From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, March 31, 2016
Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape; as with Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, New World producers choose the name that reflects the style. “Shiraz” is the Australian (New World) version—fruity, full throttle, high in extract and alcohol. “Syrah,” in contrast, evokes the northern Rhône, earthy, brooding, tannic in youth, meaty, peppery, and leathery. Both are rich and spicy.
One apocryphal tale of the grape’s origin tells of Crusaders returning to France via Cyprus, bringing with them vines from the Persian capital Shiraz. However, DNA profiling in France and California has shown that Syrah arose from two southeastern France forebears, Dureza (red) and Mondeuse Blanche (white). The grape is relatively productive and disease resistant, late to bud but somewhat early to ripen. It thrives in warm, dry climates and grows in compact bunches of small, deeply colored berries. Syrah ages well and adds longevity to any wine in which it’s blended.
The grape has increased greatly in popularity and plantings over the last three decades, alone and blended. In the south of France it is typically blended with Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Counoise. New World blends involve Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Viognier (white). High yields produce fruity wines with a supple texture, black fruit, and light savory notes. Low yields result in a complex interplay of fruit and savory flavors with firm structure. Soil and oak also greatly affect the wines’ flavor and texture.
One of today’s wines doesn’t use the name of the grape at all: Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2014 is all Syrah, instead of the usual Grenache-dominated southern Rhône blend. Grapes are sourced from the Gard in the west and Vinsobres (its own appellation) in the east, with the latter making up 75%; the wine is aged in vat.
Two wines call themselves Syrah, but they’re very different. Alexander Valley Vineyards Syrah 2013 is an elegant, focused, lush blend of Syrah and Viognier cofermented, with Mourvèdre added for structure and texture, Grenache added to boost the fruit. Bodegas Mano a Mano Venta la Ossa Syrah 2011 is made from old, low yielding vines; it offers powerful aromas and ripe, fleshy flavors.
Two wines use Shiraz in their names. Milton Park Shiraz 2013 is from Southeastern Australia. It’s spicy, with licorice and dark chocolate, lifted berry and plum fruit, and soft tannins. Radley & Finch Lazy Hare Shiraz 2014 is a South African version, with black cherry, fig, raisin, smoke, coffee, and dark chocolate notes. It expresses its homeland as well as its grapes.
Whichever name you use, whether it stands alone or parties with other grapes, Syrah/Shiraz is a great partner for grilled foods, coarse textures (try black beans), thick stews, fresh herbs, and barbecue of all types.
Join us next week as we welcome April with “Spring Is in the Air.”
- M.P. Rouse