Most wine drinkers are familiar with blended wines, where a wine is made from multiple grape varietals that have been combined after they have been fermented. Blending of different wines is used to help make a more balanced, well-rounded wine by playing up strengths and down-playing weaknesses of particular varietals.
A different method is cofermentation, the practice of fermenting red wine grapes together with white wine grapes. It is a kind of wine alchemy, producing a different product than the simple blending of two wines. It actually changes the way the flavors of the varietals develop, while the chemical reaction keeps the brightness of the red grape pigments.
Cofermentation is not a new concept. It is the method of producing the French AOC wine Cote-Rotie, where syrah grapes are fermented with viognier grapes. The viognier can be up to 20% of the Cote-Rotie. Guigal is an excellent producer of Cote-Rotie.
The cofermentation method is becoming popular in Australia, using the same grapes found in the Cote-Rotie. But in Australia it is labeled shiraz-viognier.
Shiraz is extraordinarily popular in Australia, and the addition of viognier to the fermenting process is producing some wonderfully drinkable wines. Australian shiraz-viognier usually uses between three and eight percent viognier, which is just enough to alter the chemical reaction of the grapes in the fermenting process to produce a wine that is vibrant in color and taste.
The nose generally has pepper, bright fruit and sometimes chocolate. The flavor profile includes red and dark berries, jam and anise. As might be expected from a wine containing viognier, this wine has decided floral aromas as well. While the alcohol content can be high, the fruit balances it out beautifully, making shiraz-viogneir a good quaffer. When pairing with food beef, pork, any type of barbecue and pizza are all good choices.
I recently tried the 2006 Innocent Bystander, Victoria ($19.99) and loved it. This Yarra Valley wine had aromas of anise, cassis, pepper and violets, and lush bright red and dark fruit on the palate.
Clonakilla, in Canberra, produces an exceptionally elegant shiraz viognier. The 2006, which is drinkable now, is priced at $135.00. Where other shiraz-viognier wines tend to be jammy fruit bombs, Clonakilla has beautifully balanced tannins and fruit.
Australia has done a great job of making the shiraz-viognier accessible and delicious. Why not introduce your friends to this wine by having a tasting, either on its own, or comparing it to a Cote-Rotie? And while you are at it, you can impress them with a little bit of knowledge about cofermentation.
To read what and where Colleen is eating and drinking, follow her on Twitter @colleensachs.