If I was to ask which wine was the most accommodating, most would suggest a white, but having spent an evening getting up-close-and-personal with Shiraz as part of a Shiraz Tasting and Talk, I believe we have a new champion.
Chenin may be the darling of the vineyard but Shiraz is the hooker with a heart of gold.
Held at one of South Africa's most iconic estates, La Motte in Franschhoek, the night was led firstly by a talk from Chairman of the South African Shiraz Association and La Motte Cellar Master, Edmund Terblanche. It was then followed by South African food and wine authority, Katinka van Niekerk (my personal hero).
La Motte itself was one of the first 30 cellars in South Africa to start planting Shiraz and that was only around 13 years ago. The variety itself was once believed to have originated from Iran but thanks to American grape geneticist Dr. Carole Meredith, it was found to be the proud offspring of two obscure grapes from south-eastern France. How it came to be in South Africa is unknown but what we have achieved with it is gaining recognition the world over.
In terms of its accommodating nature, Shiraz is attractive because it grows well in various climatic regions and has a range of price points to suit all wine drinkers. It can take on many characteristics, making it one of, if the best, wines to pair with food.
If we were to use just generic examples of different continent's Shiraz', one could generalize and use the following guide in terms of style:
France - Classic
Australia - Muscle
California - Sweet
Italy - Grape-like
New Zealand - Upfront fruit.
South Africa - We sit happily between all those flavours.
According to Terblanche, the best Shiraz comes from cooler climates because it offers more definition in the wine but each region in the Cape offers unique traits and La Motte itself sources Shiraz from 4 varying regions.
We were treated to 3 flights of assorted Shiraz' from numerous regions to see the true diverse nature of Shiraz.
The first flight -
1) 2005 Domaine des Martinelles Croze Hermitage.
Being an Old World wine, it had far less colour than the other 3 and used Old Oak which gave it a subtle nose and flavour. I picked up a slight soy-sauce smell. Very restrained.
2) 2005 Torbreck Run Big (Barossa Valley)
It smelt like Christmas cake and hit you in the face with an overabundance of fruit which was still large and rich after 8 years.
Rich and slightly sweetish.
3) 2005 La Motte Shiraz
A slight gamey nose and good structure. One could say that is has a New World nose but an Old World finish.
Second flight -
1) 2013 Franschhoek Shiraz (Barrel sample)
With just 12.5 % alcohol, this was a very reserved Shiraz. Slight tart berries and a very light finish.
2) 2013 Paarl Shiraz (Barrel sample)
Warm and rich with lots of blackcurrant flavours.
3) 2013 Walker Bay Shiraz (Barrel sample)
The most 'complete' of the wines. More complex than the other two and with more spice.
4) 2013 Elim Shiraz (Barrel sample)
An intense peppery nose and juicy flavours.
Third flight -
1) 2013 Walker Bay Shiraz (Barrel sample, Old Oak)
A classical style Shiraz with gentle oak flavours.
2) 2013 Walker Bay Shiraz (Barrel sample, New Oak)
Very abrasive and overpowering.
Shiraz with food:
With our new knowledge of Shiraz styles, it was time to discover how we could enjoy Shiraz as part of our foodie lifestyle.
This section of the evening was delivered by Katinka van Niekerk, author of the fantastic Food and Wine Pairing Guide which is a must-have for any lover of food and wine.
As far as Shiraz goes, it’s almost too good to be true for it is such an accommodating wine that it will, as Katinka says, “bend over backwards” to try and pair with every food possible. When described as a "slutty wine", it's an affectionate term to denote the easy way in which Shiraz fits into the food-lovers life.
Starting with a plate of 3 small morsels of food (tomato, camembert and spicy butternut soup), we were told about, and sampled, the foods that Shiraz cannot abide.
What to avoid when drinking Shiraz:
Shiraz struggles with strong fishy flavours but if you insist on drinking this red with produce from the sea, pick a classic french version.
Tomatoes, lemon and big peppery salads are a no go.
3) Fiery foods.
Chili and curry powders and pastes are not a fan of Shiraz. They emphasize the alcohol in the wine and make it unbearable on the taste buds.
4) Creamy cheeses.
Shiraz needs hard cheeses and will baulk at creamy ones.
With our palates crying out for comfort, relief came in the form of 4 new dishes that Katinka explained where the perfect accompaniments for Shiraz.
What to pair Shiraz with:
1) Braaied and grilled food. (Grilled Steak)
All South African braais should come with a hefty bottle of Shiraz. It loves those charcoal/char-grilled flavours and adores Boerewors with dollops of ketchup.
2) Game. (Venison Dumpling)
Shiraz already offers an often gamey quality and so will happily sit with Venison or Springbok.
3) Roasted or braised vegetables. (Braised Fennel)
It is a vegetarian’s dream wine because it loves legumes and unusual choices such as fennel which, when roasted or braised, match the earthy characteristics in a Shiraz
4) Sweet stuff. (Turkish delight)
Yes, as impossible as this sounds, the sweet berry component in a Shiraz will latch on to cranberry jelly or a jus. Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was a piece of Turkish delight with dried ginger flakes that came alive when tasted with Shiraz.
I highly recommend trying your favourite Shiraz with a range of dishes to see its versatility.