The variety shiraz (syrah) is one which gives red wine drinkers a warm feeling of satisfaction.

And that’s because this variety has so much flesh and flavour, usually associated with wines of enormous or memorable colour depths. They are not tiny wines.

So I was quite concerned that a recent featured global shiraz tasting did not reach great heights, and it raised a couple of issues for wine buyers-that of how to recognise quality, and not to be sucked in by the label blurb (nor reputation).

When you make shiraz purchases, taste the wines before you buy them, don’t rely on recommendations as some will let you down, particularly if your sensory sensitivities vary from that of the recommender (who is often out for just the sale).

This 10 shiraz tasting list was not aimed at the best in the world, nor the worst, but just credible examples of global styles from reputable regions to show taste diversity.

My biggest concern was over the wine taint brettanomyces (brett for short) which prevailed through two of the three wines from the Rhone Valle y- a very poor indictment on French winemaking, and a waste of funds if you bought the wine.

And one can easily be caught – I tipped a bottle of reputable 1999 Rioja down the sink at a restaurant last Friday – the brett level was so obnoxious that smelling a wine resembling sweaty horse flanks and rear quarters was simply too much to handle. Bad wine.

Wines are recorded in order of enjoyment, though there was not a lot there! There were no starry drinks.

Cotes du Rhone (Mon Redon) Abeille-Fabre 2007 Fra ; 13.5% (USD 26); +++1/2; this wine was just so vibrant, cherry colour, not deep, volumes of red fruits, jubes, aromatic, then fruity-a sweet mouth followed on by a nice soft, drying palate with the fruit ever pleasant. The type of Rhone I wish to drink, grenache and shiraz blended.

Torbreck The Struie 2008 Barossa/Eden Valley AUS ; 15% (USD 52); +++1/2; very deep colour which signifies warm area shiraz, lots of evidence from aging in sweet oak, smells of suntan oil, volatile from long oak aging too, a huge, big, rich and round wine, lolly-ripe, great for punters but style-wise a “dead-fruit” wine made from very ripe grapes.

Warm area shiraz-Torbreck 2008

Stonecroft 2007 Hawkes Bay NZ ; 13.5% (USD 50.15); +++1/2; light colour, middling, nose clearly cool region-clove and pepper, minty too, oak subtle almost hidden, some chewiness then a silk-soft finish, not great, high acidity does not assist. A plain kiwi closed under diam.

Cool area syrah NZ-Stonecroft 2007

Hidden Creek 2008 Granite Belt AUS ; 13.5% (USD 32.15); +++1/2; medium red colour, cherry, enough American oak to peg this for a warm area example but underneath the fruit-buried-with-oak is cool region style, juicy fruit, drying but rich, lots of licorice. From Ballandean, a basic Granite Belter.

Cool area shiraz-Qld Hidden Creek 2008

Mt Langhi Ghiran 1999 Grampians AUS ; 14.5% (USD 37.50); +++1/2; red colour, brown edges for age, jammy fruit, alcohol hotness apparent, white pepper too, dry leaf also, dusty, touch of brett but not awful, palate very good and sumptuous, very fine style; shows that this region’s wines age well.

Two Hands Bellas Garden 2002 Barossa AUS ; 14.5% (USD 59); +++; deep colour, still retains some purples, a very good Barossa vintage, nose of syrup, ribena-juice drops, very sweet smelling as in “dead-fruit” styles where chasing late hang time pushes the fruit overboard, rich but syrupy-sweet fruit propped up with sweet oak, not a good style but a “punters” drink. Not the fashion.

Porcupine Ridge 2007 Paarl RSA ; 14% (USD 24 ); +++’ medium colour, not great, browning, lots of French oak, leafy, slightly feral, juicy fruit, appears cool climate, lots of DMS and mulberry conserve aromas, very soft, some reductive flavours, oyster shell, feral, then bitters and black fruits; complicated wine with both pluses and minuses to weigh up. Drink it, maybe, closed under screw cap.

Warm+cool area syrah South Africa-Porcupine Ridge 2007

Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 2000 McLaren Vale Barossa AUS ; 13.5% (USD 40.75); +++; light colour, not holding, bricky, remember the year was a lousy one for the region; here is an example, volatility shows, very solid nose, juicy, licorice, warm area style, aged American oak smell pervades, rich finish, soft palate, alcohol warm and now drying out. Basic big company blend-generous on the flavour.

Cote-Rotie (Domaine Jamet) 2005 Ampuis Fra ; 12.5% (USD 152 ); +++; very deep purple colour, a good start, smelly, bretty, lots of whole bunch ferment aroma, charry new oak, French of course, very drying/tannic palate which is accentuated by the brett which strips all the available sugars out of the wine. Has mouth sweetness but finishes hard, bad value and certainly a wine I could not drink, and feel dudded by the price.

Crozes-Hermitage (Gilles-Robin) cuvee Alberic Bouvet 2006 Fra ; 13% (USD 50.15); ++; aged colours, browns, charry oak, feral, lots of whole bunch aromas and brett, very reductive tastes and pervading brett palate, unusually high acidity for the region, very drying as a result and not a wine to spend much time in your mouth. Poor value, does not deserve shelf space.

So beware of what shiraz you buy: there are style traps out there.

Peter Scudamore-Smith is a Brisbane-based Master of Wine, winemaker and educator

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