Wine column no. 15: Celebrating doves

They're called mourning doves, and we suppose there would be a bit of mourning — if you got some lead shot between your teeth. Otherwise, the start of the hunting season on Sept. 1 in Indiana brings the scent of baked doves wrapped in bacon sizzling in your oven, and then there's the aroma of shredded cheddar cheese, added at the last minute, just for good measure.

Some might say wine is the stuff of fancy restaurants. But in the Grabner household, where Greg's got mounds of camouflage pants and at least one shotgun, we're having wild game and wine — if we're lucky. And if our friend Aaron brings 15 doves here for the weekend, we're even luckier.

This isn't shooting for sport, since this is how we see it: If you're going to rouse yourself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to hunt some tiny birds in the darkness of a soybean field, the least you can do is give the feathered beasts a worthwhile toast once they get to your plate. And thankfully, Varsity Liquors has just the bottle.

The 2005 Jean-Luc Colombo La Violette Syrah smells slightly of earth, but the texture is all smooth. Think inklings of black pepper, and maybe a bit of tobacco. But otherwise, this Frenchman from the vineyards of Pays d'Oc is subtle, meaning it gives the noble doves the spotlight they deserve. 13 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this an 85 out of 100. About $16.

But if you're on the hunt for a wine that will burst with fruit, leave La Violette alone and aim for the 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Vintner's Cuvee Syrah at Winetree. This Californian oozes aromas of blackberries and raspberries, but it is smooth enough to remain worthwhile even after the fruits have jolted your sense of smell. We paired this Rosenblum with spicy herbed chicken and steamed broccoli, and it definitely held its own. About $11 and 14.8 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this an 88 out of 100.

How can a French Syrah and a Californian Syrah be so wildly different? That's a question we're not sure we can answer. The book "California Wine Country," written by John Doerper, describes Syrah as a red-wine grape from the Rhone region of France that does best when grown in austere conditions. The reasons these same grapes translate to different flavors in the glass might have to do with the land the grapes are grown on, how much sun the grapes received and the way they were treated after harvest, among other factors. The Rosenblum is 14.8 percent alcohol and La Violette is 13 percent alcohol, which also may play a big part.

In Australia, the Syrah grape actually goes by another name: Shiraz. Think of this alias as an apt disguise for a wine that will knock you off your feet with flavor and intensity.

Most Australian Shiraz that we've experienced tend to be heavily weighted with alcohol — it's not unusual to find one in the 14 or 15 percent range. And one that we've had good experience with is the Dead Letter Office from Henry's Drive Vignerons. Most recently, we had the 2006 vintage, which we found at Varsity Liquors.

This blend of 67 percent McLaren Vale grapes and 33 percent Padthaway grapes was serious and heavy, and not that sweet. It's also pricier than other Shiraz/Syrah from elsewhere in the world, coming in at around $33. 15 percent alcohol. Wine Spectator gave this a 90 out of 100.

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