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FICOFI: Syrah vs Shiraz

October 22, 2017

FICOFI kept up its series of impromptu events in Singapore with a superb masterclass on Old World syrah pitted against Australian shiraz, conducted by Michael Hill Smith, M.W. who is no stranger to experienced oenophiles. Having attained his Master of Wine way back in 1988, he has gone on to helm his own winery – Shaw & Smith of the Adelaide Hills, South Australia – in addition to keeping busy with his countless classes and wine publications. Indeed, Michael charmed the small group at the Four Seasons Hotel, 13 October 2017, with his vast knowledge and hands-on experience with Rhone wines and Aussie shiraz, all delivered in his clear, authoritative yet affable and self-deprecating manner. FICOFI had laid on a generous vertical of various well-known Rhone producers while the shiraz flag was flown by three examples of Michael’s own wine, though it was all rather one-sided in favour of Old World syrah, hardly representative of the many different styles of Aussie shiraz. Nevertheless, there was already too much wine to go around and certainly nobody is complaining when there were generous refills of such great stuff, ensuring that we were all happily in La-La Land (literally!!) by the time we ended some two hours later.



As usual, we began with a champagne aperitif, the 2007 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs on this occasion displaying very good presence of clear citrus and lime with some chalk at the sides, very fine and delicate with good detail. A lovely start. The first flight of syrah came from the same producer, same hill and same vintage, offering us the opportunity to appreciate purely site differences. The famous house of Chapoutier is both negociant as well as winemaker, owning some 26 ha of Hermitage alone, all 100% biodynamically farmed and de-stemmed, favouring single varietals without any blending for their top labels. Derived from one of the very best plots at the top of Hermitage hill right next to the famous chapel, the 2011 Maison M Chapoutier Ermitage L’Ermite, showed a slightly evolved purple, exuding sweet dark cherries and raspberries on the nose, highly perfumed but imbued with more earthiness as well compared with the Le Pavillon below. Very rich on the palate with superb depth amidst a tinge of forest floor supported by firm earthy minerals and framed by very fine-grained tannins, fresh and bright, culminating in a long minty finish. Excellent.

In comparison, the 2011 Maison M Chapoutier Le Pavillon was brilliant purple, appreciably a bigger wine than the preceding L’Ermite, displaying superb depth of dark cherries and raspberries with a trace of lifted tangerines on the nose whilst a generous abundance of fruit is laid on the palate, more minerally and robust, tight with some brazen intensity and crisp acidity at the edges, filled with overtones of vanilla, medicinal traces and green elements that contribute towards a stern demeanour. Excellent and should surpass the L’Ermite in time to come though the latter is more approachable now.


Next came a generous trio of Jaboulet’s Hermitage La Chapelle that spanned twenty years, spaced ten years apart. The 2009 Paul Aine Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, coming from a very warm dry vintage, was essentially closed on the nose although some sweet dark fruits were discernible. On the palate, though, this wine was absolutely singing, imbued with bright red fruits of great freshness and purity with very lovely acidity, framed by supple chewy tannins, beautifully seamless though still primal, finishing with superb linearity. Excellent.

The 1999 Paul Aine Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, hailing from a terrific vintage, has already undergone some evolution in color, offering earth, spice and cedar with some leathery notes amidst traces of port, quite full with raspberries and dark currants, rounded with fine subtle acidity and gentle tannins. Drinking well but yet to fully mature. To me, the 1989 Paul Aine Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle was the wine of the night. Still showing an impressive deep dark purple from a ripe vintage, this wine possesses a highly lifted bouquet filled with great tertiary character, open with superb presence and richness, exuding quiet complexity and power with further notes of mint, forest floor and earth, full of finesse and great subtlety. Truly beautiful.


From there, we moved on to a flight of Cote-Rotie wines from Guigal, the famous so-called La-La series of single vineyard syrah. The 2011 Domaine E Guigal Cote-Rotie La Landonne appeared fabulously rich and dark with an impressive glossy sheen, full, masculine and primal, layered with an abundance of dark plums and dark currants that was beginning to open up with great acidity and linearity throughout its wonderful length. In contrast, the 2011 Domaine E Guigal Cote-Rotie La Mouline, coming from a single hectare of the Cote Blanc, proffered a generous swathe of sweet dark fruits with great velvety tannins, very smooth rich and sumptuous with plenty of toasty characters and gravelly earthiness, open and highly supple with excellent linearity. Truly a dark elegant beauty. It was a pity the 2003 Domaine E Guigal Cote-Rotie La Turque wasn’t of the same vintage but one must be grateful for any opportunity to taste any of these. Also displaying a dark glossy sheen, this wine is highly aromatic with a glorious tone of dark ripe berries and black currants with an exciting tangerine core, producing fabulous intensity and grip on the palate, still tight and still cloaked in some vanilla. Great stuff. While that was the order listed, Michael opined that he’d have preferred to taste the Guigal wines in reverse order, starting with the older vintage of La Turque, followed by La Mouline with its more elegant minerality, then the La Ladonne, supposedly the most robust due to its 100% syrah makeup.


We moved to a trio of South Australian shiraz for the final flight, all coming from Michael’s winery based at the Adelaide Hills, a cool climate region with an elevation of about 400 feet. The 2015 Shaw & Smith Shiraz Adelaide Hills was filled generous ripe dark fruits and dark berries with traces of rice wine and some earthiness, covering the palate with excellent fullness and integration, beautifully rounded and highly approachable in spite of its youth, not at all assertive, culminating in a long minty finish. In comparison, the 2009 Shaw & Smith Shiraz Adelaide Hills was similarly fulsome, recalling ripe dark plums with a lovely expanse of warm ripe fruit supported by a minerally floor with some attractive earthiness, the additional years in bottle conferring greater elegance, roundedness and superb integration. Truly a wine of great potential. And, finally, there was the 2014 Shaw & Smith Balhannah Vineyard Shiraz. Having lived in Adelaide for a year and visited the Adelaide Hills many times, I can tell you the Balhannah area is a lovely site, close to Bridgewater and the charming German village of Hanhdorf, en route to the Barossa Valley (if you are planning to enter via Lyndoch). This single vineyard shiraz offered a prominent note of malt and steamed rice on top of the generous presence of ripe dark berries, full but nicely rounded, its freshness, succulence and great acidity conjuring up a superb mouthfeel, finishing with a gentle trace of spice. The choice of these cool-climate shiraz, which are more elegant than the bolder examples of ripe and highly extracted warm Barossa shiraz, was certainly most apt as the northern Rhone syrah that we’d just gone through come from cooler climates as well. And, truth be told, if I’d been blinded, I certainly wouldn’t have known these were all Aussie shiraz, such was the quality and sheer sophistication on display here, bringing the educational evening to a most satisfying conclusion.



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