Category Archives: Shiraz/Syrah

Too Warm? Too Cool?

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“What’s the right temperature for serving my wine?”  One of those tricky questions I’m often asked.  My usual reply: “whatever temperature you enjoy” rarely ends the conversation.  But it’s true.  Each of us has our own preferences; take a friend of ours – she prefers her white wines much cooler than I would want to serve them, so cool, in fact, that I think much of the flavour is lost. We’ll never agree – but that’s true for so much in wine.

But, back to the original question.  The guidelines recommended by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) allow for individual tastes and so quote a range of temperatures for each different type of wine.  So, for example, they suggest sparkling wines should be served well chilled (6 – 10°C, 43 – 50°F), light-bodied whites and rosés a degree or so warmer and fuller-bodied and oaked whites a little warmer still, say 10 – 13°C, 50 – 55°F.  Unless you’ve got a temperature-controlled wine fridge, you’ll need to experiment a bit, but a half an hour to an hour in a domestic fridge should be about right.

And for reds?  You’ve probably heard the advice about serving at room temperature.  But, when that was first suggested, it was before centrally-heated houses were common and rooms were usually far cooler than we would expect today.   WSET suggest around 15 – 18°C (59 – 64°F) for most reds but with lighter-bodied examples, such as Beaujolais and Valpolicella, lightly chilled to around 13°C, 55°F.

A bottle I opened recently took the idea of correct temperature to a whole new level with a touch-sensitive heat guide on the label. 

temperature-indicatorWakefield’s Clare Valley Shiraz (Majestic, £8.99) has a lovely, fresh black cherry nose with attractive dried fruits – dates and prunes – and spice on a rich and full palate.  A delicious, flavoursome wine, perfect with game, red meat or hard cheeses – even if we did serve it ‘too warm’ according to the temperature guide on the bottle!

The Place for Syrah

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Millions of holidaymakers will speed south through France on the Autoroute du Soleil this summer heading for the Mediterranean resorts and beyond.  Few, I suspect, will realise (or even care) just how close they are passing to some of the world’s most famous vineyards.  Those of Burgundy are generally just out of sight from the road but, if you stop a little later in the journey, things are very different.  From several of the picnic sites on the stretch between Vienne and Valence, the spectacularly steep and rocky vineyards of the northern Rhône can be seen clearly on the far bank of the river.

Your first thought might be to question why anyone would choose to plant vines in such difficult terrain.  The answer: to give the grapes the best chance of ripening.  The majority of the vines here will be Syrah (although the grape name will rarely appear on the label) – a variety that thrives on plenty of heat and sunshine.  It’s the same variety that, under its alternative name of Shiraz, does particularly well in Australia’s warmest areas.  In fact, it’s that country’s most widely planted variety, accounting for around 30% of the annual harvest.

But the northern Rhône is nowhere near as warm or sunny as the Barossa so, here, the Syrah vines need everything to be in their favour to ripen well: the steep, south-east facing vineyards get the most sunshine and are sheltered from cold northerly winds; the rocky soil is well drained and the rocks play their part by reflecting more heat onto the vines.

Even so, bottles from these vineyards are often a world away in style from an Aussie Shiraz.

Saint JosephThe one I opened recently was only 12.5% alcohol.  Cave Saint Desirat’s Saint Joseph (Waitrose, £13.99) is delightfully elegant with lovely raspberry and blackberry fruit and a hint of pepperiness – ideal with a steak or, perhaps better, pan fried venison.  A lovely wine – and one that is only possible by growers battling the daunting slopes you’ll see if you pause on your route through France.