Celebrate Syrah!

Celebrate Syrah Shiraz!

Is it Shiraz or Syrah? The official holiday today is recently enacted “Shiraz Day”, celebrated on the 4th Thursday in July, so it is July 28th in 2022. But Shiraz is simply a typical name of the Australian wine produced from Syrah grapes – it is really Syrah that we should be celebrating here (if you disagree, feel free to express yourself in the comments section).

Syrah is one of the 9 or maybe 10 major red grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel (I live in the US, so don’t mind me) and maybe Nebbiolo. It was recently established that Syrah is an offspring of two obscure grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, originally appearing somewhere in the southeast of France. Today, Syrah wines are successfully produced all around the world – France, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, California, Washington, Israel, South Africa, and everywhere in between.

It is difficult (and pointless) to compare the wines based on prices, but the price can be used to measure their relative popularity (your liking of the wine in the glass has no relation to its price). Based on prices, Syrah wines are far behind red Burgundy (no wines can match the level of Burgundy prices – out of the 25 most expensive Burgundy wines, the “cheapest” on the list is $8K a bottle), and they are trailing Bordeaux first growth and California cult Cabernet Sauvignon wines. If you want to see for yourself, here are the lists of the most expensive Syrah and Shiraz wines – Wine-Searcher tracks these two categories separately.

We can also say a few words about the most famous producers around the world. Again, these are not absolute positions – unless you are “deeply in the space”, the names might be meaningless, but nevertheless, it is still a fun exercise. As a nod to the exact name of the holiday, Shiraz Day, we can look into the Australian Shiraz world’s first, where Penfolds (iconic Grange, anyone?) and Henschke are probably lead uncontestedly, with Torbeck, Jim Barry, d’Arenberg, Two Hands, Mollydooker, Tahblik definitely worth mentioning as well.

In France, great Syrah wines are concentrated in Hermitage, Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Cornas regions. J.L. Chave, E. Guigal, and M. Chapoutier would be on top of my list, and I don’t drink enough of the Northern Rhone wines to extend this list further.

When it comes to the USA, California, and Washington are by far the top Syrah producers, with some notable successes coming also from Oregon. In California, Sine Qua Non, Alban, and Saxum would probably be the ones I would like to mention first, but there is no shortage of other notable Syrah producers such as Carlisle, Zaca Mesa, Andrew Murray, Beckmen, and many, many others.

And then there is Washington. Syrah might truly be a king of Washington wines, produced literally by each and every winemaker, small and large. In that sea of Syrah, Christophe Baron is standing a head and shoulders above all others with his iconic Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, and Hors Categorie lines.

I didn’t tell you from the beginning, but if you ask me about my favorite wine grape, I will probably have to decide between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, both in their pure, singular, non-blended expression. My favorite two tell-tale properties of Syrah are pepper and barnyard. I recently learned that pepper notes in the wine are caused by the chemical compound called rotundone, found in the grape skins. It is not very clear why the pepper is most often associated with Syrah, it can be found in the other grapes too, but I always equate the significant presence of black pepper with Syrah. And for the barnyard smell… Ohh, I know I can be beaten up for this, as this is considered to be a fault in wine – according to the Wine Spectator, “Brettanomyces, or “brett,” is a spoilage yeast with aromatic elements that are politely described as “barnyard.”“. I can’t argue with the experts, but nevertheless, I often find the barnyard smell in Syrah wines, and yes, I do like it.

To finish our Syrah conversation on a memorable note, how about a memory exercise?

First, pour yourself a glass of Syrah or Shiraz, whatever your heart desires. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Give yourself, let’s say, 5 minutes of time, and write down the names of the most memorable Syrah/Shiraz wines or Syrah/Shiraz experiences you ever encountered.

Done?

We are not going to compare notes (there are hundreds of thousands of wines in this world), but here are some of mine.

My most memorable encounter with Syrah – actually, Shiraz – is Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was literally blown away by the purity of the black pepper expression. Ever since this is my goto example of the classic Syrah wine. Another one will be a bit unusual, but it was Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay from New Zealand – again, beautiful black pepper, and my very first encounter with Syrah produced in the land of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Then there is Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah from Applegate Valley in Oregon – organic, biodynamic wine of beautiful clarity and finesse. Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley is a connection to the beautiful experience of visiting Santa Barbara County for my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2014. Zaca Mesa was my first stop after arrival to Santa Barbara – both hospitality at the winery and the wines themselves created this memory knot, a connection easy to reach out for. Another connection to the same WBC14 was the first encounter with the first (and the only?) AVA dedicated to Syrah wines – Ballard Canyon. The AVA status was just granted to the Ballard Canyon exactly during our visit there, and I attended a session about the Syrah wines of Ballard Canyon where Stolpman Syrah Ballard Canyon for some reason got stuck in my head – another memory connection.

There are uncountably more Syrah wine experiences (just look at the labels in the collage), but hey, the purpose of the exercise was to focus on the few of the first – and this is exactly what I did.

Here you go, my friends – another grape holiday is about to become history. Hope you had something tasty to drink, and if you care to share your most memorable Syrah and Shiraz encounters, this is what the comments section is for.

 

 

 

  1. August 1, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Some nice Syrah you list, also a fan of this grape! And here’s another one that’s very interesting, although not 100%. Domaine Serol in Côte Roannais lost 100% of their grapes in 2020 due to hail. 2021 also saw extensive loss so they brought in grapes donated from producers in other regions to make a wine appropriately named “Melting Potes” (basically meaning all into the melting pot). It’s 50% Gamay from Gaillac and Fiefs Vendéens, and 43% Syrah and 7% Grenache sourced from the Languedoc close to Perpignan. I wish I could get you a bottle… working on getting myself one.

    • August 2, 2022 at 9:22 pm

      Thanks, Lynn. you know me well… I would LOVE to taste this Melting Potes wine… I checked here locally – never mind this wine, nothing from Domain Serol is available…

  1. August 2, 2022 at 10:20 pm

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