This is not really surprising news, but the extent of how much they like it is.
That’s one of the results of a 2007 study of wine drinkers who are representative of consumers who buy expensive wine. The survey, conducted by California’s WineOpinions, found that almost one-half of respondents are “very likely” to buy a $30-plus Napa cab, but only one-quarter are very likely to buy similarly-priced Bordeaux red wine.
Meanwhile, more than a third are “not very likely” to buy a Washington state cabernet or a Spanish red from Rioja, even though the quality is comparable and the price is often one-third less (or more).
Yes, it ?s confusing. And yes, one ?s first inclination is to make a joke ? or several (and there is a wine called K Syrah).
But given the increasing popularity of syrah and shiraz, it ?s probably a good idea to remain straight-faced ? at least long enough to explain the difference between the two, as well as to figure out where their much less known cousin, petite sirah,, fits in.
First, syrah and shiraz are the same grape. Wines from the Rhone region of France, California, and the Pacific Northwest are called syrah, while those from Australia are called shiraz. Petite sirah, on the other hand, is not the same grape. It ?s genetically similar to syrah, and almost certainly evolved from it, but it ?s not as intense or as bright (though still a fine wine grape in its own right).
The real difference is in style. Generally, shiraz is much less subtle than syrah, and syrah is not a subtle wine to begin with. The reason is mostly climate. Australia has a longer growing season than the Rhone, California and the Pacific Northwest, so the grapes get riper, which means more intense flavor and more sugar. And more sugar means more alcohol during fermentation, often as much as 1 to 2 percentage points more.
These two wines show the contrast between the two styles. It doesn ?t get much more Aussie than Nine Stones Shiraz McLaren Vale ($15). It’s a chewy, almost ashy wine with an inky color, made in the style that the Wine Magazines drool over.
The wine was everything I had hoped it would be — classic chianti with dark fruit, the tell-tale Italian tannins and earthiness, and low alcohol. We finished the bottle, barely noticing that it was gone. Which led me to wonder: Why are Americans so adamant that wine has to be the star of the meal? We’re forced to drink high-alcohol, tannin-driven cabernets — and made fun of if we don’t enjoy them — when these wines will overpower all but the beefiest meals.
The Volpaia was terrific, and mostly because it didn’t overpower the food. It did what it was made to do — complement the food. The acid in the red sauce and the fruitiness in the wine played off each other in a way that too many New World wines don’t. I can’t tell you specifically what made the wine so good. But I can tell you how good it was with dinner, and that’s the most important thing.
Talk to enough wine people, and the subject of pinot noir and salmon eventually comes up. For one thing, it ?s still considered trendy (even though though Josh Wesson and David Rosengarten wrote a book called Red Wine with Fish almost 20 years ago). For another, it has to do with pinot noir, and that is still considered tres chic in many wine circles.
Which led to a Wine Curmudgeon moment: What about this pinot noir and salmon? Does it really work? Or is it just more winespeak to wade through?
So I paired three pinots, costing $10, $22, and $40, with steamed salmon served with rice noodles and vegetable and saffron broth, to test the theory. And, to make sure the salmon was up to the task, I used wild Copper River salmon instead of a milder, grocery store product. My thinking: The more flavorful the salmon, the more challenge it would pose to the wine, especially for the $10 bottle.
No need to be stumped when it comes to the wine and spirits drinker on your holiday gift list:
? Bounty Hunter Bronze Star Club ($49.95 monthly): The Wine Curmudgeon is not a big fan of wine clubs. Too often, what the club says is ?boutique ? or ?hard to find ? is stuff that someone else is closing out. Plus, you have to pay shipping. But Bounty Hunter, a California wine outfit, has a good reputation and this is a more than decent deal: three bottles a month, two reds and a white. Bounty Hunter promises it won ?t send any wines that someone else is getting rid of, and it guarantees every selection.
Rhone wine isn’t well known in this part of the country, where the most popular French wines are from Bordeaux and Burgundy. That’s too bad, because Rhone wines offer value and and quality.
The Kreydenweiss ($14), a red blend, is such a wine. It tastes like it’s more expensive, featuring nice balance between dark fruit, acidity and tannins. The fruit isn’t candied, which too often happens with wines at this price, and it’s not as heavy as some Rhone wines. This is a fine example of what can be done and should be done with this style of wine at this price.
It also has the classic French barnyard aroma, which makes many people think there is something wrong with the wine. In fact, the smell will blow off after the wine has been open for a bit. Appreciate it while it’s there.
You ?re pretty confident about wine, as far as it goes. You know a good $10 or $12 bottle from a not-so-good one, and if one of your friends needs a recommendation for a decent red wine to take to someone ?s house for dinner, you can offer two or three suggestions.
But there ?s a holiday coming up, and so it seems like the right time to spend a bit more ? whether it ?s as a gift for the significant person in your life or to treat yourself. But if all you know is $10 wine, what do you do?
Consider the following:
? Find out if the $10 wine you like has a more expensive label. Bogle, one of the best $10 wineries, does a couple: The Phantom, a red blend, and a Russian Rover pinot noir, both around $17.
? Buy a less expensive bottle from a winery that makes high-end wines. Ridge and Newton are both expensive and well-regarded California names. But Ridge ?s Three Valleys, a red blend featuring zinfandel, is a steal at about $23. Newton ?s Claret, made with mostly merlot in the Bordeaux style, is another terrific $25 wine.
? Buy a nicer wine from a region that you like. New Zealand is famous for its $16 sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. So why not try something like Cloudy Bay, whose prices are closer to $30?
? Upgrade your grocery store favorite. Most offer not only a basic line, but one or even two more at higher prices and, usually, better quality. Kendall-Jackson, for instance, sells its vintner ?s reserve wines for $12 to $18. The next step up is the grand reserve, where prices run from $20 to $35.