I was browsing through past winesday posts, and I realized that, in all this time, I have never featured a wine from Australia. That’s just crazy! How could I have neglected Australia, one of the major players in the world of wine? I guess I just love those New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs so much that I forgot to pay any attention to New Zealand’s big next-door neighbor. To remedy this oversight, I picked up a bottle of Australia’s most popular wine to highlight this week: Shiraz!

Originally from the Rhône region of Southeastern France, where it is known as Syrah, Shiraz has been planted in Australia since the early 1800’s. It is a dark-skinned grape that produces very powerful wines with intense flavors and deep, rich colors. Shiraz wines have highly variable aroma and flavor profiles, but common descriptions include dark berries, spice, chocolate, coffee and black pepper. They are generally able to be paired with a wide range of foods. Meats and cheeses are always a good choice with red wines, but Shiraz can also sometimes be paired with less obvious choices such as grilled ahi tuna, roasted vegetables and spicy Mexican, Indian or Cajun dishes.

Not surprisingly, Shiraz wines from Australia are very different than Syrah wines from France. Because of Australia’s warmer climate, grapes ripen more quickly and to a greater degree producing sweeter, more fruit-forward wines. They tend to be less tannic, higher in alcohol and drinkable at a younger age. These wines are the very definition of New World wine (also commonly referred to as “fruit bombs.”) In Australia, there are several styles of Shiraz. South Australian regions, such as Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, produce some of the most highly-regarded Shiraz. Wines from this area are typically lush, dense and full-bodied with high alcohol contents. Western Australia and Central and Southern Victoria produce wines somewhat closer in style to those of the Rhône Valley in France. Shiraz wines from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia oldest wine-growing region, usually have complex, earthy qualities.

My wine of choice for this week, Layer Cake 2006 Shiraz, comes from the Barossa Valley. As mentioned above, wines from this area tend to have very concentrated flavors and high alcohol contents. The Layer Cake Shiraz was no exception coming in at a whopping 14.9% alcohol! Although the idea of pairing my Shiraz with spicy Mexican or Cajun food was enticing, high alcohol content and spicy foods are not a good match (too much burn!) Therefore, I chose to take the more pedestrian route by serving this with a cheese-based dish. Shiraz can be served with many different cheeses, young and old, soft and hard, but one that I saw recommended fairly frequently is Taleggio. You can never go wrong with Taleggio in my book so I decided to make Truffled Taleggio and Mushroom Pizza. I served this with a salad of spicy lettuces and radishes from our farmer’s market. It was a very simple but very indulgent dinner.

As expected, the Shiraz was very rich and flavorful. It had a deep purple color, soft tannins and a strong blueberry/blackberry flavor. It was a bit sweet: think blackberry jam rather than fresh blackberries. Robert thought it also had a subtle savory quality. It was very drinkable and, although it was an intense wine, it didn’t overpower the Taleggio cheese in any way.

This wine is highly controversial as it turns out. After reading the reviews on the internet, I get the sense that people either completely love it or completely hate it. Some people think it has a great, pure Shiraz flavor and extraordinary, silky mouth feel whereas others find it to be overly jammy and artificial tasting. I fall somewhere in the middle actually. It wasn’t my favorite wine of all time, but I thought it was easy to drink and tasty (then again, I have yet to discover a wine that I didn’t enjoy drinking!)

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