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May 31-June 6, 2006

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Loxton Cellars

By Daedalus Howell


You say "Syrah," I say "Shiraz." You say "posterior" and I say "yer ass"--but let's not call the whole thing off . . . yet.

Presumably named for the Persian city of Shiraz where it likely originated, the grape-with-two-names was originally brought to France by Guy De'Sterimberg, who, of all things, was returning from hacking and slaying in the Crusades. (I can imagine the T-shirt: "My Dad Slaughtered Thousands to Spread Christianity to the Middle East and All I Got Was This Dumb Grapevine . . . and Algebra.) The grape proliferated in France's Rhone River Valley and was later introduced to Australia in 1832, where it thrived in the warm climates of the Southern Hemisphere.

How the fruit came to bear two names is anyone's guess. However, its double-identity led many to believe that it was two separate grapes until genetic testing in the 1990s proved that the single grape was merely Bunburying à la The Importance of Being Earnest. It's Syrah in France and Shiraz down under.

Having been acculturated to Syrah here in the States, I must admit I can't help thinking of Shiraz as the evil twin, like Superman's addled, square-headed doppelganger Bizarro: "Me am like Syrah, same but different." Why the grape continues to be bottled under two names is the province of beverage marketers who seem to love the letter z almost as much as the word "extreme." (Is the day far off that "Extreme Winez" are proffered at the local bottle shop?)

I learned much of the Syrah/Shiraz saga from the sole tasting-room attendant at Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, the shingle of Aussie Chris Loxton, who forewent a career in physics to save space-time in a bottle. Now a lauded winemaker, Loxton's early quantum quest may account for why his list boasts a 2002 Hillside Syrah next to a 2003 Shiraz. Quoi? In physics, light can be perceived as either a particle or a wave--either way, it's light. Syrah, Shiraz--to Loxton, it's wine.

And fine wine at that. The Shiraz was a strapping young lad with a dominant plum note flanked by hints of clove and pepper with a broad jammy finish. "Easily the best Shiraz I've made," Loxton says in his tasting notes. In my notes, however, the page penned with my Syrah observations is illegibly blotted red--a dastardly graffito that made me wonder if another name for the multimoniker grape is "Sybil."


Loxton Cellars, 11466 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen. Open by appointment 11am to 5pm, daily. 707.935.7221.


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