Friday, January 12, 2007

perspective on Ontario wine

I read an article recently that placed Shiraz (or Syrah) as the number one grape variety worldwide. This won't surprise wine industry insiders. More Shiraz vines are being grown on more acres of vineyard than any other grape in the world. In fact, if it were a race between Shiraz and everyone else, those other grapes wouldn't even be close -- Shiraz has 23% of all planted vineyards while Cabernet Sauvignon is several strides back at 18%, and Chardonnay is really showing its softness at 9%. Summertime Chardonnay guzzlers need to pick up the pace. I make no claim to the authority of these numbers -- this is a blog after all.

The gigantic success of Yellowtail Shiraz is an old story by now, but I have to say Shiraz doesn't even make it into my top four single grape wines at this still very early stage of my tasting career. I once described Australian Shiraz as the SUV of wines, and I stand by the metaphor. There's no denying the bigness and comfort inside, but one does worry a bit that the damn thing is going to roll over and crush you. I much prefer subtle blends using Shiraz, than the unadorned grape alone.

So, with all this worldwide attention to Shiraz, surely Ontario is jumping on the bandwagon and planting new vines like crazy? Yes? Not so much. The 2006 VQA Annual Report does show an increase of 149% in the total volume of Shiraz produced in province but that still leaves it officially in last place compared to all other single varietal grapes grown in Ontario, red and white. We're a cold weather people, and Shiraz likes long hot growing seasons as far as I can tell. Even if we wanted to jump on the bandwagon, it's so damn far away we can barely hear the music.

There are some interesting ideas about why we shouldn't even want to jump any bandwagons in this interview by Tony Aspler on the Appellation America website. In a nutshell, we'd be wise to grow what grows best, become experts at those wines, and build the brands.

Sports underdog lovers -- join me in thinking of Shiraz the way we used to think of Manchester United a few years ago. Fine, Shiraz dominates the field and usually entertains at a high level, but that much success risks becoming predictable and ultimately boring. And one thing wine should never be, is boring.

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