Saturday, April 17, 2010

Barossa Valley Versus Red Mountain…Which Shiraz Stacks Up?

Frequently I’m asked about the difference between Shiraz and Syrah. When I’m asked, I always ask the questioner which one they prefer. They usually can’t really say, but most have a suspicion that the Shiraz is better. The surprise comes when I tell them that they are the same grape, just under a different name.

Actually, Syrah and Shiraz are a branch of the Rhone Noble Varietal Hermitage, who’s name is protected by the French wine growing region by that name. Syrah and Shiraz, although different in name, are by and large, the same grape variety regardless of the region they are from.

However, after several years of pondering, I decided to compare two relatively famous Syrah/Shiraz regions of the world. One local, the other not so local, to see what differences really exist between them.

Locally, I decided on a 2005 Terra Blanca Red Mountain Syrah. The other wine that I chose was a 2005 Cameron Hughes lot 39, from the famed Barossa Valley of South Australia.

Red Mountain, located just outside of Benton City, Washington sits between 500 and 1500 feet above sea level. The Barossa Valley is almost exactly the same altitude range. According to Google Earth they are 13,015 miles away from each other. Also, According to Google, the best way to make this trip is to Kayak from Seattle to Hawaii, to Japan, and then to Australia. Traveling by these means would require 54 days and apparently some good sunscreen.

Both wines were relatively the same price, falling in the just above $10 range. (I wanted this price range because I wanted everyone to be able to replicate my study without going broke.) You can certainly use wines that are much higher in price and quality than what I chose. Some of the most famous vineyards from the Red Mountain Region are Klipsun, and Ceil du Cheval. Penfolds makes a Barossa Valley vineyard that has scored well into the upper 90’s several times over the past decade.

There were differences in the bottles. Terra Blanca uses a Rhone bottle with a real cork, and the Hughes is a Bordeaux bottle with a screw top. The Hughes is 14.5% alcohol and the Terra Blanca is 13.5%.

Upon opening the Terra Blanca, I noticed the familiar smells of dark berries and vanilla. It poured into the glass a dark inky purple. Flavors of dark berry jam layer on the tongue, and finish long and smooth, with fruit and tannin carefully balanced. There is definitely a nice lingering flavor of anise.

The Cameron Hughes poured out of the bottle possibly inkier and darker than the Terra Blanca did. Basically closer to black than purple. Even the bubbles created by pouring were inky. The nose was more veggie, like a bowl of fresh green beans and sliced eggplant. The flavors of fruit were dark, ripe plums.

My decision after virtually traveling over 26,000 miles, and tasting wines from both skilled winemakers on each side of the world, was that both were quite delicious for their own qualities. The Terra Blanca definitely was more berry in its profile, with the Hughes showing more veggie qualities. Both will taste great on their own, or with food.

Personally, I would suggest the Hughes with a Porterhouse, and finish of the night with dark chocolate, gorgonzola, and the Terra Blanca.



  1. These both sound very delicious. When I first started enjoying wine, I think I gravitated toward Shiraz from Australia. But I've always loved Rhone reds, and Sryah plays a leading role often in those blends. Now I'm learning about domestic Rhone-style reds, mostly from California. The Aussie Shirazes really do pair well with a slab of beef like a Porterhouse, don't they?

    Doesn't the term "Shiraz" come from the city of the same name in Iran, which at one time was a world-renown wine producing region? Omar Khayyam wrote frequently about the joys of wine in the Rubaiyat, and one can presume what he was drinking was Shiraz.

  2. You are right Richard! I have to keep my article under 600 words for the paper, but I did some research on this, and the term "Shiraz" does come from the city in Iran. (At least that is the myth that is proposed.) I'm with you, Rhones are so bold, and yet mysterious to me. Washington and California are really catching speed in growing them.
    Thanks for your comment!


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