17 March 2017
In terms of global vineyard plantings, Syrah – which is thought to be one of the oldest grape varieties – has jumped from the 35th to the 6th mostly planted grape variety over the decade from 2000 to 2010 (note 1). In France, the grape is called Syrah, which is responsible for the great reds of the Northern Rhône, which is a more restrained style with savoury and herbal notes, contrasting with the wines made from the same grape but called Shiraz in Australia, which have more fruit-driven characteristics with lots of spice like black pepper. Following the waves of the thrill of Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, and of Penfolds' Grange from Australia, other countries such as USA, Chile, Argentina, Italy, Spain, South Africa, also produce wine from this grape labelling with either “Syrah” or “Shiraz” depending on the desired style. Yesterday, I arranged a blind tasting of a flight of 3 wines made of 100% Syrah/Shiraz, each showing a completely different style of the same grape, with varying quality.
The French representative in the flight was Cornas Les Combes 2014, from the Burgundy micro négociant Mark Haisma. It was made from old vines of around 60 years old, grown on the classic decomposed granite soils from the terraced vineyards just before St Peray. The fermentation is not really classical for Cornas – lots of whole bunch, very long ferment, starting cold and building up heat to finally get to around 32°C. The winemaker looks for the fruit expression of Syrah, with minerality and fruit. The resulting wine is polished and rich on the nose with a hint of cheese. Nothing rustic about this, but nothing heavy and nothing exaggeratedly modern either – quite a lovely Burgundian polish on this Syrah!
The Australian representative was d’Arenberg The Dead Arm 2006. Dead Arm is a vine disease caused by the fungus Eutypa Lata that randomly affects vineyards all over the world. One half, or an ‘arm’ of the vine was affected and slowly becomes reduced to dead wood. That side may be lifeless and brittle, but the grapes on the other side, while low yielding, display amazing intensity. Australian Shiraz is often run into small American oak before fermentation is complete aiming for better integration of oak flavours. The resulting wine is meaty with intense, bold black fruit with a really attractive earthy tone, following with vanilla, chocolate, eucalyptus, charcoal and barbecue smoke, altogether giving very good complexities.
The third one is Maycas del Limarí, Reserva Especial Syrah 2012. Although labelled “Syrah”, Chilean Syrah in general falls somewhere between “Syrah” and “Shiraz” styles. Limarí Valley, among the most northerly of Chile’s wine regions, benefits from brilliant sunshine and marked cooled influences from the Pacific sea breezes or mountain air. For some reasons, the bottle we tasted had some cardboard note. After all, it shows ripe blueberries, blackberries and delicate peppery notes with soft and round tannins, balanced with moderate acidity.
Note:1. Anderson K, “Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where?”, a research paper published by Wine Economics Research Centre School of Economics University of Adelaide, 2013