Syrahs from two different worlds
A similar division appears among wine lovers, many of whom take careful notice of the differences and similarities between "Old World" wines made in France, Italy, Germany and the other nations of Europe, and "New World" wines - many of them affectionately made in styles rooted in the European tradition - from the rest of the world.
This became particularly clear to me during my recent travels in Australia, where Shiraz (identical to the grape that France and the U.S. call "Syrah") is perhaps the leading wine grape. Most of Australia's wineries produce a style of Shiraz that's distinctly regional in character - big, peppery, fruity and oaky. I reported on dozens of these in my extensive Down Under Wine Diary, http://www.wineloverspage.com/wines/ozdiary.shtml.
They're typically impressive wines in a tooth-staining, head-spinning "blockbuster" style that takes some getting used to and doesn't always make them natural partners with food, but critical raves from around the world (and especially in the U.S.) have created a demand that has made many of them highly sought-after - and far more expensive outside Australia than when they're sold at the "cellar door."
At the same time, they are utterly different in nature from the Syrah-based wines of the French Rhone region, which are also wines that I love. Rhone reds are rarely as big and overpowering as Australian Shirazes. Where Oz offers fat fruit and sweet oak, France counters with balance and complexity, adding "organic" and "earthy" elements that may remind the taster of forest floors, mushrooms, leather, even "grilled meat" and "barnyard" aromas and flavors that might send an Australian (or a Californian) running for the exit.
I wouldn't necessarily argue that either approach is "better." But they're decidedly different, and each style certainly has its partisans.
To recalibrate my palate for France and California after my month Down Under, I set up a recent "blind" tasting between a French and a California Syrah of similar vintage and roughly similar price. The results are posted below and on Wine Lovers' Page (with label images) at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wines/wt121500.shtml.
What's your opinion? Do you find a consistent difference between Old World and New World wine styles? Do you have a particular preference or find one style much preferable to the other? Or, like me, is there room in your wine world for both? If you would like to talk about it in more detail, please feel free to join in the chat on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, or send me a note by E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, and my travels this month will also limit my ability to respond; but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
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Old World and New World Syrahs
Wines World (Norway)
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Vol. 2, No. 48, Dec. 18, 2000