Featured Wine: Argentinean Shiraz

The featured wine section at iJamming! is intended to provide a number of positive reasons for you to splurge on a particular wine. But two circumstances conspired to make this review negative.

First, a debate kicked off in the iJamming! Pub about Syrah vs. Shiraz, and whether a growing trend by global winemakers to spell the historically French Syrah by its latter, Australian, name, is merely a matter of marketing or whether it represents a shift in wine taste. Syrah, especially from the northern Rhône, has a refined elegance beneath its muscular power that made the long-lasting Hermitage one of the world’s most revered wines for several hundred years (its softer, more aromatic neighbor Côte Rôtie now appears to be inheriting that reputation); Shiraz, on the other hand is a bright, peppery, fruity and occasionally brawny Australian rendition of the same grape. I love the Aussie wines they’re made well (like here and here, but Shiraz has been dumbed down and homogenized by the likes of Yellowtail and its many imitators to a distressingly low level of quality.

And then, last week, some Brooklyn friends up for skiing the local mountain stopped by for dinner, carrying what they assured me was the “most expensive bottle of wine in the store.” Unfortunately, that store was the famously under-stocked Hunter Liquor Store, which barely sells anything that even qualifies as wine. The Don Rodolfo Cafayate Valley Salta Shiraz 2002 sadly falls into this category. It was sweet, heady, peppery, alcoholic, overly fruity and entirely devoid of any personality. I know, because I had two full glasses: our guests decided not to drink as there was a snowstorm outside and they had to drive 30 miles home, and I didn’t want to appear rude or ungrateful. (And I’m not. Sensing something ominous about the wine, they brought some spirits as well. Good people!)

Sometimes you just forget about a bad wine. But this one I wanted to remember. I wanted to know why it was no good. The next day I decided to investigate. I didn’t have far to search. Because, while the bottle intimates exclusivity and quality, the tell-tale signs are everywhere.

A splendid(ly) bad example of what Wine Expo would call One Note Charlie Fruit Bombus Exaggerati.

1) Shiraz. Sure, it’s the grape of the moment, assuming Pinot Noir hasn’t lost its Sideways momentum. But Shiraz excels in Australia, not Argentina, where until recently, when not rediscovering and successfully selling us their splendid native Malbec, they were still spelling it the old-fashioned French way, as Syrah. This wine is marketing from the get-go.
2) “High Altitude Vineyards.” High altitude must equal quality, right? Why else would they put it on the label? Unless they’re trying to impress people who don’t know better. The Cafayate Valley in Argentina’s far-northern Salta region is indeed high altitude, and it’s known as the source of the country’s best Torrontes, a native white wine I adore. But just because it’s ideal for one particular white grape, does not mean it’s good for the four different red grapes being grown and sold under the Don Rodolfo label.
3) Back label: imported by Cabernet Corporation. Can you think of a more generic name for a wine business than Cabernet Corporation?
4) Back label, again. “Intensely-colored, highly concentrated, fruit-driven.” Translation: One Note Charlie Fruit Bombus Exaggerati.
5) 14.1% alcohol. Painfully high for 5 year old vines.
6) The price. It’s a $10 bottle of wine. What do you expect?
7) From the web site: 5.4 tons an acre. 3.97g/l of residual sugar. Over-cropped and over-sweet. No wonder I had a headache the next morning.

There are great wines to be had from Argentina, especially from their native Malbec and Torrontes grapes. But as the Don Rodolfo exercise reveals, you should avoid under-priced, mass-marketed bottles that ape global trends like the plague.

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January 2022