The great bridger of people: Domaine de Petit Roubié 2003

I can see why Syrah might be a candidate for world's most popular wine grape variety: The bridger of people and binder of dinner parties rarely comes up short on body, a key attribute of what makes us remark on a wine. It also can possess a nice roasted flavour occupying a middleground between savoury and fruity. That's not going to give it many enemies, though the Syrah of Australia (known as Shiraz) often produces highly jammy and alcoholic bottles that critics label "over the top".

The Syrah of Domaine de Petit Roubié Vin de Pays de l'Hérault 2003 exhibits all the great attributes mentioned above, plus it lives down any bad "Shiraz" reputation with its great finesse. That it has a deft touch is particularly astounding for any 2003 cuvée from the Midi, which was more than sundrenched that year and overcooked many vines. In bakingly hot conditions, the sugar in ripening grapes can reach a point of rampant fermentation and raise levels of alcohol. This bottle is a odd specimen since it is several percentage points below the norm (only 12.5%). For what ever reason, this vin de pays is not gunning for your meatiest backyard barbecue. You can very much sip it on its own. I was a bit surprised by this. I had prepared a hearty meal with big flavours to match it: Pork tenderloin in a luscious sweet and sour "charcuterie" sauce of pickled gerkins and sundried tomatoes. I added sautéed Brussels spouts with herbes de Provence and roasted parsnips and garlic -- there was no way even the biggest Syrah was going to overpower my dinner. On the second night, I toned down the flavours a bit. A mild saucisson on a Tourte Parmentière from Première Moisson topped by spinach wilted in lemon oil created a delicious match. I may have noticed the tannins a bit more, but the structure still came through and gave the wine a smooth and fairly long finish.

Les Domaines de Petit Roubié, Pinet, France. 12.5%. Certified organic wine.

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