Gather a group of wine writers together – or sponge, as we of the species are collectively known – and you can be sure that one of the abiding topics of conversation, ourselves apart, is the awfulness of that form of life known as the PR. Unless they're inviting you to top eaterie The Square, or biking over a sample of Bollinger Rosé (and how often does that happen?), all they're seemingly good for is bolstering the fragile journalistic ego.
Yet malign them as we like to, there are many PRs who make life easier for all of us wine writers.
In a first for a PR agency, Westbury Communications held a wine tasting this month, a job normally vouchsafed to retailers, importers, generics and overseas producers. They gave pride of place to syrah, enabling us to compare wines made from the syrah grape with their counterparts across the globe as well as look at pure and blended examples of the popular Rhône variety.
The Rhône itself was well represented by the 2006 Domaine Chantegut Vacqueyras, £12.99, Oddbins, a powerfully spicy, raspberry and cherry-fruited blend of syrah with grenache the dominant variety; a superior red for the barbecue. It shows how far the South of France has come with its syrah blends that it could come up with a couple of excellent rivals. The first was also a blend with two-fifths syrah but brought in the southern carignan grape for added spice and pepper and a rustic edge to the blackberryish fruit of the 2006 Domaine des Garennes, Minervois, £9.99, Marks & Spencer. Also from the Languedoc, the 2005 Saint Chinian, Bardou, £12.69, Tesco, is a beautifully crafted, spicy black-hearted syrah from Laurent Miquel, suave-textured and packed with juicy black fruits flavours.
France's biggest rival in the syrah stakes is, of course, Australia, where the syrah is metamorphosed into shiraz. As you might expect from South Australia's Barossa Valley, the 2005 Fox Gordon Brothers and Sisters Shiraz, £9.89, M&S Wine Direct, made by Natasha Mooney, is sweeter, richer and more powerful than its French counterpart, with liquoricey spice, pepper and smoky oak more prevalent, all the while delightfully suffused with blackberry fruit. Similarly, the 2006 Hardy's Oomoo Shiraz, £9.99, selected Tesco and Thresher stores, oozes pure opulent blackberry fruit power with top notes of oak spice and textured sweet tannins.
Chile and South Africa are beginning to show the benefits of getting in on the syrah act. Undurraga's T H (stands for Terroir Hunter) Syrah, £11.99, Qpwines.com, is a succulently sweet Chilean example from the northern Limarí Valley, showing a touch of the region's vibrant cool climate pepperiness. From the Cape, the 2006 The Bernard Series Syrah, £9.99, Sainsbury's, shows more in the way of cinnamon and clove spice with some sweet dried raisin and cherry-studded fruitcake elements to its flavours and chunkier, beefier tannins, while Marc Kent's fine Porcupine Ridge Limited Collection Syrah/Grenache Noir, £9.99, Oddbins, takes us back full circle to the southern Rhône, showing good concentration and richness of dark berry flavours, along with some of the savoury acidity of a good Côtes du Rhône Villages, or Vacqueyras even.Reuse content