Grape Variety: Syrah
Color: Deep red with a good deal of blue.
Aroma: Violets and sometimes black pepper. Very Berry.
Body: Medium to heavy.
Wine Making Flavors: Minimal flavors intrude, even when much is done to the wine.
Blended with: Grenache and in Chateauneuf du Pape, 11 other grapes. The white grape Viognier is used very well in the Cote-Rotie (Rhone). In Australia it is a very important grape and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grape Variety: Syrah
Syrah Wine Grapes, Flavor, Character, History
Syrah grapes is the red wine grape that rules the Northern Rhone Valley. Syrah Grapes are the only red grape allowable by AOC rules in the appellations. Syrah grapes are an offspring of two ancient varietals. It was created when Dureza, a dark skinned berry was crossed with Mondeuse Blance, a white skinned grape. The pairing is interesting as neither grape ever gained mass popularity before they were crossed. Both berries were planted not from the Northern Rhone Valley, which is the home of Syrah in the old world. Dureza and Mondeuse Blance remain obscure and seldom seen today. The discovery of the Syrah grape’s origins came from extensive research conducted at UC Davis. The research was headed by Carole Meredith, who owns Lagier Meredith wines in Napa, which produces wine from Rhone varieties like Syrah Grapes.
How long Syrah grapes have been in existence in not known. It’s quite possible the ancient Romans planted the fruit in Vienne, which we know asCote Rotie. At the time, according to writings from Pliny the Elder, the vines were called Allobrogica. It’s also possible Syrah is even older than that. Some historians believe Syrah was cultivated by the Greeks 500 years earlier than the Romans! While we do not know how long the grape has been used for wine, today it is the world’s 7th most planted grape. It’s popular all over the world reaching its best expression in Hermitage and Cote Rotie. In Cote Rotie, some producers blend it with Viognier to produce a heavily perfumed, opulent and exotic wine.
Wines from Syrah have been popular for centuries with collectors. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States raved about the wines of Hermitage in his diary. In fact, in the early 1800′s, Hermitage was the most expensive wine in the world. An advertisement from the famous Nicolas merchants of Paris from 1821 offers both red and white Hermitage at prices higher than any Burgundy or Bordeaux wine!
During the 18th and 19th century, Bordeaux merchants would blend portions of Hermitage to give more backbone to Bordeaux wines. Somenegociants offered this custom service to select clients. The wines were ordered as Bordeaux plus. As a homage to those wines from pervious centuries, Chateau Palmer produces a wine in certain vintages that blends about 15% Syrah with their Margaux wine.
The first plantings of Syrah in California took place in the Napa Valley in 1878. At the time, some growers mistakenly called the grape PetiteSirah due to the size of the small berries. Petite Sirah, also known as Durif was not imported into California until 1884. However, the majority of vines were destroyed during the 1890′s following a devastating attack of phylloxera. By 1898, growers were once again planting Syrah in the Golden State.
The style of Syrah based wine varies widely, depending on the terroir and the producer. In Cote Rotie, while a good number of winemakers produce very good wines, Guigal, with their top three wines, known as the “La La’s,” La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne,” are the undisputed champions of the appellation. In Hermitage, Jean Louis Chave Hermitage, La Chapelle, Chapoutier Hermitage and now Guigal with Ex Votoare all in contention for making the top wines of the appellation.
Syrah also produces great wine in America, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Italy and numerous other countries. In Australia, where the grape was imported from France in 1831 by James Busby. At the time, the berry was referred to as Hermitage, its place of origin. But due to the French protected designation of origin, the name was changed to Shiraz at some point in the 1980′s. The grape is also known as Shiraz in South Africa.