April 25, 2017
Syrah or Shiraz great for the Grilling Season.
A great choice for grilling season: no matter how you say it – or slice it.
As a meat-loving Albertan, it doesn’t get any better than that moment when your favourite cut is served hot off the grill... accompanied by an equally substantive glass of red wine. And, regardless of where it hails from, Syrah – also known as Shiraz – is the perfect go-to wine for barbecuing. So why is Syrah and meat such a great match? The secret is in the big, bold personality you get from a grape variety that is known for its swagger.
When pairing wine with BBQ, there are generally two qualities you are looking for: a full body and ample tannins.
Whether it is chicken, pork, lamb, or beef, BBQ tends to need wines that are fullbodied in order to stand up to the intense flavour of the meat. You don’t get much fuller-bodied than a good Syrah!
Syrah also fulfills the second requirement , as it is rich in tannins. Tannin serves a practical purpose: helping to break down fat in meat. The fat returns the favour by softening the bitterness of the wine, and helping to bring out the wine’s flavours. Tannin and salt are also very good dance partners. Salty foods mellow tannins and allow the fruit component of the wine to shine. And as most grill masters know, salt figures prominently in barbecue rubs.
Same grape. Different flavours.
When we discuss bringing out the flavours in Syrah, what exactly are we talking about? Well, that depends. Syrah, or Shiraz – whatever you want to call it – can taste and feel quite different depending on its origin.
The name “Syrah” is most often associated with wines produced in France. No other country on the planet grows more Syrah, and the zenith of the grape’s quality is achieved in the country’s Northern Rhone Valley. Over centuries, or perhaps millennia, Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Saint-Joseph have made the grape famous amongst wine lovers. In this part of the world, the wines tend to have bright blackberry, or black currant flavours with an unmistakable black pepper spiciness. And it is that slightly smoky black pepper quality that makes pairing Syrah with grilled meat a natural choice. As Syrah ages, accents of cured meat, bacon fat, olive and tobacco begin to emerge – giving the wine a savoury complexity. But France does not hold a monopoly on quality Syrah. In fact, Syrah has proliferated throughout the winemaking world.
Australia is the world’s second largest grower of Syrah, and it is here where the wine is known as Shiraz. It is one of the hotter wine growing regions on the planet (particularly in the Barossa Valley, which is the heart of Shiraz country). As a result, Shiraz here takes on a slightly different feel than its French sibling. The fruit flavours of blackberry and black current become unctuous – jammy in flavour and feel. Over-ripe blueberries also come to mind. Instead of the overt pepperiness found in French Syrah, Aussie Shiraz is so rich, it can pick up an obvious chocolate character. As well, the tannins of these types of Shiraz tend be a little less astringent, giving the wines a voluptuous, velvety texture.
We have all heard of Australia’s famed love of BBQ. In the Barossa Valley, a plate of BBQ will probably consist of not one, but more likely three different types of protein. And it is this type of feast that Shiraz is built for. Sausage, lamb chops and steak all on your plate at once? That is ideal for the smoky richness of Shiraz.
French Syrah and Australian Shiraz have both made an impression on the wine-buying public. So much so, that “Syrah” and “Shiraz” now represent a connotation of style that the French and Australians have respectively made famous. As a result, it is very common to find different wines from the same country, labelled “Syrah” and “Shiraz.” For example, some South African wines strive to emulate the spicy, bright French characteristics – and therefore use the name “Syrah”. Conversely, others set out to capture the big, lush overtones found in Australia – and label their wines “Shiraz”.
Other regions that have invested in Syrah include southern France, Spain, Tuscany, California, Washington State, Argentina and Chile. These wines can offer a treasure trove of value. We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that some of Canada’s most exciting reds as of late have been French-styled Syrahs, with many being produced in the southern Okanagan.
Welcome to BBQ season. Just make sure you have what you need: propane, or charcoal; your favourite cut of meat; and a great glass of Syrah... or Shiraz. Like propane, it’s always a good idea to have a backup... just in case you run out!
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