Part of the adventure embodied in Snooth's Global Tasting Initiative is discovering new producers or new wines that may have otherwise dropped below your radar. Syrah has long been one of my favorite wines, exhibiting such a wonderful variety of expressions depending on the wines region, vintage character, and winemaking style. This past weekend's visit to the Mohegan Sun WineFest 2009 gave me the opportunity to try a few Syrahs that I would not have otherwise been likely to try. Keeping the Syrah GTi in mind I sought out Syrah, with some gratifying results!
It's not surprising that so many successful Syrahs come from all corners of the world. One of the attributes that makes Syrah so attractive is its adaptability to a new locale, ideally suited, as it is, to poor, rocky soils that may be too tough for many varieties. Syrah prefers a long, warm growing season but, since it ripens fairly early, is able to produce interesting, balanced wines even when challenged by a cool vintage.
Unlike many varieties such as Cabernet or Merlot that are unpleasant when not fully ripened, the herbal character and moderate tannins of a cool climate Syrah can be very appealing. In fact, many people prefer this expression to those made from Syrah planted in really hot areas where the over-ripeness of the grapes may produce big, juicy fruit filled wines yet lack the varietal character that appeals to connoisseurs.
That varietal profile of Syrah includes spicy and smoky tones on the nose, frequently characterized as black pepper and bacon fat, paired with brambly black berry fruit complete with subtle tones of underbrush and dried herbs. With time wonderfully expressive notes of black olives frequently become apparent.
In the mouth the rich blackberry / black cherry fruit of Syrah is often joined by notes of baked or spiced plums. There can be a lovely gamey, funky, savory note as well and one of the grape's true strong suits is its ability to allow the mineral notes of the terroir it is grown in to shine through, accenting the fruit and adding a fine layer of complexity to an already appealing package.
Syrah has a long history around the globe, having been brought from it's home in France to South Africa in the middle of the 17th century and finding a home in Australia at the close of the 18th century. The resurgent interest in Syrah really owes a debt to the care and attention paid to the grape by Australian winemakers who are fortunate to have the greatest collection of old vine Syrah vineyards with which to work.
Any one serious about discovering the pleasures of Syrah must include an examination of these Australian versions in their exploration, as well as wines from Syrah's home, the Northern Rhone Valley of France. Emerging areas such as South Africa and the Paso Robles region of California have just begun to show what they can produce and are a great source of reasonably priced, gutsy Syrah. These are exciting wines to taste and enjoy!
2005 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Les Jalets
A classic Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone, this offers up wonderful aromatics with clean, red fruits in a crisp, zesty style that emphasizes the wine's bright fruit.
2004 Guardian Peak Shiraz
Clean, well-balanced and easy drinking with lovely aromas of soil and white pepper spiced fruit. Pure and clean in the mouth this is just fun to drink!
2005 Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz
Classic old-school Aussie Shiraz that combines lovely, well integrated supporting oak notes with rich, spicy fruit yet remains balanced, focused and lively.
2005 Robert Hall Syrah
Superb aromatics combine the floral and ripe fruit notes of Syrah with finely integrated oak and soil tones. Bright, fresh and full-bodied, this is mouth filling and lip-smackingly good. Another great showing for Paso Robles Syrah!
2005 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Syrah
Just a lovely bottle offering up a layered elegance that combines the ripe, dense fruit of new world Syrah with the restrained complexity that makes old world syrah so compelling. A great effort.
As you can see there really are affordable bottles of Syrah from around the world and while they all share the same grape each bottling is carefully crafted to express what the grape is capable of producing in that particular vineyard or region. Syrah is one of the most gratifying grapes to explore precisely because of it's malleability. Start exploring Syrah today and you'll find the one that's right for you!