Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Syrah may be the world's oldest grape variety. Today it is famous for the great Hermitage and Cote Rotie wines of the Rhone Valley in France as well as the great reds of Australia. The Middle Eastern City of Shiraz was thought to be its origin. By one account, the Knight of Stérimberg brought the variety to the zone of Hermitage on his return from the crusades. Syrah is the offspring of Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza. It is a very productive red variety with small to medium-sized berries, and thin but disease resistant skins.

The Rhone Valley’s Cote Rotie and Hermitage, the world’s finest examples of Syrah, are deeply colored, powerful, flavored with dark berry fruit, earth, smoke, bacon, lilacs, white and pink peppercorns, and herbs de Provence and have a long ageing potential. They are medium-bodied and dry, as are less expensive appellations Cornas, St. Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage; their wines sometimes take on a rubbery or burnt tire character.

Australian Shiraz, especially from the excellent growing regions of McLaren Vale or Barossa, is inky in color, with very forward raspberry, boysenberry, lilac, lavender, menthol, and sweet vanillan (from oak aging) notes. There is nothing shy or understated about these wines. They are outgoing, warm, friendly, and instantly likeable. Despite relatively high alcohol, generous oak usage, and sweet, ripe fruit, the top Australian versions are balanced. Much to the dismay of the wine world at large, Australia turns out boatloads of smooth, clean, warm, round and spicy Shiraz at under $10 the bottle, many today are under $5, from Southeastern Australian. The wild success of this wine style at this price has shaken the foundation of the industry. Low end producers in Bordeaux are bankrupt. High end producers in the Rhone Valley now refer to their grape as Shiraz in an effort to catch the attention of the buyers. In South Africa where is by far the highest quality red, New Zealand and the Americas, producers who label their wine “Shiraz” are imitating the jazzy Australian style, which is typically aged in American oak, while those who use “Syrah” are after the more subtle French style with less obvious sweet oak influence. In these new world areas where the wines are varietally (rather than geographically) labeled, the more expensive the Syrah is, the more heavily oaked it is.

In North America, Washington (Columbia Valley) and California (Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Lodi-Central Valley, Monterey, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara are all producing this popular varietal an a wide variety of styles. In the warmer regions the grape quickly loses finesse and perfume. In the Columbia Valley where they are often aged in American oak the wines have a peculiar blueberry/mocha/roasted coffee bean flavor and are quite rich and dense. Oregon, Idaho, and New York also produce this varietal. In the Argentine provinces of Mendoza and San Juan, Syrah is highly regarded for its deep color, expressive varietal character and fine tannins. It is often blended with Malbec. In Italy, syrah is grown in Tuscany, where it finds its way into many Super Tuscan and Chianti wines.


Chapoutier Hermitage L’Ermite, Rhône Valley (France)
Marc Sorrel Hermitage Le Greal, Rhône Valley (France)                 
René Rostaing Côte Rôtie La Landonne, Rhône Valley (France)
Marcel Guigal Côte Rôtie La Mouline, Rhône Valley (France)
Penfold’s Grange, South Australia
Trevor Jones Dry Grown Shiraz, Barossa, South Australia
Wirra Wirra Vineyard Series Chook  Block Shiraz, McLaren Vale (Australia)
Kevin Arnold Shiraz Michael Ian, Stellenbosch (South Africa)
Matariki Syrah, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand)
Novy Family Winery GarysSyrah Santa Lucia Highlands, California (USA)
Columbia Winery Syrah Red Willow, Yakima Valley, Washington (USA)

Best Value
Luca Syrah, Mendoza (Argentina)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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