In a word association game if I heard someone mention Shiraz I would immediately blurt out Australia and in another kneejerk response I would exclaim critter labels! It is not that Shiraz cannot be found on the label of a California wine or even in France but something about that name implies Australia. Last week my tasting group retrained our crosshairs on the greatly imported product of Australia.

Firstly, the name Shiraz stems directly from the ancient Persian Capital where it was believed that the grape began and was then brought to the Northern Rhône… however I am not ready to expound on the legends of origin.

Shiraz is far afield from its Northern Rhône counterpart; packed with a swift strike of ripened fruits, cocoa and a little spice but also plagued with higher amounts of alcohol, these wines are more akin to Zinfandel in delivery. Bombastic and enjoyable in their place. While Shiraz and Syrah are synonymous, the style differences of the two are vast.

At the tasting we had a more numerous showing of Australian wines than any other nation but we changed up the pace by inserting a California example as well as a Northern Rhône from St. Joseph. They were ,in this particular order:

08 Stump Jump

09 Layer Cake

07 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz

07 Rancho Sisoquoc Syrah

05 Aramis Shiraz “Black Label”

09 Two Hands “Gnarly Dudes” Shiraz

08 Domaine Faury St. Jospeh

We began with the routine inspection of the Stump Jump. It was satisfying with a purple garnet coloring; a moderate intensity on the whiff revealing ripe red fruits (cherries ‘n berries) and some lifted vanilla aromas. It was full bodied with enough acidity to stave off the flabbiness, moderate oak and a medium finish that was marked by the warmth of the alcohol spiking.

Next, another Supermarket standby the Layer Cake Shiraz which smelled of black cherry and herbs de provence. The pleasant aromas translated to the buds with white pepper, cherry and dried herbs. The deep ruby juice was dry; it had moderate acidity, light tannins and a remarkably longer persistence of fruit flavors.

The Penfolds Bin 128 was more of the same and we decided to take a break, inserting the Rancho Sisoquoc from Santa Barbara County, which surprisingly continued in the same vein. On the nose there was some blueberries and smoke and that is where the romanticism ends. The palate was dominated by alcohol, tweaking the full-bodied wine into an unfavorable realm. The peppered cherry flavor really was not working for me either.

Onto the fifth wine of the night, snacking on baguette, cheese and cured meats to help alleviate the heavy doses of alcohol from wearing out the tongue, we proceeded to the Aramis “Black Label” which performed differently than the other wines in the group—it also had the most age on it. With an enticing bouquet of eucalyptus, dark berry and some rose petals the wine delivered a full body with borderline heavy drying tannins—more structure than the previous wines—and a long, lingering finish of smoke, cocoa, cedar and some fruit beneath it all.

Finally the last wine served was the St. Joseph, shifting gears to break from the exuberant fruit forward display of the wines. The wine was reserved and it was an injustice for it to be served last. The traits of this wine were reeled in, it was tightly bound and because the alcohol was so low by comparison it was a little underwhelming. We worked with the wine but did it no favors by serving it after the majority of bigger bodied wines. Yet it showed some of the bacon, red fruit and a lot of earth that we were expecting.

After the tasting we were treated to an amazing dinner by the host. It was a nice way to punctuate a successful tasting of our newly formed wine group and nicer still is the fact that I am inching closer to the five hundred mark in style. Now up, serving number 275.