Skulls full of killer Syrah from Australia

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Skulls? What kind of a name is Skulls for a red wine? A catchy Australian one, Australia being the land of goofy wine and winery names: Mollydooker, Angus the Bull, Menzies the Cigar, Next of Kin. The list is a mile long, and they get weirder.

In this case, it’s a heady Syrah. The importing agent has a fairly normal name, Landmark Selections, and its portfolio features many tasty labels (including Black Hills).

I’ve been engaged in a program of winetasting workshops around town of late. That’s where Skulls first turned up. Whenever I asked people in the tasting groups what they liked to drink, Skulls came up frequently. I guess I must have been out of town, ’cause I hadn’t encountered it. So I found a bottle at my neighbourhood LDB Signature store—$19.99 seemed reasonable for an experiment—twisted off the screw cap, and took a taste: not for the faint of heart, this baby!

First off, a huge, tarry aroma—it is 16 percent alcohol, so who’s surprised? Then comes a surprisingly soft but very full taste of ripe Stella cherries. Massive fruit and a dark, viscous colour as it slowly trickles into the glass. A very deep and rich Syrah, perfect for folks who like that sort of thing. There’s nothing subtle about Skulls.

The bottle is distinguished by a quirky grey label that looks like something Gahan Wilson would have drawn for Playboy back in the day when we were all thumbing through it—“I buy it for the articles!”

It’s a killer Syrah, this pot of Skulls from Down Under, for under 20 bucks, if just barely. Interesting stuff, and well worth a try.

Speaking of Shiraz/Syrah  One of our own just distinguished itself (again): Black Hills Estate Winery’s 2010 Syrah took first place at the Canadian Culinary Championships. The gold medal is nothing new for Black Hills, but it’s still welcome. A big panel of judges evaluated over 30 wines, of which the Black Hills Syrah copped the top award.

A limited number of bottles can be had for $35 from the Okanagan winery (250-498-0666, Black Hills Estate Winery website). Some savvy indie stores about town also have some stock.

Meet the new Rascals  Having graciously extricated itself from the Albino Rhino issue, Earls Restaurants just launched its new house wines—red and white blends labelled Rascal Next Door. They’ve had Rascals dominating the wine list for years, sourced from all over the world and long labelled Rascal of the Vineyard.

“Next Door” refers to the fact that the new batch of wines is all–B.C., made for the resto chain by CedarCreek in the Okanagan. As has been the case with these house wines for many years, the blends are easy-drinking, tasty, food-friendly, and affordable. You can get a first taste now at any Earls in the province: red or white, $7.50 for a six-ounce glass, $10.50 for nine ounces, and $28 per bottle.

The white blend is fronted by Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, then Pinot Blanc, with a little Riesling and Viognier to round out the full, slightly sweet flavour. The red is almost a “baby Meritage”: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, then Pinot Noir and Cab Franc, and finally a dollop of Syrah.

Both Rascals are fresh and bright and full to match Earls’ food. The new, homegrown Rascals are a good move, and CedarCreek is a worthy partner.

Now, when will they return those salt-and-pepper garlic ribs to their rightful place on the menu?

After-dinner sweet  When it comes time to conclude the meal with dessert, accompany it with one of the nicest sweet wines in the whole Okanagan Valley: Stoneboat Verglas 2010 ($32.90 for a 200-millilitre bottle, only from the winery). This elusive little number may require some effort to get ahold of, but the smiles it’ll leave on your dinner guests’ faces are worth the effort—and the cost.

Fabulous ripe fruit, great acidity, full and rich—a real lip smacker, it redefines icewine as we know it. You might as well visit the winery, soon as the snow’s gone from the passes, and pick up some other Stoneboat wines. Both whites and reds are brilliant.

Coming soon, we’ll be tasting two new labels from the Penticton area: Perseus and Upper Bench Winery & Creamery. Big treats in store. A new Canadian whisky, too, called Collingwood.

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Earls Restaurants
Thank you so much to Jurgen for mentioning our new rascal next door, we are so happy to be working with BC's CedarCreek. Now as for those salt and pepper garlicky dry ribs, they're back! As of this week at our North Vancouver location, March 13th and April 24th at the rest of our restaurants
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