In the New World we label our wines with the name of the grape, and if we don't know the name of the grape we put stupid names on the label--Rubicon or Bitch or Colgin. The Old World, and how is it that Europe is the Old World when really it should just be the Has-Been World, just like it is with people, puts the name of the place where the grapes were grown on the label because this makes it a lot easier to remember that the grapes don't really matter. It's the same reason the Yankees don't put names on the uniforms of the players--all that matters is the Yankees, not the interchangeable prima donnas that wear the uniforms. But by not putting the names of grapes on their labels, the Europeans have created endless confusion for novice wine drinkers. Only experienced wine professionals realize that Barolo is made from the Nebbiolo grape, that Vouvray is Chenin Blanc, and that Chablis is mostly French Colombard, but really minerally French Colombard (though some people claim Chablis is Chardonnay, damned wine Yankees mostly, don't believe them--taste it, just taste it, it can't be Chardonnay). Slowly, but surely, the HoseMaster is helping all of you to understand the different grape varieties. Today's lesson--more of that reddish stuff.
Everyone loves Syrah and nobody buys it. Syrah makes great wines all over the world, from the Barossa Valley in Australia to the great wines of Cote-Rotie in the Northern Rhone, from South Africa to the great Pinot Noirs of Santa Barbara County. But nobody buys it. It's like an OJ Simpson alibi, a Mark McGwire excuse, Sarah Palin's integrity. Nobody buys it. Syrah goes by the name of Shiraz in Australia and South Africa. An apocryphal story goes that the grape originated near the Persian city of Shiraz and that's how its alternative name came about. I find this explanation rather Iranic. Actually, no one knows how Syrah came to be known as Shiraz, though I believe that Shiraz is Syrah's rap name. Fershizzle.
Not so many years ago, many pundits believed that Syrah would be the next Merlot. And now it is. No one buys Merlot either. Syrah was widely planted all over California with the expectation that it would soon be the consumers' choice for every day drinking and by the glass in restaurants. It was often planted where it didn't belong, which is to say everywhere. Now much of it has been torn out and replaced with poverty. Syrah is the David Hasselhoff of grapes--known all over the world and universally mocked.
Interesting facts about Syrah:
Syrah is still called "Sereine" in some parts of France, and "Venus" near Wimbledon.
Syrah can make unpopular wines in both hot and cool climates.
Whereas there are endless annoying puns related to Zin, assholes have for years made "Que Syrah Syrah" the single breathtakingly obvious pun for Syrah.
Other names for Syrah:
Shiraz Shaboom Shaboom Shamu Shazam
Petite Sirah is a hybrid grape that was created by Dr. Durif in the late 19th Century in France. Dr. Durif crossed Syrah (see above--apparently they couldn't sell Syrah then either) with a Folies Bergere midget, creating a bold red wine with very long legs. Dr. Durif named the grape he'd hybridized after himself, calling it "Doc." The name didn't stick, though you still see it used occasionally on Southern French wines called Langue Doc. (I got this fact from Wikipedia, the Most Trusted Name in Misinformation). Because Petite Sirah is 50% Syrah (and 50% Ooh-La-La), and its clusters are smaller than those of Syrah (see photo for genetic reasons why), growers began calling it Petite Sirah, "petite" being the French word for flat-chested.
Petite Sirah is what's technically known as a "Tasting Room grape." These are grapes that only sell in tasting rooms and only to highly intoxicated people. They never appear on restaurant wine lists because they go with food like skiers go with avalanches. There is a society of Petite Sirah lovers called "P.S. I Love You" but both of them refuse to appear in public because their teeth, all six of them, have turned the color of a Whitney Houston bruise. Some producers label their Petite Sirahs as "Durif" simply to taunt the old dead French guy.
Interesting facts about Petite Sirah:
It is often blended with Zinfandel in an effort to get rid of it.
Wineries who want to charge more money for it label it Petite Syrah hoping it will fool the public into thinking it's Syrah they're not buying.
It was used to paint the Stealth Bomber.
Other names for Petite Sirah:
Tongue Depressor Teeth Ink Food Kevorkian
Many people mistakenly believe "Grenache" was a 60's sitcom with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. It's actually a grape. Some authorities believe it originated in Sardinia where it is known as Cannonau, named for its effect on your lower intestine after you drink it. These authorities are mostly Italian, and you know what that means. In Spain, Grenache is called Garnacha, and often covered in melted cheese. But Grenache's best known expression is in the majestic wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (translated as New Home of the Pedophiles). These are wines that can live for decades, but are usually consumed very young, and mostly orally, in honor of the Pope.
Grenache is usually put in the category of "Rhone Varieties" because French wines are the only wines that matter. Of the Rhone varieties it is second in importance only to Syrah, which is like being beneath Jean-Claude Van Damme on a movie billboard. Grenache can be a very prolific grape in the vineyard and has long been the backbone of many of the best cheap wines in the world including Cotes-du-Rhone, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, and nearly every damn wine in Spain. There is also a Grenache Blanc, but, frankly, it can't dance worth a crap.
Interesting facts about Grenache:
It is well-suited for roast Arnold.
In Australia, it's the "G" in "GSM" blends along with Sado and Masochism. GSM's go great with Miracle Whip.
Grenache is best grown in hot climates but stays the hell out of Lodi.
Other names for Grenache:
Che Guevara Grenache Whole Kiss my Grenache Whole Garnacha Ole
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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