Syrah or Shiraz?

January 29th, 2007

Syrah or Shiraz – what’s in a name? Well, in this case nothing, because the two words refer to exactly the same type of grape.

You should be aware that different parts of the world – Australia in particular – most often bottle their wine as Shiraz, while most others use the Syrah designation. I’m finding, however, that more and more North American winemakers seem to be changing their labels from Syrah to Shiraz; perhaps because many Aussie Shirazes are earning critical acclaim and wine marketers hope the word modification will equate with an improvement in quality.

Regardless of this, if you’re a staunch Merlot or Cabernet drinker I think you’ll find the varietal to be an enjoyable alternative. Syrahs (or Shirazes) – especially those made outside of Europe – tend to be a bit more fruit-forward and sometimes exhibit a nice spicy quality which adds to their flavor and complexity.

Here are some selections I recently tried that you might find worth a taste:

McWilliams Hanwood Estate 2004 Shiraz (about $11) – This affordable Australian red has plenty of berry and plum flavors, with a pleasant, understated layer of chocolate-covered cherry on the finish.

Francis Coppola 2004 Syrah-Shiraz (about $15) – There’s no mistaking the name, because both variations appear on the label. Dense and chewy flavors of black currant, coffee and licorice make this California wine a natural to pair with barbeque beef or pork.

nullTerra Blanca 2001 Syrah (about $22) – This stunning Syrah from Washington’s Red Mountain appellation begins with aromas of fresh raspberries and rose petals followed by loads of blueberry and blackberry flavors. The wine’s acidity helps to balance the fruit flavors, and gentle tannins give it a soft finish. I recently picked up a bottle on sale at the Fairhaven Haggen store for only about $15. You can also purchase it online through the winery website at

Wine Class at BTC

January 27th, 2007

2:00 to 4:30 pm – Beginning Wine Tasting. The perfect class for those just getting started with wines. The format will be relaxed, yet informative, with plenty of wines to sample. No wine snob attitudes permitted! Click on the Wine Classes Page for more information.

Venture Out on Saturday Afternoon and Enjoy a Glass of Wine

January 22nd, 2007

Saturday afternoon is my favorite time of the weekend. For many of us, it’s the midpoint of a two-day break where the stresses of Friday’s workload can be temporarily put aside and Sunday is on the horizon; offering another day for rest, relaxation, and recharging our batteries for the week ahead.

nullThe past two Saturdays I’ve spent some time at a couple of wine-related venues in Bellingham. Skylark’s Hidden Café & Wine Parlour, located at 1308 11th Street in Fairhaven (and pictured at left), is perfect for a winter’s visit, with a gas fireplace and wingback chairs situated within the bar.

During my last outing I sampled the Jean ‘d Aosque 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($6 a glass), a lovely white wine with peach and pear aromas and flavors of citrus and pineapple. I also tried the Firestone Vineyards 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($7 a glass), a pleasant California cabernet with dark berry and plum flavors and subtle tannins.

The wine list has plenty of other California wines and a few choices from the Pacific Northwest. I’d like to see some more European wines and perhaps a selection or two from Australia, but overall the list is adequate and well-priced.

Skylark’s also hosts a wine tasting the first Wednesday of each month from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at a cost of about $10 per person.

Another of my favorite places is The Temple Bar, at 306 West Champion Street in downtown Bellingham. The cozy, inviting space currently offers a happy hour special served from 4:00 to 7:00 Tuesday through Saturday and 5:00 to 7:00 pm on Sunday.

For $15, you get a bottle of red or white wine – the selection usually changes every three to four days – and a plate of nibbles to nosh on. During my visit I enjoyed a Crow Canyon 2004 Syrah, along with cheeses, sliced apple, olives, bread and pistachios. Grab a friend and go split a bottle of wine; it’s a great destination on a Saturday afternoon.

New Cheese Shop Opens in Fairhaven

January 15th, 2007

If you enjoy a good glass of wine and slice of cheese on a crunchy baguette I’ve got great news for you. There’s a new cheese shop in town that goes way beyond your ordinary pre-packaged orange block of cheddar and it’s certain to make your next pairing of wine and cheese an absolutely heavenly experience.

nullProprietor Rachel Riggs and her husband Joe Vidal opened Quel Fromage in early December and the response from Bellinghamsters has been outstanding. The couple discovered” the city by accident while on a vacation to Seattle. Riggs says she always wanted to open a cheese shop and Bellingham needed one, so the vacation turned into a serendipitous event, of sorts.

One of the things that makes Quel Fromage unique is that all the cheeses are cut to order and hand-wrapped in cheese paper, not plastic. This allows the cheese to breathe and keep its shape. The shop features dozens of choices that are handcrafted by artisan cheese makers rather than factory assembly lines. And Riggs encourages patrons to sample many of the cheeses available, allowing you to give them a taste before deciding what to buy.

Another nice service the shop provides is a detailed description of the cheese on your sales receipt. The description includes the phonetic pronunciation of the cheese, its texture and flavors, and suggested food and wine pairings. It’s little touches like this that make a visit to the shop well worth your time.

Quel Fromage is located in Suite 101 at 1200 Old Fairhaven Parkway and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday from noon to 5 pm. Phone 671-0203 for more information.

Need a Post-Holiday Budget Wine? No Problem!

January 1st, 2007

The Christmas decorations are coming down, gifts are being enjoyed, returned or exchanged, and the potential for post-holiday blues – and bills – is beginning to sink in.

Many of us seem to do a little “belt tightening” during January, and if you enjoy wines there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t be a bit cost-conscious and still treat yourself to a good bottle of wine.

There are some really, really good bargains on wines right now, and with a little searching you can easily find some nice selections for $10 a bottle or less. Let me offer a few suggestions:

The Santa Rita 2006 120 Sauvignon Blanc (about $8) has already hit the shelves and is an outstanding buy. This deliciously complex Chilean white wine is chocked fill of citrus and herbaceous flavors, with an underlying layer of fresh peaches on the finish. Great with shellfish, seafood, poultry, or all on its own by the glass.

nullAnother tasty treat is the Cycles Gladiator 2004 Merlot (about $9) from Central California. It’s loaded with ripe, black cherry and plum flavors that blend into a long, silky finish. The winery also produces a 2004 Syrah for about the same price.

And finally, the Sagelands Vineyard 2003 Four Corners Cabernet Sauvignon (about $8 to $10) is an excellent Cabernet for this price range. Filled with ample cherry flavors, touches of dark chocolate and a good measure of tannins for a bit of structure, this Columbia Valley wine is a great example of how easy it is to get a nice bottle of wine without spending a bundle.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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