Syrah knows that the secret to a happy long-term relationship with wine lovers is to keep things spicy. The variety’s willingness to try new terroirs keeps winemakers excited and its ability to range from absolute sophistication to completely guilty pleasure makes it a versatile teaser that has us wine aficionados wondering what’s next.
Comfortable in moderate and warm climates and known for its intrinsically peppery character, this intense charmer can show restrain and exalted elegance when grown and vinified is the skillful hands of Northern Rhone vignerons, a region commonly regarded as the origin of some of the world’s best Syrah wines. In the prestigious Côte-Rôtie appellation, it’s not unusual for Syrah to be blended with Viognier, a white and floral grape that adds to the gracefulness of the result, a practice that the New World has began to emulate in recent years.
Syrah’s polished ways are turned upside down (or shall we say, down under?) when it goes by its saucy alter ego: Shiraz. Most commonly seen in Australian wines, this name is the one you should use when summoning its wild side. Exuberant, rich and vigorous, Shiraz spends its days tanning on the sun-kissed vines of warm Aussie regions, famously in the Barossa Valley, to then become a generous, fruity, peppery red that is to wine what big action movies are to cinema or what the band Kiss is to Rock and Roll.
But Syrah (or Shiraz) is not a two trick pony and across the many regions that have embraced it, it has compromised on a middle-ground between poise and passion. In fact, it’s thanks to the nuances of character it can achieve depending on the lands and the hands that touch it, that the variety is so versatile and appealing.
Chile and New Zealand are two very interesting countries for Syrah experimentation. They both have something in common: after clinging to a flagship grape for years (Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc, respectively), they are on a quest to discover new styles and push grapes out of their comfort zone.
When it comes to Syrah, Chile’s late arrival (mid-nineties) hasn’t stopped winemakers from creating noteworthy reds in regions such as Colchagua and Maipo, where it is decidedly spirited and often pleasantly floral, and Elqui, where it resembles the more demure beauty of Northern Rhone.
New Zealand is also keen on offering the best of both worlds -old and new- and some of the best kiwi examples of the variety tend to come from Hawke’s Bay. With only 1% of the country’s vineyards sustaining Syrah, it’s not yet widely available, but having more than tripled its share of plantings between 2002 and 2014 (figures by New Zealand Wine) we can infer that soon we’ll be seeing more of it.
Another Syrah dark horse is California. While only a small fraction of the land sees this variety, fine examples can be found, often from San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin and Sonoma, the three AVAs with the biggest planted areas of Syrah.
And even in the countries known for both extreme renditions, the lines are blurring: France’s Langedoc has become one to watch for voluptuous, warm weather Syrah and Australia’s trendy cool wine regions are producing more elegant and Francophile bottles.
So, time to taste Syrah -and Shiraz-. Below, you’ll find a selection that highlights the variety’s versatility: whether you’re looking for a challenging red to quietly sip while reading a classic or one to joyfully share over a BBQ, Syrah is eager to be whatever you want it to be.
Shottesbrooke Engine Room Sparkling Shiraz
McLaren Vale, Australia – 13.5% ABV
€24.99 – Available at Martin’s Off License
This bold and unexpected fizz is Oz’s answer to dry Lambrusco, Emilia Romagna’s sparkling red wine. This unusual bottle is all the rage Down Under and it offers juicy black cherry, ripe blackberries, clove and toasted cocoa nib flavours with velvety, intense tannins and an electrifying texture.
Serve chilled and wow your mates. Pair it with BBQ, ribs or burgers.
Kellys Patch Shiraz
Australia – 14.5% ABV
€13.80 – Available at Karrig Wines (Cork)
Here’s an Aussie with an Irish connection: the winery is named after Ned Kelly, a bushranger of Irish descent whose homestead stood on the vineyards’ land before these were planted. The wine is intensely pigmented, rich and in-your-face.
This is an example of the loud, high tannin, loads of blackberry and oaky vanilla wines Shiraz can become when spelled with a Z. Juicy, cheerful and fun, one to bring to your next BBQ.
Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage 2014
Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone, France – 12.5% ABV
€19 – Available at M&S
This 100% Syrah offers a fine introduction to the Rhone Valley and an example of the fruitiness achieved when the wine matures in stainless steel tanks, compared to the more toasted and spicier specimens that have done time in oak.
Ripe blackberries, strawberry preserve and a touch of black pepper are the dominant traits of this velvety rouge of moderate tannins and lean body.
Pierre Gaillard Saint-Joseph ‘Les Pierres’ 2011
Rhone, France – 12.5%
€43.50 – Available at Mitchell and Son
This dark, 100% Syrah ruby is a real gem. Its harmonious balance between the fruit (blackberries, ripe redcurrants and cherries), the spice (subtle white pepper, nutmeg) and the minerality (sharp graphite) arrives on your palate along with balanced, powerful tannins and each sips stays for long.
It’s intense and toasted, with a potent structure enhanced by 18 months ageing in new French oaks.
Domaine Binet & Jacquet AOC Faugeres 2014
Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 14% ABV
€19.95 – Available at Whelehans Wines
A biodynamic beauty that combines Syrah, with Carrignan, Grenache and Cinsault for a resulting sylvan creature as wild as the forest aromas it evokes. Blackberries, bark and river stones star in this rustic charmer that delivers the bountiful richness of the warm sud de France.
Formidable tannins are tamed by a good structure and an alcoholic level usual at sunny terroirs. One to savour with spicy lamb and game or with mature cheeses.
Chocalan Origen Gran Reserva Syrah
Maipo Valley, Chile – 14.5% ABV
€16.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
This luscious Chilean offers a sophisticated and floral glass at a remarkable good value. With a dash of Viognier, it becomes a refined and smooth brambly, juicy tinto.
Sweet spices (cinnamon and vanilla mainly) intertwine with toast and a delicate touch of violets. Its tannins’ strength is medium and its wonders last for a pleasantly long time on your palate.
Trinity Hill Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014
Hawke’s Bay , New Zealand – 13% ABV
€22 – Available at Mitchel & Son
A “goldilocks Syrah” that leans slightly more towards the Old World style but retains some of the New World exuberance more commonly seen Down Under than in New Zealand.
Peppery (both black and white) with hints of nutmeg and plenty of dark fruit; black cherries, blackberries and a balancing presence of licorice combine in a complex and perfumed red.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.