Syrah Shiraz

Grown on 182,000 hectares worldwide, Syrah (or Shiraz) is maintaining its place at the top 5 of the most planted red wine grape varieties in the world (1). From its botanic birthplace in the Northern Rhône, Syrah has conquered the world's wine lovers, winemakers and vine growers. Here is story of the grape, where it grows, how it's turned into wine, how it tastes and a short list of fine producers.

Syrah grown on the Côte Rôtie
Syrah grown on the Côte Rôtie

Parentage

There were so many legends about the origin of Syrah: Some swore that it was Saint Patrick who first brought the grape to the Rhône Valley, other argued that it was Gaspard de Stérimberg who planted the grape on the hill of Hermitage, back from his crusade. Some suggested that the grape was named after its supposed city of origin: Shiraz, in Persia; other said it came from Egypt via Syracuse where it got its name. Historians maintained that Syrah was the Allobrogica variety recorded by the Romans during their invasion of western Europe. As it turned out, DNA testing proved that the botanic birthplace of Syrah, is indeed the Rhône Valley. Syrah's mom & dad are Mondeuse Blanche de Savoie and Dureza from Ardèche. Debate closed.

Story of its expansion & where it grows

From the Northern Rhône, Syrah gained popularity in the south of France and even made its way to Bordeaux, entering the blends of Cos d'Estournel, Lafite and Latour in the early 19th century. This was the time when it also travelled to Australia, being brought by James Busby along with 400 other varieties. In New South Wales, it proved to adapt well to the local climate. In general, Syrah/ Shiraz prefers cooler climates than Cabernet Sauvignon. If today Frances still grows more than 60,000 ha, it is followed by Australia (40,000 ha), Spain(20,000), Argentina (12,000 ha), South Africa (10,000 ha), United States (8,000 ha), Chile (7,500 ha) and Italy (7,500 ha). But every country experiments with it, including Thailand where the best examples are found near Khao Yai.

Viticulture

Syrah buds late and ripens early and requires a just amount of heat to ripen perfectly. The Northern Rhône is the coolest limit where it will ripen fully and the Barossa Valley is the warmest it will tolerate. As a vigorous vine, Syrah grows on rocky well-drained soils such as granite, gneiss and mica, shist (Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas in the Norhtern Rhône), or on the alluvial terraces of Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph. In Australia, it's grown on limestone or deep sandy soils, loam and shale. Traditionally cultivated on bush vines in Australia or the Northern Rhône (Goblet) with one or more stakes where the Mistral blows; it is increasingly trained on wires where flat lands enable meccanization. In terms of yield, it seems like 40 hl per hectare is the sweet spot; but Australian have reached 180 hl per hectare with acceptable quality thanks to innovative training systems (Lyre, Smart-Dyson), controlled water stress and proper pruning.

Winemaking & Maturation

Traditionally, back in the Northern-Rhône Syrah is co-fermented with a small percentage of Viognier. The aim is to add perfume and soften texture of this thick-skinned grape. Winemakers use a variety of options depending on the desired style including temperature control, more or less long skin extractions, inclusion or not of stems and the use of oak.

Many winemakers use Syrah/ Shiraz in blends, often with Grenache and Mourvèdre in the Southern Rhône but also in the USA. In Australia, it is blended with Cabernet , in Tuscany with Sangiovese, in Sicily with Nero d'Avola, in Spain with pretty much everything including Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet... Australia produces sparkling versions, from cheap and cheerful to super premium, something that is bit of a Christmas tradition.

Syrah/ Shiraz-based Wines

Syrah/ Shiraz-based wine tend to be deep ruby (unless a lot of paler Grenache composes the blend). With scents of violets and black fruit (black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant) it shows notes of rosemary, smoke, black pepper and liquorice. With age, these flavors can evolve toward leather, chocolate and tobacco. On the palate, the wines are generally dry with medium to high acidity, tannin and alcohol, depending on the level of ripeness. Fruit flavors will be fresher in cooler climate (or picked early) and reminiscent of cooked fruit or jammy when grapes are picked riper. The wines are medium to full bodied and the best example can give a lingering complex finish.


In Bangkok

If you are looking to celebrate Syrah's International Day (On February 16th) here are just a few producer recommendations.

From France

Top quality producers include Guigal, Chapoutier, Paul Jaboulet, Delas, Ogier, Rostaing.


From Australia

Top producers include Penfolds, Tim Adams, Henschke, Mont Langi Ghiran and Yerring Station


Chile Top producers are Montes, Lapostolle, Vina Leyda, Errazuriz, Baron Philippe de Rothschild



 

To learn more about grape varieties, join our next WSET Level 2 Award in Wines

 


Sources:

Anderson K. & Nelgen S. (2020) Which Wine grape Varieties Grow Where? A Global Empirical Picture Revised Edition Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2015) Grapes & Wines. New York: Sterling Epicure International Organization of Vine and Wine. (2017) Distribution of the world’s grapevine varieties Paris: OIV

Robinson, J. (2015) The Oxford Companion to Wine. New York: Oxford University Press Inc

Robinson, J., Harding & J. Vouillamoz, J. (2013) Wine Grapes London: HarperCollins Ltd.

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