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Syrah and... the Sex Appeal?
It is a well established standard practice to apply all sorts of descriptors wine that go well beyond simply describing the taste, aroma, and texture. Indeed it has become somewhat of a tradition to characterize wines with such adjectives as bold, timid, dramatic, subdued, flagrant, and so on. So much so, in fact, that to the novice many adjectives may seem to say a little too much about a wine and even come off as downright humorous.
Are critics in earnest when they use these expressions? Doubtless there are some charlatans out there in the wine community who use colorful descriptions of wines to conceal their own lack of knowledge, but in general, the more one tastes wine, the more one begins to understand how some of these words actually might apply.
In that case, how far does it go? Can a wine be tragic? Angry? Maybe that's too far. What about sexy? Some people certainly think so. The Syrah grape (also known as Shiraz) for one produces deep, intense wines that are often referred to as such.
So what makes them “sexy?” Put briefly, it is probably the combination of darkness and intensity that earns Syrahs that moniker, but perhaps a closer look at the more concrete attributes of the Syrah grape and the wines it produces will give readers a better picture.
Full, rich, intense and spicy are all adjectives you may find used to describe these long-lived wines, but of course nothing but your own palette can really inform you about the character of a wine beyond the most basic descriptions. They are usually dark with a slightly higher than average alcohol level and an aroma that can be best characterized as spicy.
Syrahs can be relatively straightforward, but more often lean towards a complexity of flavor. Part of this is due to the capacity to blend well with other grapes, the resulting wines running the gamut from spicy to fruity to smoky.
Like most popular varieties of grapes, Syrahs can be found in one form or another almost anywhere the climate is amenable to vineyards (including South Africa and most of southern Europe), but France (where the grape originated) is far and away the largest producer, making roughly fifty percent of all Syrah in the world. A close second is Australia, where the grape is known as Shiraz or less often as Hermitage. Not to be outdone, California is the world's third largest supplier and is fast growing.
Together, these three regions make up the vast majority of Syrah production, and each region has its own characteristic tendencies. French Syrahs are considered to be the classic incarnation and are said to pair better with foods than their Australian and Californian counterparts, which stand better on their own. Australian Shiraz is often blended wine, generally with Cabernet, and Californian varieties are perhaps the spiciest of the three main producers.
When picking a Syrah for yourself, keep in mind that as with most wines, the designation of a specific subregion usually denotes higher quality than a broad region. A wine labeled simply “Australian” Shiraz is likely not to be quite as good as the one that identifies a particular region, vineyard, and winery. Also, although the big three producers mentioned earlier make many excellent examples of Syrah, don't be afraid to try other regions – variety is a good thing.
So no matter what you find Syrah to be, sexy or otherwise, we hope this brief survey has been enlightening. Remember: keep trying new things and expanding that palette.
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