Wine Country

Syrah Weather

Time for Thanksgiving and a fuller flavor

By Angela Sanchez

I love November. Sweater weather, falling leaves and cooler, crisper air. It also means a change in what I like to drink and, of course, I love deciding what to pair with Thanksgiving.

When the temperature turns down and the light of day gets a little dimmer, it’s time for wine that reflects the atmosphere. While I don’t recommend drinking pumpkin-spiced wine (although I do love a great, well-made pumpkin-flavored porter or stout beer), I do look for wines with a richer, darker, fuller flavor than what is called for during warmer months.

One of my all-time favorite wines for fall and Thanksgiving is syrah, or shiraz. It’s the same grape, just called different things in different growing regions. In general, Southern Hemisphere growing regions like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will refer to their wines as shiraz, while Northern Hemisphere producers in Europe and the United States will call their wines syrah.

It’s a red grape that has rich, dark berry and cherry, chocolate and a hint of pepper spice flavors. Sounds like fall to me. The grape produces a low tannin wine with a round mouth feel that is still “big” without being overpowering.

For a great value I look to the Southern Hemisphere. Nine Stones Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia is a medium-bodied wine with a little hint of eucalyptus and cocoa. A warm, continental climate like the Barossa Valley’s allows for wines with more power and black pepper than cooler areas.

For a bigger, richer style, Fess Parker Syrah from Santa Barbara County, California, is rich and concentrated without being too much for the Thanksgiving turkey. Syrah grapes from the Santa Rita AVA (American Viticultural Area) benefit from the combination of steady and continuous breezes coming off the Pacific, and the dense fog that rolls in over the mountains, keeping the vines protected from the heavy sun, and allowing for ideal ripening.

Both wines will shine next to all kinds of other holiday meats, too, especially beef, and my favorite, syrah-braised lamb shank. For a starter, pair with a tasty, tangy goat cheese like Cypress Groves Bermuda Triangle. Drizzle with a little honey and serve with dried cherries.

When the leaves cover the ground, there’s a chill in the air and we are preparing for the rush of the holidays, I still like to relax with a glass of white wine after a long day. Trying something a little off-dry this time of year pairs perfectly with autumn-spiced desserts, like spice cake, and rich hearty dishes.

I love the diversity of riesling. While many rieslings are off-dry — slightly sweet — many are dry. An off-dry style like Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Riesling is bright, light and fruity on the palate and nose. Hints of traditional stone fruits and citrus blossoms, backed with a touch of acidity, make the wine light enough but structured, complementing heavy sides like vegetable casseroles and stuffing at the Thanksgiving table. It can follow you to the dessert table or help you start the meal off. Pair it with Purple Haze, a fresh goat cheese made in Northern California, that has added lavender and fennel pollen. The racy bite of the goat cheese and its floral notes help to balance the fruity wine. For dessert, a pineapple upside-down cake or carrot cake both have the richness to cut through the slightly sweet, slightly acidic characteristics of the riesling.

If you haven’t had a riesling from Northern Italy, this is the time of year to try one. The rieslings of this area are rich and complex. The cooler climate and heavily mineral-driven soils make for wines with more petrol on the nose and rounder, slightly viscous palates. Lemon curd and lemon zest characteristics in Roeno Riesling from Trento, Italy, are a nice accompaniment to the richness of fried turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. The acidity and minerality of the wine pair nicely with a robust cheese like Appalachian, made in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains by Meadow Creek Dairy. A house style “tomme” cheese made with raw milk from grass-fed cows is buttery, herbal and nutty this time of year from the richness of the summer milk.

Heed the call of syrah and riesling this fall, and be grateful it’s finally cool enough to stuff ourselves!  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

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