Syrah has returned
Do you remember the heady days of Shiraz? When Australia stood tall in the saddle atop of the wine world. Cool climate regions wanted to be like them, hot climate regions wanted to emulate them and glasses had to be filled with Shiraz. It seemed there was no other wine in the world — no matter where you were located in the world Shiraz was in and you’d better be making it. Those days are gone. Today the term is relegated to Australian bottles alone; but the grape that inspired those big, robust wines hasn’t gone away; truth is it has come back to its origins: just like Prince changed his name to a symbol and then back again to Prince, Syrah has returned to, well, Syrah.
Today it’s back to the grape in its purest form. If you’ll remember, Shiraz was big and powerful, an alcoholic fruit bomb loaded with blackberry, chocolate-cherry and subtle notes of pepper. But Syrah is more refined than that. Sure, pepper remains a staple but so are herbal notes, and gentile red fruits; they aren’t wines that accost the tongue with big bold flavours, they sidle up to your palate, give you a wink and a nod, seemingly to say “Hello Sailor” as they seduce you with finesse, not overwhelm you with fruit while carrying a whack of alcohol.
Syrah is making a comeback and nobody should be happier than the folks of the Rhône Valley, who never gave up on its true nature, as well as those cool climate regions (Ontario, New Zealand, Washington — just to name a few) who realized early on that even though they put “Shiraz” on the label to catch a trend, what they were actually making was the subtler version of the grape.
“Wine drinkers are finding the new Syrahs a welcome change from the highly extracted high alcohol content of their Australian cousin,” says Paul Sawler of Dirty Laundry Vineyard in British Columbia.
Ontario winemaker and noted Syrah advocate Derek Barnett has this to say about the grape’s allure in a cool climate region: “Syrah in Ontario produces the most perfect food wine — floral, savoury and sometimes earthy notes with crunchy purple fruit aromas and flavours, balanced with great acidity. Winters have not been too kind recently but in the best Vineyard sites [we can produce] classic cool climate Syrah.”
Jeff Aubry of Coyote’s Run Estate winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake is of two minds: “No other variety can be such an inconsistent yielder and remain in the ground. It’s tough to grow in our cool climate; but every time I want to rip out that Syrah block, it produces an amazing, spellbinding wines which people really respond to.”
On the other side of North America, in Washington State, they also take Syrah very seriously: “Syrah is Washington State’s third most planted red variety, behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Styles vary from AVA to AVA, vineyard to vineyard, winery to winery,” says Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, “but generally speaking, Washington Syrah tends to nod at the Old World; benefiting from Washington State’s long summer days and major temperature swings at night, as well as our terroir. The resulting wines are balanced, with complex flavours and an acidity that helps make them age worthy.”
The Australian way is no longer de rigueur. The Old World way is back and better than ever, because it has found new places to grow and thrive. Syrah is ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille, and wine drinkers are receptive to what it’s bringing to the table.
Lailey Barrel Select Syrah Barrel Select, Ontario ($35)
All Lailey estate fruit goes into this 6-barrel bottling: aromas are mellow and meaty with white-pepper; palate is raspberry with white pepper, strawberry and redcurrant.
Sacred Hill Deerstalker Syrah 2013, New Zealand ($69)
Smoky with gentle pepper, blackberry, spiced-raspberry and a long finish; the balance and finesse here are amazing.
Chivite Finca de Villatuerta Syrah 2011, Spain ($25)
Another single-varietal Syrah from Spain, this time from a single vineyard: smooth and silky with black fruit, nice acidity and gentle spice.
Sandhill Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah 2012, British Columbia ($44.95)
Showing some textbook smoked meat, black cherry, plum and vanilla all coming together with a hint of liquorice and spice; another delightful Syrah from BC’s Okanagan Valley.
Domaine le Grand Retour Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2013, Rhône Valley ($14.95)
In a blend Syrah adds so much and the Rhône offers great value in these wines: plum, leather, vanilla, black cherry and white pepper, with a good chalky finish.
Domaine Les Aphillanthes Vieilles Vignes Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2012, Rhône Valley ($29.95)
Raspberry from start to finish with strawberry, cherry and plum thrown into the mix, the finish doles out a healthy dose of spice.
Michael David 6th Sense Syrah 2012, California ($24.95)
There’s something here that really entices; it’s not typical but it is tasty: blueberry, smoky, rich raspberry, spicy, yet all nicely balanced — very alluring.
Dirty Laundry Kay-Syrah 2012, British Columbia ($26.95)
Proving that Dirty Laundry is more than just Gewürztraminer, this is meaty, raspberry, with a dose of white pepper and violet/floral notes, a delicate and delicious Syrah from the Okanagan.
Rustenberg Buzzard Kloof Syrah 2010, South Africa ($24.95)
Plum, black cherry, pepper and smoke; chewy and chunky with a gritty finish.
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2012, Chile ($19.95)
Simple and silky, with meaty, dark berries, and thick and chewy palate loaded with raspberry, and hints of mocha on the finish.
Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe Telegramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013, Rhône Valley ($48.95)
Juicy cherry with gentle spice, raspberry and anise aromas and a silky smoothness on the palate that follows through to the finish.
Guigal Gigondas 2011, Rhône Valley ($36.95)
Lots of lovely rich cherry, smoky-chocolate, spiced-plum, and raspberry here; good tannin backbone with a smoky red berry finish.
Famille Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres 2013, Rhône Valley ($17.95)
Raspberry, white pepper, smoke, cherry, violets; consistently good vintage to vintage.
Alceno Premium 50 Barricas Syrah 2012, Spain ($13.95)
Vibrant fruit-driven Syrah that hits all the raspberry, dark fruit and pepper notes you’d expect, from a place you don’t expect: Spain.
Fess Parker The Big Easy Syrah 2012, California ($35.95)
Sometimes California doesn’t make it easy to pick out certain grape varieties, this Syrah has a creamy, smoky, mocha and peppery notes; it is a lovely sip.
La Ferme du Mont Le Ponnant Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2012, Rhône Valley ($18.95)
Syrah is a supporting player here, but still adds much to the proceedings: liquorice, spice, blackberry, spiced cranberry, loads of acidity with a great mid-palate layered with red and black fruit.
Gordon Estate Syrah 2012, Washington ($32.95)
Pretty floral and blueberry notes with hints of chocolate and white pepper.
Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape Syrah/Carignan/Mourvèdre 2011, Midi ($18.95)
The French still have the knack to blend Syrah to get the best from it: gentle white pepper, meaty and juicy with nice cherry nuances.
Vina San Pedro 1865 Single Vineyard Syrah 2012, Chile ($19.95)
Simple Chilean Syrah, but well ripened to bring out all the raspberry, cherry, cinnamon and smoke you want.
Ninquen Antu Chilean Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2013, Chile ($17.95)
Smoke and pepper take the lead here with a little blackberry and black raspberry backing it up.
Finca Las Moras Gran Syrah 2012, Argentina ($26.95)
Simply put this is a delicious Syrah with lovely black fruit, mocha, white pepper and raspberry notes — plenty more to come with age.
Coyote’s Run Red Paw Syrah 2013, Ontario ($24.95)
Here’s a twist, aged in 100% American oak for 12 months (20% new): meaty with sweet fruit (à la cherry) and vanilla there’s even a slight cigar box note to the finish with no aggressive tannins.
13th Street Essence Syrah 2012, Ontario ($44.95)
Smoky, meaty character with peppery notes on the back end, palate shows those meaty and pepper elements with hints of red raspberry — a cool climate Syrah to die for.