In most grocery store wine sections you’ll usually find bottles of Syrah in the same vicinity of bottles of Petite Sirah. Unfortunately this is probably because the person who stocks those shelves doesn’t know very much about wine. Though it sounds the same, Petite Sirah is not a baby version of Syrah. It’s a completely different grape, known in other climes as Durif. About the only thing they share in common is that both types of grapes are used to make red wine.
Shiraz, on the other hand, is Syrah… just different names. The Australians call it Shiraz and claim they are being true to the grape’s origin, which is reputed to be the city of Shiraz in southwest Iran… known as the city of Poetry, Wine and Roses. The French apparently wanted to make Shiraz sound a little more pretentious, so they renamed it Syrah. The Californians knew that they could charge more for a wine made from a French sounding grape, so they stuck with Syrah for the most part. Since they are grown upside down, the Australians may just like to be a little contrary too. They also produce Durif.
Can all of this get a bit confusing? You bet shiraz.
Pinot Now Recommendation:
Yellowtail Shiraz or Yellowtail Reserve Shiraz, $6 to $12 – it’s inexpensive, it’s rich, it’s inky dark and chocolaty. You can buy it at your local gas station, and it’s probably made using techniques that are illegal in other parts of the world, but Yellowtail Shiraz has won my personal wine tasting competition two years in a row. Serve it in a decanter and your guests will say it’s the best wine they ever had.
It is commonly thought that the rule of temperature for serving wines is: red at room temperature, white chilled in the fridge. Though common, these guidelines are, without being too judgmental, wrong. The mistaken idea that red wine should be served at room temperature evolved out of the intended wisdom that red wine should be served at cellar* room temperature. Whereas we like to keep the temperature of rooms in which we actually spend time around 70 to 72 degrees F, cellars tend to be much cooler because they are insulated by the earth. And wine, when extracted from these underground caverns and served above ground in a dining room for example, will have a refreshingly cool sensation on your palate.
White wines, as well, are often served too cold. When you serve a white wine right out of the fridge, its flavors will be subdued and your palate will be slightly numbed by it… which is a great trick if you’re serving swill, but not if you want to enjoy a nice wine to it’s fullest. Whites too should be served right around cellar temp.
So how cold is cool? Technically speaking, somewhere between 55 and 65 degrees F – generally 55 to 60 for whites, 60 to 65 for reds. As a frame of reference, if you went to the beach right now and stuck your feet in the water you might let out a yelp… but ocean temp in Southern Cali right now is around 56 degrees F… perfect for a nice Sauvignon Blanc.
*For those of you from Los Angeles, a cellar is a room, or series of rooms, under the ground floor of a house. In other parts of the world these things are common and are also known as basements. Good places for storing wine, rat poison, and unwanted children.