Welcome to the inaugural version of Tasting In Stereo! By far the most incredible thing that’s happened to me since I started up Pop & Pour back in March is that I’ve met or come in contact with a number of inspiring people from across the world of wine — producers, professional critics, retailers, restauranteurs, and especially other bloggers, who churn out quality content week after week fuelled only by their passion for this thing that connects us all. The amount of well-researched, well-written free wine information available online is astounding, and it makes me want to keep writing to keep pace with the standard that’s been set before me. One of the people who I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know is Tyler Philp of North of 9 Fine Wine in Ontario. Tyler is a commercial pilot by day, flying an Airbus for Air Canada while gaining increasing familiarity with wine shops across AC’s route map. By night he’s a family man and a burgeoning wine connoisseur, studying formally through The Court of Master Sommeliers and running both a formal tasting group based out of Alliston, Ontario and an insightful blog under the North of 9 banner. He’s located just north of Highway 9 (hence the name) that divides the city of Toronto from the county immediately above it and can be found on Twitter at @TylerOnWine — give him a follow! Whether you are a regular PnPer or have just stumbled on this post via some strange Google search and are wondering what the heck is going on, I invite you to click one of the links above and give North of 9 a visit.
As I described briefly yesterday, Tasting In Stereo is two wine reviews for the price of one: Tyler and I have conspired together to pick an inexpensive bottle that’s widely available in both Ontario and Alberta, have popped and poured it separately, and have independently written up tasting notes which will be revealed to each other and to all of you in two posts that will be published simultaneously — this one, and its counterpart on northof9finewine.blogspot.com. Once you’ve made your way through this review, you should definitely check and see if the North of 9 review is more or less flattering and then leave us a comment to let us know what you think about the format and the wine! If all goes well and our mutual reviews don’t lead to some sort of virtual fistfight, hopefully this will become a semi-recurring PnP/Nof9 feature.
Without further ado: the first ever Tasting In Stereo wine is the 2008 Sister’s Run Shiraz from Dandelion Vineyards, located in the Barossa Valley in south-central Australia just northeast of Adelaide. For those of you Aussie Shiraz fans out there, the Barossa Valley may be the premium wine region that best encourages and exemplifies the style of red wine that this grape from this country has made famous: huge, ripe, powerful, lush, fruity, soft and smooth, all dark fruit and sweet spice, with no harsh tannins or austere undertones that might interfere with a totally pleasurable drinking experience. The Barossa is an ideal enabler for these kinds of wines because it is hot and dry (allowing for quick and full ripeness of Shiraz grapes year over year) and home to many treasured ancient Shiraz vines (some over 100 years old — the older the vine, the less fruit it produces, but the more complex and concentrated that fruit tends to be). In terms of high-end Shiraz, there might be no better region in Australia, but many moderately-priced bottles hail from Barossa as well, including this one, which retails for $19-$20 in Alberta and a bargain basement $16 in Ontario (don’t get me started about how I feel about this interprovincial price discrepancy). In recent years a number of Australian producers have started pulling back slightly on the full-throttle, sledgehammer-fruit, high-alcohol style of Shiraz that characterized the country for over a decade, opting for wines that are still opulent but a little more balanced; however, there are still a number of loose and jammy fruit bombs out there. The big question for me as I twisted off the screwtop of the Sister’s Run was: which kind of Shiraz was this going to be?
The colour of the wine was my first encouraging sign: it was a medium-ruby tone and not even fully opaque, allowing me to easily see through it at the rim. That boded well for this Shiraz not being a total blunt instrument; if it was an overextracted, viscous, unsubtle wall of fruit, it would more likely than not have been a thick, inky, deep purple that would not be remotely transparent. This colour hypothesis was immediately confirmed, and all concerns of fruit-bomb Shiraz vanished, as I took my first sniff, which revealed pleasantly surprising dusty and savoury aromas right off the top: earth, smoke, dried meats and tomato, which I actually noticed before the powerful dark fruit notes of blackberry, fig and currant at the core of the wine. There was also a hint of allspice/gingerbread on the edges of the aroma; all in all, a tremendous and complex nose for a value-priced wine. The fruit was a little more centre stage on the palate, which had a clear underlying note of ripe sweetness running alongside the wine’s entire flavour profile. The Sister’s Run was chock full of lush, rustic, brambly black fruit, but everything was still under control, with mocha, cedar, dust and leather flavours providing contrast and nothing seeming forced or overdone. The wine’s medium-high acidity and smooth shiny tannins provided balance and a quiet structure for its inevitably full body, and the alcohol (14.5%) never seemed assertive or out of place, all leading to a soft, mellow finish.
This is an excellent example of good modern Shiraz: big and fruity, but with enough restraint that it’s not providing ripe fruit at the expense of everything else. I’m loving this wine for under $20, and am completely relieved that the inaugural Tasting In Stereo didn’t end up featuring a wine that I despised (which I convinced myself would happen as soon as we started planning this idea). I’ve been a little apprehensive about Australia in recent months, but wines like this show that its wine industry is growing and evolving and moving beyond the hedonistic simplicity that first made its fortune. Like a lot of reds, this one would be well served with a few minutes in the fridge before opening, which I found really helped focus its flavours, but regardless of what you do before you crack it, it’s a winner.
Over to you, Tyler — what do you think? Can’t wait to find out!
$15 to $20 CDN
UPDATE: If you’ve had a chance to read Tyler’s TinS post, you’ll notice that the biggest difference between our reviews was that I thought the alcohol on the Sister’s Run was well-integrated and harmonious with the rest of the wine, while he thought it spiked noticeably and created an unbalanced and uncomfortable burn on the finish. We’ve been musing about the reason behind this discrepancy. One potential reason, which I alluded to briefly above, is temperature. My Sister’s Run went from my wine fridge to my real fridge for a few minutes before hitting my glass, and probably stayed at 15 degrees or even slightly lower while I was drinking it. Tyler had his Sister’s Run out on his patio on a warm day, so it could have been at or possibly above standard modern room temperature of 19-20 degrees. As I mentioned in this post back in March about red wine temperature, colder serving temperatures de-emphasize alcohol while warmer temperatures emphasize it, so my fridge may possibly have saved me from the burn without me even knowing it. You have to be careful with over-chilling reds, since colder temperatures also emphasize tannin and super-powered tannins aren’t generally conducive to happy drinking, but the tannins in Aussie Shiraz are generally so soft and plush that you can normally stick them in the fridge for a bit without worrying about the wine becoming overly bitter or astringent. I’m going to try letting some of my remaining Sister’s Run warm up to 20 degrees+ tomorrow and see if the resulting tasting experience more closely mirrors what Tyler went through tonight. On behalf of both of us, thanks for reading! If you’ve had the Sister’s Run yourself, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought!