Two weeks ago, I wrote about Grenache and in particular Grenache-based blends. In many of these blends, Syrah plays a supporting role, helping to beef up the wine’s mid-palate and add structural elements to Grenache’s rather open-knit texture. So what happens when the roles are reversed, you ask? Well maybe you didn’t ask but seeing what happens when Syrah takes the lead can be a fascinating exercise in wine blending. Syrah is so much more assertive than Grenache, for example, that while a dollop of Syrah in a Grenache-based wine can have a profound affect, the reverse is rarely true.
Australia is arguably the king of Syrah-based blends, using the classic blending grapes of Syrah and Mourvedre, but also experimenting with Cabernet, for example, as well as the classic Cote Rôtie blend that marries Syrah with a dollop of Viognier. It is interesting actually to see this practice, one that can lighten the power of Syrah a bit while boosting aromatic intensity and complexity gaining strength in Australia while it fades from use in the Northern Rhone.
Photo courtesy tncountryfan via Flickr/CC
While Grenache has always been more of a devil-may-care wine, Syrah has a studious seriousness about it. Blessed (or cursed depending on your point of view) with pronounced savory elements that include flavors and aromas of game, grilled meat and olives, Syrah is not always an easy wine to understand. It’s also rather well endowed with tannins and acids. In short, it has so much of what people seem to shun in wine that it’s a miracle there’s any still planted.
On the flip side, however, Syrah does have one thing going for it. It’s transparent. What, and you thought it was a red wine! No, it’s still red (though Syrah rosés are also delicious), but it has the ability to change itself into something new almost everywhere that it’s planted. Syrah can be all savory and lean, with high acid and spicy mineral notes, but bring the vines to another location, somewhere warm and fertile, for example, and you can end up with a glass that simply oozes crushed black raspberries topped with black pepper. And for all the vineyards that lay between these two extremes, there are violets and sage, loganberries and blueberries, earth, cinnamon and a myriad spices waiting to be discovered.
So take a look at some of the great Syrah-based blends. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t find the one that rings your bell right away. Your Syrah is out there somewhere. Keep searching and let us know what you find.