Old World Shiraz

December 12, 2007

What an oxymoron. Syrah, the grape they refer to in Australia as Shiraz, is mostly planted in the old world in the Rhone Valley of France and there it is referred to the same way as it is in most of the US, Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere: Syrah. They are experimenting with Syrah in other European countries, and also generally call it Syrah. Not so in some parts of Hungary, as in the example of Vesztergombi, a great wine maker from the Szekszard region, about 200kms south of Budapest. He calls it Shiraz.

I had a discussion with Mr Vesztergombi a couple of months ago and I asked him why he calls it Shiraz when in most of the old world this grape is referred to as Syrah. He promptly set the record straight that what I refer to as old world is actually really quite new when you put it in perspective. Syrah, or Shiraz, was first planted by the Persians near the city of Shiraz in where Iran is today 7,000 (!) years ago. They have been making wine from this grape for 7 millenniums in this region and our measly 2-3,000 year wine tradition pales in comparison. So the reason Mr. Vesztergombi calls his Syrah Shiraz is to yield to tradition and give respect to the origins of the grape that he is using for this fantastic wine.

The Vesztergombi Shiraz, 2006 is a mouthful. It is dark, earthy, I taste leather, quite a load of spice that you get from the Shiraz fruit and a long alcoholy finish. I am more and more surprised that wine makers can make young wine, such as this 2006, to be quite full bodied, fruity and complex. This wine is clearly made to satisfy current market demands, which to me means it fits modern tastes and is pushed to market at the earliest possible time. There is nothing wrong with the wine, in fact it is quite nice, but I feel it is almost tastes unnatural for something that was still grapes 14 months ago.

Vesztergombi makes quite a range of reds and whites, though to me there are only two standouts. This Shiraz is one of them and the other is the product of the new Vesztergombi generation, his son and wine maker Csaba. It is aptly named Csaba Cuvee and it is one of the top wines I have ever tasted. It roughly costs 40 euros retail (would probably even pay double for it), but if you can ever taste it I promise it will be a unique experience.

Name: Vesztergombi Shiraz, 2006

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 12 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Vesztergombi Shiraz, 2006


November 8, 2007

You should always do what you do best. In the case of Australians and wine this means Shiraz. These days it is a hip thing to make wine from the Rhone varietal Syrah and call it Shiraz, but really this should be reserved for the Australians, just like Champagne is reserved for the region around Rheims, France.

I like Australian Shiraz. Yes, it is a fruit bomb, yes, it is not very sophisticated or elegant but it is damn good. It just tastes good, it invigorates every tastebud in your mouth, it just takes over from the time it enters your mouth. The other funny thing about Shiraz is that I never had a bad one. Somehow Australians tend to make decent wine, in that most do not rock my socks off, but they never disappoint. You have an expectation and an Australian wine virtually always meets it. I cannot say this for many other nations frankly, as I cannot count how many times I have been disappointed with wines from France, Italy, Hungary, Austria and I could go on. The old world makes some of the most incredible wines in the world, but they also make some of the worst. This is not so much the case with the new world and definitely not with Australia. Maybe the weather? Or is it culture?

I am babbling about this because we picked up a bottle from one of Australia’s largest producers, Penfolds. It is not a pure Shiraz but a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is from their low-end range of Rawson’s Retreat. The wine is cheap (about 8 euros) yet it meets that quality standard you would expect and actually get with Australian wines. It is fruity (very fruity), you discover some dark plumb, maybe a bit of coffee and has strong spicy nose, maybe with a hint of liquorice . You can distinctly taste both the Shiraz and the Cab in this wine, which makes it somewhat interesting. If you do not feel like you want to get out of your comfort zone and do not want to spend a fortune on an expesive Napa Cab, I suggest you grab one of these bottles. It will meet your expectation.

Name: Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet, Rawson’s Retreat, 2006

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 8 euros

Got it at: Bortarsasag, Budapest, Hungary

Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet, Rawson’s Retreat, 2006