Monday, February 25, 2013


Syrah/Shiraz is one of the best red wine secrets around.  I say that because, for reasons that are beyond my understanding, this varietal wine has still not caught on, although Australian Shiraz had its day back in the nineties.  So because of its lack of popularity, if you want to try a superior and reasonably priced red for tonight's red meat dish, pick up a Syrah.

Since I love history, lets start at the beginning,  at least as much as DNA testing can determine.  Syrah originated from a mutation of the Dureza grape from Ardeche and the Mondeuse Blanche from Savoy so it actually may have originated in the northern Rhone where the finest examples of type come from today.  In  the year 77AD, Pliny the Elder wrote about the great powerful red wines from Vienne which is where present day Cote-Rotie resides in the Northern Rhone.  What isn't clear is whether that sturdy red was already Syrah or perhaps the antecedent, Dureza.  In any event the apocryphal stories connecting the grape to Shiraz, Iran seem to be unverifiable.

Shiraz, by the way, is the name given to the grape by the Australians following its introduction there in 1831.  Those vines from France and/or Spain were established in South Australian vineyards by 1860 and the rest is history as they say.  Shiraz is by far the finest quality and most popular grape there where it makes a powerful and high alcohol, ripe fruit-driven red that is usually slightly off-dry.  South Africa is the only other major wine producing country which also calls the grape Shiraz.

Elsewhere around the world the grape is called Syrah and the style is more in keeping with the northern Rhone style which profiles flavors of violets, dark berries, chocolate, espresso, black pepper, and plum.  When young the wine is more floral; when aged, more earthy with leather and truffles.  That style may also be powerful, tannic and full-bodied, and yet elegant.  If you can't tell, I like this stuff and complexity in flavors must rank at the top as the quality that separates the best from the rest and Syrah has it.

While the northern Rhone and elsewhere sport a Syrah which is minimally blended if at all, many production regions utilize the grape specifically for blending.  California uses Syrah like Petite Sirah (blogpost 2/9/13) to strengthen weaker wine or to add a lacking dimension to a blend.  Syrah typically adds a fleshy, fruity mid-palate to a blend and a darker color to the finished product. 

Syrah is most commonly blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault in Europe.  In California, with Barbera, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and unfortunately, into Pinot Noir.  In Australia, with Cabernet Sauvignon and as part of the GSM blend with Grenache and Mourvedre.  Borrowing from the northern Rhone, small amounts of the white grape, Viognier, are sometimes added to Shiraz/Syrah to lighten the product and add Viognier's trademark apricot flavor.

As you might expect, I have an agenda for writing this blog.  At Friday's tasting (March 1st 5 to 7pm) we will be tasting Edna Valley Vineyard Syrah amongst others and that wine so impressed me I would love to see anyone reading this to be here for the occasion.  Syrah plantings worldwide are booming, by the way.  In this country California, Oregon, and Washington State all boast new plantings helping to make Syrah the seventh most popular wine grape in the world.  Here at V&C though, we need to discover how wonderful this stuff really is.

Next week on Thursday March 7th, Gail Avera of the Atlanta Beverage Company joins us with a spread of new California wines.  On Saturday March 9th from 3-5pm David Hobbs of Prime Wines
will be here offering more Californians for our consideration.  On the Friday between the two events I'm sure something will be open then too.  And if you like reading this blog, please be a follower, just so I know I'm being followed.  And if you're in the neighborhood, please stop in.

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