Wines Direct started its life in the venerable cellars and vineyards of Bordeaux, a land steeped in the history and tradition of wine. I don’t think Paddy Keogh, himself a Francophile through and through, ever thought Australia would woo him with its vinous charms, but that’s the wonderful thing about wine- it constantly surprises us.
This week’s celebration of Shiraz and Syrah is also a celebration of the diversity of wine, even when made from the same grape, some a world apart, some separated by a few kilometres.
Syrah is originally from France, and the grape was brought to Australia in the 1830s. The reason for the name change to Shiraz is unclear, but it could be as simple as mislabelled cuttings or the strong Australian accent. It seems not to have any connection to the eponymous town in Iran where an ancient legend had it originating.
The two names have now come to identify different styles of the same grape, regardless of where they’re grown. Shiraz indicates a lush, ripe style, whereas Syrah is expected to be more subtle, with finer tannins.
Of course preconceptions and snobbery play a big part in our choice of wine. There are those who were introduced to wine by the no-nonsense labelling of Australia, discovering that they loved a Shiraz or Chardonnay and could choose a style they liked easily. These drinkers are put off by the mysterious labels of the old world, so while a Crozes-Hermitage might be exactly the style they were looking for, it was impossible to know.
On the other hand, many wine lovers stay strictly to the old world, believing new world wines to be all big and brash. They may have a point, but the last 20 years have seen a shift towards subtlety in Shiraz from Australia. Believe it or not, the oldest Shiraz/Syrah vines in the world are from Australia, with vines growing in Tahbilk since 1860.
One of the reasons Paddy was seduced by Australia all those years ago was because he took an old-world approach to the new world. He walked the land and found those mavericks who wanted to buck the trend of shouty wines which were flooding the Australian market. People like Mark Lloyd, who introduced Sangiovese in 1985, and blended it with Shiraz to stunning effect.
Australia has also embraced the regional differences in Shiraz, with the cooler climate of Frankland River giving the Alkoomi wines an elegance which will win over the doubters.
Of course, Australian Shiraz is proud of its difference from the wines of the Rhône, and this New World case shows off the chutzpah of this grape and its antipodean champions.
While Shiraz often stands alone in Australian wines, it is more often than not blended in France with, among other varieties, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault. This case reflects both the traditional and the experimental in the old world. The classic Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre blend of the Bergerie de L’Hortus is from Pic St Loup, not the Rhône, and Jean Orliac was the first to plant vines in this region, producing an elegant wine from an area previously known for blockbusters. Organic production and the reduction of sulphites features across this range, echoing the move towards sustainability of the current generation of winemakers.
If you are one of the cohort who finds European wine labels too much bother, the Kolfok Querschnitt is probably not going to make your life any easier, but you will be rewarded for making this blind leap. Meaning a troublesome teenager in local Austrian slang, the name alone sounds bold! Being bold is a characteristic necessary in a good winemaker, and, and we, as drinkers, are rewarded for not always playing it safe, putting away our snobbery, and taking a jump out of our comfort zones.