, you’ll hit at least a bullseye or two. No matter if some innocent dishes or wines get hurt along the way – this is convivial family dining, not a matter of life and death after all. I take this approach mostly because at my place, a myriad of dishes are thrown onto to the table at the same time and my plate fills with dozens of disparate and distinct flavours, making a single sniper shot impossible. I like to include a wide range of flavours and textures, while at the same time selecting wines that are versatile enough to play nice with most of the dishes. This means generally bright, fresh, palate-cleansing acidity, minimal oak (except in the fireplace, where it belongs), light tannins that won’t dry out that over-cooked bird any further, and occasionally a pinch of sweetness to take on that sweet potato or pumpkin pie. Here are four reasonably priced but respectable, versatile, virtually failsafe wines that I’d be happy to have on my table this thanksgiving, pulled from the October 1st VINTAGES release:
NV BRISEBARRE BRUT VOUVRAY AC Touraine, Méthode Traditionelle $18.95
2008 DR. HERMANN RIESLING KABINETT QmP, Erdener Treppchen $16.95
2008 ROSEHALL RUN COLD CREEK CABERNET FRANC VQA Prince Edward County $22.95
2006 ROYAL TOKAJI BLUE LABEL 5 PUTTONYOS TOKAJI ASZU Hungary $19.95
Two Schools of Syrah/Shiraz: Where do You Fit In?
The feature this week is Syrah and Shiraz from around the world. Given the radical variations in style of which the grape is capable, it’s more than a little misleading to lop them all under the same category on a wine list, or put them side by side on a wine store shelf. Even the name used on the label, i.e. shiraz vs. syrah, can mislead you into expecting a certain style; remember the wine is often named by accidental geography or by the marketing department, not by the winemaker or after the most appropriate “style school”.
The variety in question may be identical, but it’s a long way from the northern Rhône Valley to the Barossa Valley, and the wines could hardly be more different, save for a couple of common features such as deep purple colour and a telltale whiff of black pepper. Beyond that, alcohol can range from 12% to 15+%, flavours from fresh black berry to fully jammy and medicinal, and texture from soft and cuddly to ferociously firm.
There’s little secret which style I prefer drinking, and if you’d like to ‘align’ your palate with syrah/shiraz schools from around the world, take this little taste test. Find some friends (ideally), pick up the 6 representative wines listed here below, open and put them in a paper bag (grab them at the LCBO checkout counter), have someone else number the bags at random so everyone is equally in the dark, then taste, compare and record the ones that set your taste buds racing.
Then it’s time for the revelation; if your top wines included the 2005 BECKETT’S FLAT MARGARET RIVER SHIRAZ Margaret River, Western Australia $21.95, the 2007 GUIGAL CROZES-HERMITAGE AC $24.95 or the 2008 DOMAINE LES YEUSES LES ÉPICES SYRAH Vins de Pays d’Oc $14.95, you’re a fan of what I call the “old school”: more reserved, spicy, fresh and firm syrah.
If your top wines included 2007 FESS PARKER THE BIG EASY SYRAH Santa Barbara County $34.95, the 2009 PÉREZ CRUZ LIMITED EDITION SYRAH Maipo Alto, Maipo Valley $19.95 or the 2009 THORN-CLARKE TERRA BAROSSA SHIRAZ Barossa, South Australia $16.95, then you’re in the ‘new school’ camp, alongside lovers of rich, ripe, bold and heady shiraz. For some additional education, check out what I and the other WineAlign critics had to say about these wines, and you’re alignment (and ours) will become clearer.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier