A Naming Convention For My Wine

There are times when I find the “name game” in wine labeling just a bit frustrating.  That’s because there are a number of varietals that are known by numerous titles.  At times it just feels like folks are trying to make things hard to suss out.  I can appreciate that much of it may stem from long-held, local traditions, but it still feels a bit like secret code sometimes.  On the other hand, there are instances when a naming convention provides important information about what a person may reasonably expect from the wine they’re choosing.  Shiraz v. Syrah is just that.

Consulting the Wikipedia Page on the subject of the Syrah grape and Syrah wine we find “As a general rule, most Australian and South African wines are labelled Shiraz, and most European wines (from such regions where varietal labelling is practiced) are labelled Syrah. In other countries, practices vary and winemakers (or wine marketers) sometimes choose either Syrah or Shiraz to signify a stylistic difference in the wine they have made. “Syrah”-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. “Shiraz”-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples; presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smokey, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression.

Having seen but never tried a Little Penguin wine, the question remaining for me was, “Is the Little Penguin selection exemplary of this Shiraz v. Syrah delineation?”  Well …

Winemaker:  The Little Penguin
Varietal:  Shiraz
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  South Eastern Australia
Price:  $6.99

Notes:  The color of this medium-bodied Shiraz was dark ruby.  On the nose I found pepper, spice, berries and damp earth.  It showed good acidity and a certain “coat-the-tongue” quotient that was reflected in very present legs on the glass.  Tannins were moderate, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  Flavors for me were straightforward and engaging, including plentiful oak, pepper, plum and tea leaf.  I’d call it a simple, casual wine that would be fine with some take-out pizza.

And, yes, I think the use of Shiraz on the label followed the convention nicely.

Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet 2012

No experiment is valid without a control.  Right?  Something to compare the experiment’s results to.  So after having tried that Penfolds Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz Cab that I happened upon recently, I decided to grab another Australian blend of the same grape varietals for a comparison.  Admittedly, they aren’t from the same vintage and the wines aren’t blended in the same percentages.  Not exactly a true scientific method.  Still, I was curious.

Winemaker:  Jacob’s Creek
Wine: Shiraz Cabernet
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $6.99

Notes:  Jacob’s Creek has blended 56% Shiraz and 44% Cabernet Sauvignon for this selection.  Color was a … drum roll, please … dark garnet.  OK, no real surprise there.  The bouquet?  Well, it held aromas of earth, mushroom, eucalyptus and dark plum.  Body – medium; acidity – fairly high; tannins – medium with an aggressive attack (some use the term grippy); alcohol – 13.9%.  Flavors?  Yes.  LOL  No, seriously, the major player on the palate was oak.  It’s what hit me first and kept on coming.  In addition there were plum and pepper with hints of cocoa and bitter coffee bean on the finish.  Bottom line – it was OK, but I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for the preponderance of oak.  Of course, that’s based on my own personal preferences.  You may enjoy the starring role that oak plays at the Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabaret – I mean, Cabernet.  Then again, maybe this is a wine that needs a little time in the bottle for the flavors to balance out.

Rosemount Merlot 2012

Although it may seem like I’m on an Australian kick, it isn’t on purpose.  I’ve just run into some good deals lately on wines from down under.  This time I ran across a sale on Rosemount Estate.  I’ve been acquainted with Rosemount Estate wines for some years now, having first tried their Shiraz because it was receiving high praise from many of the critics.  And I have to say that I did enjoy the bottles of Rosemount Shiraz I had.  Rather than trying to revisit old memories this time, though, I decided to branch out and see how they handle Merlot.

Winemaker:  Rosemount Estate
Varietal: Merlot
Vintage:  2012
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $10.70

Notes:  The color of this Aussie was a deep, dark red.  It held scents of berries, earth and camphor in the bouquet.  Acidity leaned toward the high side.  The body was light as were the tannins, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the tongue there was a core of cherry at the outset which brightened with oxidation to a young blueberry flavor.  In addition, I tasted cedar, hints of herbals and a racy hot pepper on the finish.  Not a tremendously complex wine, but just fine.  Perhaps just about the right value at the sale price I paid of $6.99.

Penfolds Shiraz Cabernet 2011

A little serendipity can go a long way.  Just the other day I was on my way to the gym … Yes, I sometimes exercise more than my drinking arm.  lol  Anyway, I was walking past Trader Joe’s on my way to the gym, so I decided to just drop in even though I didn’t need anything.  Just a spur of the moment kind of thing.  Of course, I went to the wine section to browse where I came upon a display of this Penfolds selection.  Intrigued, I picked up a bottle and stood there mulling over the fact that I was looking at a Penfolds wine for $3.99 and thinking, “What gives?”  That’s when a helpful staffer walked past and told me that he had tried it when it first came in.  The next day, he bought a case.  With that for a recommendation, I nabbed one.  Before you ask, I did go to the gym afterward – with my purchase tucked away in my backpack.

Oenophilogical_PenfoldsShirazCabWS2011Winemaker:  Penfolds
Wine: Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz Cabernet
Varietal: Red Blend
Vintage:  2011
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $3.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This Aussie blend is made up of 77% Shiraz and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The color was a translucent (i.e. not cloudy) dark burgundy.  The nose held aromas of pepper, earth, cedar, and dark berries.  The body of this wine was medium with a nice, interesting roundness to it on the tongue.  Acidity was fairly high but not what I’d call “racy,” and alcohol was at 13.5%.  Tannins were medium – a definite presence yet not biting.  For flavors this very budget-friendly red brought me primarily pepper, black cherry, and oak.  As it wound down, the finish had more pepper, some boysenberry and a tart green flavor I couldn’t quite nail down (lemon grass is close but just not quite right).  Overall I’d say this is a great value.  I’m not sure why this is priced at $3.99, but that won’t stop me from going back to get more.  I hope they have plenty in stock.  Planning an informal party soon?  Run on out and snap up some of this.  Sure, it’s relatively straightforward as red wines go, but it’s completely drinkable and head and shoulders above most of the wines I’ve had at this price point.  I’ll have to thank that helpful TJ staff person, too.

Black Opal Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

What a great name for a winery from Australia – Black Opal.  It conjures so much with so few words.  Thus, attempting to follow their lead ….

Winemaker:  Black Opal
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  South Eastern Australia
Price:  $8.99

Notes:   In the glass this Australian Cab was a deep garnet – leaning a bit toward the browner shade in the garnet spectrum.  The bouquet brought me pine cleaner, unctuous cherry, and earth.  Acidity was good, the body was medium, and I felt the tannins were on the heavier side of light.  Alcohol was at 13.5%.  On the tongue I tasted copious wood, baked cherry, bitters, sour dill and what I can only describe as a hint of biscuit.  Seriously, it was a flavor not dissimilar to the spoon drop biscuits my grandmother used to make.  As a result, the lingering finish was very reminiscent of cherry pie.  I swear I’m not making this up!  Although I would have preferred a bit more from the tannins since it is a Cabernet Sauvignon, I have to say I enjoyed drinking this inexpensive offering from Black Opal.  Is that because of my grandmother’s biscuits?  Well … maybe.  But I also happen to like cherry pie!

Yellow Tail Shiraz-Grenache 2012

There is a tradition that’s been going on for years now among some of my extended family around Halloween time.  It’s called the Pumpkin Patch Party.  [Gotta love the alliteration, right?]   I’ve heard about it year after year, but this was the first time I was able to attend.  What fun!

Attendees all carve pumpkins – some freehand, some using stencils, some talented folks using designs they have drawn up themselves.  As this was my first time, I chose to play it safe and do the usual triangular eyes, etc.  But I did mine freehand — no stencils for me!  One of the artists in the group drew a symbol for the Decepticons from the Transformers and his brother used it on his pumpkin.  Now that’s cool: a Decepticon jack-o-lantern!  Wish  I’d gotten a good picture of that one.

Since it was a party, I brought along some liquid refreshment for the adults to enjoy.  This is what we had (in cautious moderation, of course, since folks were wielding sharp implements) in the Pumpkin Patch.

Winemaker:  Yellow Tail by Casella Wines
Wine:  Shiraz-Grenache
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Australia
Price:  $9.49

Notes:   Color in the glass was a deep purple.  On the nose I smelled berries, barnyard and menthol.  It was light-bodied, tannins were quite light and alcohol was at 13%.  Flavors I found while sipping this inexpensive red blend from Down Under included dark raspberry and bell pepper with menthol on the finish.  It was a very simple wine yet drinkable.  By the way, I managed to snap up the bottle on sale for only $6.99.  Even so, I always quote the store’s retail price in my summary just in case folks don’t happen to run across a similar sale.

Lindeman’s Bin 85 2012

I’m taking a quick break from my Moscato experiments to drink some dryer offerings.  I think it was necessary.  Either that or my blood sugar was going to be off the chart.  I had the Jacob’s Creek PG not too long ago, so I thought I’d pull another ubiquitous Australian from the store shelves for comparison’s sake.

Winemaker: Lindeman’s
Wine:  Bin 85 Pinot Grigio
Varietal:  Pinot Grigio
Vintage: 2012
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Price: $6.99

Notes:  The color of this inexpensive Pinot Grigio was a very pale yellow.  On the nose, I found extremely faint scents of citrus and pear.  The body on this little number was very light.  Alcohol was at 11.5%, and acidity was quite good.  On the tongue, I found a core of grapefruit flavor that stayed from start to finish.  In addition, there were pleasant notes of pear and grass as well as hints of herbs along the way.  Accompanying the grapefruit across the palate was an underlying minerality – a counterpoint to the citrus.  Not surprisingly, the finish held a zip of grapefruit zest.  All this sounds like a glass of fermented grapefruit juice, but don’t be fooled.  Like the wine itself, the flavors are fairly subtle.  Although slightly favoring acidity over light sweetness, I found the balance in the Bin 85 to be quite good.  I thought this was a nice, brisk, refreshing wine from the folks at Lindeman’s.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.