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You say Syrah, I say Shiraz
Vansha is a product of the Ridgeback Winery of South Africa's Cape region.

Syrah? Shiraz? Two very different spellings, and it’s the same grape.

Most of North America and France call it Syrah, though some domestic vineyards use the alternate spelling. Shiraz is the spelling in Australia and South Africa.

Shiraz oared to popularity a few decades ago when the bargain basement Aussie wines flooded the U.S. market. Those inexpensive juices and the big, juicy, consumer friendly wines combined to sabotage the American version of Syrah – which lacked the blustery, in–your–face character of down under juice.

I like Syrah, even Shiraz and the classed up French expression bearing a Cotes du Rhone label.

And while there are plenty of California Syrahs coming to market, dollar strapped wine makers will tell you they can sell anything but Syrah. Bonny Doon chief Randall Grahm has been quoted saying, “It appears to have crashed and burned in this country.”

For my Syrah/Shiraz sipping this week, I sampled two, one from Australia, the other from South Africa.

Vansha is a product of the Ridgeback Winery of South Africa’s Cape region. Its 65 hectares are surrounded by the Paarl Mountains – which contribute to the weather pattern that makes Ridgeback wines unique.

The 2008 vintage I tasted is a medium bodied red wine with aromatics of cherries, violets, sweet red fruit and mineral earthiness supported by a fine oak tannin structure and a long savory finish. It’s a beautifully balanced wine that was easy to like. It lacked the pungent muskiness exhibited in some South African wines – and was a lush and fruity companion to a grilled steak. The 2009 vintage finds splashes of Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier –which should ramp up the complexity without affecting its character.

James Oatley 2009 Tic Tok Shiraz comes from the portfolio of legendary Aussie wine maker Robert Oatley, who with this label pays homage to his great–great–grandfather. It’s 100 percent Shiraz from Oatley’s Mudgee vineyards. Expect more refinement from this entry level Shiraz than from the mass market “critter” labeled Aussie wines. I found mouthwatering dark berry fruit pronounced – and a satisfying blend of spiciness and vanilla notes coming form 15 months in second year French oak. That’s a lot of handling for a wine coming to market at around $18.