Syrah: Rich And Spicy Grape,
Getting More Popular By The Day
France is the largest Syrah country in the world with 158,000 acres. In second place is another famous Syrah country, Australia, with 99,000 acres. Spain is third with almost 50,000.
Syrah grapes in Hawke’s Bay, Unison Vineyards, Copyright BKWine Photography
It is the third most planted red grape variety in France, after Merlot and Grenache. Syrah first became known as the great grape in the northern Rhône Valley, in famous and quality regions such as Côte Rôtie, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage. There has been a significant increase of Syrah in France in recent years, in the southern Rhône and the Languedoc. This is where the majority of Syrah is found today in France. Northern Rhône is actually very small. It has less than 7,500 acres of Syrah, so less than 5% of the total.
In Languedoc, Syrah became an “improvement grape” in the 1980s, which meant that the wine farmers down here were encouraged by the authorities to plant Syrah to increase the quality of their wines. Today there are 99,000 acres in Languedoc, and it is the most planted grape in the region. Since it almost didn’t even exist in the area in the late 1970s, it is a spectacular increase.
But it sometimes has problems with the hot and dry climate in Languedoc. But a large portion of the producers uses it. It is a prestigious grape, and they know that consumers like it. They often make a top-of-the-range wine with predominantly Syrah.
Syrah is a reasonably easy grape to grow. It will grow well in several different climates and soil types. But it is sensitive to drought and needs to be kept at a low yield so as not to lose the concentration.
|Syrah grapes in the vineyard of Domaine Jolivet, Saint Joseph, copyright BKWine Photography|
Syrah wines can be powerful and rich in tannins. They are always more or less full-bodied. The ageing potential is often excellent. But Syrah can also provide wonderfully juicy and fruity wines to drink young, with all fresh fruit still intact.
The Syrah aromas are spicy, sometimes peppery, sometimes with notes of violets, charcuterie and tar. There is always plenty of fruit, black currant, not least. The grape has a thick skin which gives the wine a dark color.
We get the most explicit grape character in wines from the northern Rhône. Down in the Languedoc, the Syrah gets a style that differs in part from the Rhône Valley. It is less charcuterie and tar and more intense fruit and spices.
Syrah is extremely popular in Australia, where it accounts for 28% of the total plantings.
A syrah vine in winter in the Rhone Valley, copyright BKWine Photography
But here in Australia it is, of course, called Shiraz. It emerged on the export market in the 1990s. But it was planted for the first time in Australia as early as the late 18th century. Barossa Valley has the country’s, and probably the world’s oldest Shiraz vines, planted in 1843.
Shiraz from Australia got an early reputation for being overabundant, with high alcohol and lacking in finesse. But Australia is a big country. So, of course, there are all kinds of Shiraz wines here. Climate and soil types vary. The winemaker is of great importance as always.
The mass-produced Shiraz wines sold in bulk are often in that big and bold style. But in Australia, smaller producers make wines with both elegance and nuanced flavors, wines more similar to the Rhone Valley. Australia’s most famous and most expensive wine, Penfolds Grange, is of course primarily Shiraz.
|Syrah vineyards in Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhône Valley, copyright BKWine Photography|
Syrah is on the rise in many different countries. It is among the grapes that show the most significant upward trend in South Africa. In Chile, it is not yet so much planted, but winemakers like it, not least in Casablanca and San Antonio, in the slightly cooler climate on the coast. In the United States, Syrah is the fifth most planted red wine variety with 22,200 acres. The grape gained ground in California in the late 1990s with a group of producers who loved the Rhône Valley grapes and called themselves the Rhône Rangers. However, the movement lost momentum later-on, but a slight increase for Syrah can now be seen in the USA. The grape is already a star in Washington State.
Total worldwide surface: 470,000 acres
Main countries: France, Australia, Spain, Argentina, United States, Chile, Portugal
Characteristics: Full-bodied, rich, concentrated, aromatic, relatively soft tannins, black pepper, black currants, blackberries, even red fruits, sometimes
violets, tar and charcuterie. Always a lovely fruit.
CHECK OUT THESE GREAT SYRAH SUGGESTIONS:
1. CATTLEYA 2017 SYRAH “INITIATION” SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS – 97 POINTS!
2. CAYUSE 2016 “EN CERISE” SYRAH, WALLA WALLA – 99 POINTS
3. DUMOL 2018 “WILD MOUNTAIN SIDE” SYRAH RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
4. HERMAN STORY 2018 SYRAH “NUTS & BOLTS” SANTA BARBARA – 94 POINTS
5. HORSEPOWER 2017 SYRAH “HIGH CONTRAST” 95+ POINTS
6. KONGSGAARD 2017 SYRAH, NAPA VALLEY – 97 POINTS
7. DUMOL 2017 SYRAH “EDDIE’S PATCH” – 96 POINTS
8. SANGUIS 2017 SYRAH “BOSSMAN” SANTA BARBARA
9. SITE 2016 SYRAH, BIEN NACIDO SANTA BARBARA (3 X 95 POINTS!!)
10. SITE 2016 RED RHONE BLEND “LARNER VINEYARD” SANTA BARBARA 94 POINTS