Grapes of wrath

Roger Scruton confronts his prejudice against that old lecher, Australian Shiraz

Readers may have discerned, behind the exemplary open-mindedness with which I approach the great issues facing mankind, a small residue of prejudice. For instance, I cannot deny that I harbour a prejudice in favour of white Burgundy, the philosophy of Hegel, the music of Schubert and hunting with hounds. Nor can I deny my prejudice against socialism, Vivaldi, Foucault and Australian Shiraz.

It is now time for some heart-searching, however, since Corney & Barrow is offering a couple of Australian reds - a Merlot-Shiraz blend, and a pure Shiraz - at a price you can afford. Can I really dismiss these wines out of hand, and with them the tastes of so many of Bacchus's new recruits?

Well, take the name, for a start. This grape - the Syrah - has nothing to do with the town of Shiraz, famous though the latter is for the drunken verses of Hafiz. Syrah is the grape of Hermitage, a wine that matures over decades to produce the most delicate and perfumed of all the products of the Rhône.

The name "Shiraz" makes the wine sound wild and hairy, to be glugged from the screw-top bottle with the manly stoicism of a recent convert from beer. And to force Syrah up to an alcoholic content of 14 per cent or more, tricking it into early maturation, so as to put the result on the market with all its liquorice flavours unsubdued, puffing out its dragon breath like an old lecher leaning sideways to put a hairy hand on your knee, is to slander a grape that, properly treated, is the most slow and civilised of seducers.

Like it or not, however, there is more Shiraz produced in Australia than all other red varietals combined. And we dutifully drank these two bottles, preferring the Merlot-Shiraz blend over the pure Shiraz, though not without a certain admiration for the way in which the latter coped with a Camembert that reeked of the stables, and willing to admit that, if you do like this kind of concentrated synthesis of grape and grope - as some people like reality TV, fried locusts and the music of Stockhausen - then you might very well want to buy a case or two. But stock up at the same time on Alka-Seltzer.

The two whites are in another class. The Lofthouse Sauvignon from Marlborough is a match for the best of Sancerre, with a depth of flavour and mineral foundation that balance out that gooseberry bloom which, in lesser Sauvignons, has the habit of escaping from the glass, leaving only alcohol and water below. This wine is required drinking for lovers of NZ Sauvignon, and for anyone else in need of deep refreshment.

Equally well-made is the Gateway Chardonnay - not over-oaked as Australian Chardonnay so often is, but with a tightly packed mouthful of fruit that sits firmly on the palate. This wine, the equal of many a Premier Cru from Montagny, is a bargain at the price.