Global Red Wine Fashionista With A Knock-Out Punch
Syrah is a noble and fashionable variety and is indeed it’s the world’s fifth most planted red grape.
Syrah originates in the south east of France, and really hits the heights on the Northern Rhône hill of Hermitage. It is also Australia’s flagship red variety, with a distinct personality under the name Shiraz.
Syrah is very productive and disease resistant, attributes that have really contributed to its global spread. That’s not without its warnings. Rootstock and soil choices need to be firmly considered as it is sensitive to both chlorosis and coulure. Also if yields are too high, the grape quality falls rapidly. But quality conscious producers can rest assured it will pay back their time and effort.
Syrah produces a high level of anthocyanins, up to 40% more than another high producer such as Carignan. These are the proteins that add to the health benefits of red wine, including reportedly lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of dementia.
The distinct stylistic difference between Syrah and Shiraz is now no longer about what one country is doing compared to another. Moves are afoot to label by style, even within the same country, with subtle herby Rhone styles known as Syrah, and fruit forward and tannic styles as Shiraz.
Care must be taken not to drink the better Syrah wines too early, as they can often have overpowering smells of black pepper and burnt rubber.
Syrah/Shiraz can both be quite floral in its youth, developing white and black pepper aromas and herbaceous notes as it ages.
Some examples show tanned leather and smoky scents, while the fruit in these wines tends towards the very dark flavours of blackcurrant and liquorice.
Varietal Syrah can be quite floral in its youth, developing white and black pepper aromas and herbaceous notes as it ages. Some examples show tanned leather , black-olive tapenade and smoky scents, while the fruit in these wines tends towards the very dark flavors of blackcurrant and liquorice.
The prevailing style of Shiraz tends toward bright fruit flavours of frequently blueberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. Secondary notes of chocolate lend themselves well to the full-bodied texture of these wines, often accented by pepper and spicy inflections.
Syrah is naturally high in tannin and colour, and blends well with its Southern Rhone brothers Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault.
Syrah style wines like herbal and smokey flavours, so roast lamb and rosemary works well, as does the infamous Andouillette sausage from Troyes.
Shiraz style wines demand protein and pepper. A well-seasoned beef wellington should do the trick.
Syrah’s spiritual home is the Northern Rhône. The two main clonal varieties are distinctively different whilst both being distinctively Syrah. Petite Syrah (NOT Petite Sirah from the USA) has smaller berries and is seen as the superior variety. Grosse Syrah has larger berries and a lower concentration of phenolics.
The wines of Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie are full bodied and concentrated, and usually need at least 5 years of bottle ageing. The reds of St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage are often easier to approach earlier.
Up until 1970, Syrah was only really planted in the Northern Rhône. Once American wine critic Robert Parker noted the standard of these wines, other French winemakers wanted in and plantings sky rocketed, increasing 2000% in 30 years to just over 50,000 hectares in 2000.
In the Southern Rhône, where blending is a way of life, Syrah gives longevity to Grenache blends. In Roussillon and Languedoc is adds structure to both Vin De Pays and AOC blends, although often the higher yields give more fruit than punch.
Syrah often has blending partners across France. In the Northern Rhône a touch of the white grape Viognier is added for perfume, softness, and to stabilise the colour. The Southern Rhone’s plethora of red grapes for blending include Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault, ll enjoying Syrah’s high tannins and deep colour.
Shiraz, as its known in Australia, remains their major black grape. It arrived in 1832, brought into the country by James Busby, one of the fathers of Australian wine, under the documentation of ‘Scyras’, hence the bastardisation to Shiraz over the years.
From its landing region of New South Wales, it has now travelled everywhere, making wines for brown and baked everyday drinkers, all the way to the port-like concentration of the fine wines of Penfold’s Grange. It is in Barossa, however, where Shiraz has really become synonymous with the wine region itself, and there remain some vines there way over 100 years old producing exceptional fruit and are completely unique in the modern world of wine.
In the 1990s and 2000s most of the Shiraz wine on the market was big, bold, highly extracted and fruit driven, leading many critics to lambast its lack of subtlety compared to France’s Syrah. The Aussies couldn’t have cared less at the time, but now in the 21st century winemakers are experimenting with Australia’s cooler climate sites, in the face of changing consumer demands and climate change.
Although the big brand blends of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon fill the shelves in the wine shops, it’s the GSM blends that really push the boat out in terms of quality and style, where Grenache, Shiraz, and Mataro (Mourvedre) combine richness of fruit, strength, and opulence to make some of the best wines in Australia.
The stylistic differences between Rhone Syrah and Aussie Shiraz have led to many New World producers also using the name Shiraz rather than Syrah.
The cult of the Rhône Rangers, passionately emulating their French brothers and sisters, have seen plantings of Syrah emerge all across Napa and Sonoma, as well as the higher yielding vineyards of the Central Valley. It’s also now flying in Washington State’s Red Mountain AVA.
Originally the variety struggled, as Syrah was mistaken alongside the lower quality Petite Sirah. Better vine husbandry and no shortage of patience from producers and consumers has turned the tide.
Syrah needs a warmer climate to ripen well. Plantings in Europe are on the warmer slopes of Valais in Switzerland’s Rhône Valley, Tuscany and Piemonte in Italy, Toledo and Manchuela in Spain, and Alentejo and Douro in Portugal.
Plantings have in creasing considerably in South Africa in the last 25 years, going from 1% of vineyard space to now over 8%, with plantings across Stellenbosch, Paarl, Malmesbury, Robertson and Worcester.
New Zealand producers in the warmer Hawke’s Bay are looking to emulate both Aussie and French styles. They are interestingly not wedded to using either Syrah or Shiraz, ands are leading the thinking about stylistically labelling, rather than nationally.
Syrah also plants well in South America, with Chile leading the way with rich and dense wines and Argentinian numbers flying higher too.
Wanderlust’s Syrah selection
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