This will be our first meetup under the new format. People can sign up to the waiting list and we will select 35 participants randomly and let you know you have been selected. Please let us know if you plans change so someone can fill your spot.
The current schedule for OPWC is:
February 16 - Que Syrah, Syrah: Syrah wines from France, Washington, California and Australia. Patrick and Karen Simpson
March 9 - Wines TBD. Don Burdick
April - No event will be planned.
May ? - Wines TBD. Boyd and Christie Stowe
June - Reggae Pool Party
July - Looking for a volunteer for the 35 person tasting.
Syrah, Shiraz, Sirah ... what's the difference? Historically, it's been simple enough, if a bit confusing, to sort out these similar grape names:
•Syrah is the great French red-wine variety of the Rhone Valley, a grape that legend traces to the Crusaders but that in reality goes even farther back, probably brought to Gaul by the Romans some 2,000 years ago.
•Shiraz is the name that the Australians gave Syrah, perhaps inspired by that same Crusader legend, which holds - romantically if inaccurately - that the French knight Gaspard de Sterimberg brought the first vines home to his Hermitage vineyard in the Rhone from Shiraz in Persia.
•Sirah-with-an-I - Petite Sirah - is a California grape most likely named by 19th century marketers to evoke the real Syrah. Known in France as Durif and long thought to be unrelated to Syrah, it's now known to be a direct descendant of Syrah, a cross between true Syrah and another little-known French variety, Peloursin. This lineage is further complicated by the fact that some old California "field-blend" vineyards of mixed vines have traditionally been misidentified as Petite Sirah.
All three sound-alike grapes can make similar wines, peppery and robust, but those wines span a considerable spectrum from soft, fruity and slightly sweet to big, tannic and ageworthy. Australia's Shiraz often pushes the limits of fruit-forward, jammy and powerful, while the most memorable Syrahs of the Northern Rhone - Hermitage, Cote-Rotie and Cornas in particular - although big wines also, tend more toward the structured and tannic, astringent but muscular, requiring cellar time. They are somteimes blended with Viognier (white) wine also.
Grown in warm New World climates (or unusually hot European summers), Syrah shows a boldly fruity red-berry nature and may well be vinified with the free-handed use of oak; look for a signature fragrant black-pepper character and plenty of astringent tannin in cooler-climate Syrah.
French Syrahs: The first cultivated vines in the region were probably planted around 600 BC. The origins of the two most important grape varieties in the northern Rhone (Syrah and Viognier) are subject to speculation. Some say the Greeks were responsible for bringing the Syrah grape from the Persian city of Shiraz. Others say the grape came 50 years later when Greeks fled from the Persian king Cyrus I. Yet others say the grape came from the Sicilian city of Syracuse, whence circa 280 AD the Romans brought it and the Viognier grape. Meanwhile extensive DNA typing and viticultural research has led scientists to conclude that Syrah originated in the Rhône region itself. Northern Rhône reds are presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component.
Australian Shiraz: In 1831, the Scotsman James Busby, often called "the Father of Australian viticulture", made a trip back to Europe to collect cuttings from vines (primarily from France and Spain) for introduction to Australia. One of the varieties collected by him was Syrah, although Busby used the two spellings "Scyras" and "Ciras". The cuttings were planted in the Sydney Botanical Gardens, and in Hunter Valley, and in 1839 brought from Sydney to South Australia. By the 1860s, Syrah was established as an important variety in Australia. Australian Shiraz is 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.
California Syrahs can go either way labeled Syrah or Shiraz (soft or bold) these days, perhaps as a marketing ploy aimed at capturing some of the critical buzz that surrounds the version from Down Under.
Washington Syrah wines: Almost nowhere else in the world will you find higher-quality reds for the price. Certainly not in the Northern Rhône, where similarly serious and beautifully styled Syrahs cost twice as much. And they compare well with those from Down Under, where you often have to pay much more to experience this sort of enjoyment.
This should be fun.