Italy is responsible for bringing us so many wonderful things: pizza, pasta, osso bucco, risotto, Tic Tacs, Ferrero Rocher and, of course, wine from some pretty awesome indigenous grape varieties like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Primitivo. Then there are styles like Brunello, Barolo and Prosecco, not to mention the Super Tuscans that put Italy on the map with fine wines made from the French grapes we all know and love: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
But what about Syrah? Sure, it is used as a blending grape, as any good Italian chef would use seasoning in his or her pasta sauce, but what about a standalone Italian Syrah? Do you have any interest in that? I am sure your answer is somewhere between “no” and “not really.” That is until now. Allow me to introduce you to Cortona on the outskirts of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano appellation — what many of us would consider “Greater Tuscany.”
Located in the eastern part of this area, at 585 metres above sea level and overlooking the Valdichiana, the Cortona DOC takes up only about 300 hectares of space, but with the growing popularity of its wines — and Syrah in particular — the territory is eyeing expansion. Currently one million bottles a year are labelled as Cortona DOC. But how did this France grape find its way into a country that prizes its own indigenous grapes?
Syrah is said to have come from France by way of the two other areas that proclaim its origin: the Middle East and the Mediterranean through Napoleon’s conquest and occupation of the area. Another story recounts the Count of Montecarlo di Luca bringing back some vines after a trip to France at the beginning of the 20th century. The first production of Syrah started in Arezzo and then moved to find a more permanent home in Cortona, where it has stayed and thrived. While Cortona claims other reds like Merlot and Sangiovese within its borders, Syrah makes up a whopping 80 percent of that production — so it is firmly entrenched there. Time to discover it.
La Braccesca Syrah Bramasole 2012, Cortona DOC ($47)
The 100% Syrah from this Antinori property is pure Syrah goodness with blackberry, black cherry, smoke and cinnamon — and at 6 years old, this wine still has plenty of life left in it.
La Braccesca Syrah Achelo 2016, Cortona DOC ($25)
This entry-level Antinori-property Syrah has lovely black cherry and smoke with a touch of vanilla and oakiness on the finish, but it’s the fruit forwardness that most stands out.
Fabrizio Dionisio Syrah Il Castagno 2015, Cortona DOC ($20)
Mocha and black cherry lead things off adding in a dark fruit component and slight tanginess on the finish.
Baracchi Syrah Smeriglio 2015, Cortona DOC ($25)
Meaty and smoky with just the right amount of black cherry to make it feel more like a wine and not a sandwich.
Roberta Pasini Syrah Di Ego 2015, Cortona DOC ($25)
A simple Syrah that has lively red fruit and anise with a black cherry finish.
Giannoni Fabbri Syrah Amato 2015, Cortona DOC ($20)
This wine starts off pretty and just never lets up: red fruit, floral, mocha-cherry and liquorice all touched gently by a hint of oak.
Dal Cero Syrah Klanis 2012, Cortona DOC ($52)
Although one of the oldest wines I tried, this was still a baby. Meaty, blueberry and smoky notes kicked it off and the fruit on the finish was dark and brooding. Needs another 2–3 years.
Dal Cero Syrah Selverello 2015, Cortona DOC ($21)
Lip-smackingly good Syrah with juicy cherry, red liquorice and wood smoke leading to a smoked meat finish.
Baldetti Alfonso Syrah Crano 2013, Cortona DOC ($20)
Typical Syrah starting with white pepper and meaty notes, but when the black fruit sweeps in, you’re in for a treat.
Villa Loggio Syrah Tinia 2015, Cortona DOC ($15)
Nice layering of coffee, mocha and black cherry with a subtle smokiness on the finish.