People often ask me about my favourite grape variety or region and sometimes, very specifically, even about my favourite wine. I always reply that I can’t answer such questions; that there isn’t an answer! What makes wine so fascinating is its incredible diversity and, even after years in the wine scene, you continue to discover something new every day.
For me, wine only exists in the plural. It would be terrible to choose just one wine as a favourite. Furthermore, I believe the circumstances in which we enjoy our wine play a major part in shaping our preferences. It goes without saying that my favourite wine for a cheery spring day or a warm summer evening differs from my favourite wine in winter. But I have to admit that in the late autumn season, there’s a very special variety of grape that I particularly enjoy: the Syrah.
There are few other wines better suited to the darker mood of cold and damp autumn days (or to the game dishes that are such a popular choice at this time of year!) than the deep, dark, wonderfully rich red wines produced from the Syrah grape. And what makes the Syrah particularly fascinating is that it is found in two very different varieties, both of which are unmistakable and both of which are among the great classics of the wine world.
In its traditional home, the Rhône Valley in France, Syrah typically has an intense flavour of cassis and plum, often accompanied by distinctive spicy notes of black pepper, violet, olives or smoked ham. The best provenances are the wine-growing villages of the northern Rhône (the southern part of the valley tends to be dominated by Grenache grapes). Côte Rôtie, Cornas, Saint Joseph, and in particular, the steep slopes of the Hill of Hermitage, are regarded by connoisseurs as the epitome of the classic Syrah style, evocative of the ‘ancient world’.
But the Syrah has also developed a highly distinctive taste profile in the ‘New World’. It was Australia, in particular, that became the new home to this grape variety and the Syrah has been writing a remarkable success story ever since 1830. ‘Down under’, the warmer regions of South Australia, such as the famous Barossa Valley and the McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, are extremely well known for cultivating the grape known here as Shiraz.
However, this Australian Shiraz differs from the wines of the Rhône Valley in that it usually has slightly less spicy tones and a more succulent, fruity character. Its frequently powerful flavour is reminiscent of dark cherry or wild berry jam, enriched by hints of dark chocolate. These Shiraz wines are exceptionally full-bodied and complement intensely flavoured game dishes wonderfully.