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The Syrah Grape


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About Syrah

(Synonyms: Candive, Hermitage, Marsanne Noire, Petite Sirrah, Sérène, Serine, Sérine, Serinne, Shiraz, Sira, Sirah, Sirac, Syra, Syrac)

Background

Map showing the Rhône Valley.

Syrah is a red-wine grape originating in the Rhône Valley region of France. It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes—arguably one of France’s top three (with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon). The wine remains the mainstay of Rhône reds, but is also cultivated with great success in a great many other areas, most notably Australia (as “Shiraz”), California, Washington State (where it is arguably the signature red grape), and Chile.

Syrah is readily recognizeable once encountered. While its style varies somewhat from region to region, depending on climate, it is always at least medium-bodied, and more often quite full-bodied, with strong fruit, definite tannins, and the characteristic “flannel” quality of Rhône reds. Also often mentioned is a “smoky” taste element (and, not infrequently, bacon, of all things). In general, the warmer the climate where the grapes are grown, the fuller the and more strongly flavored the wine (Australian Shiraz represents this especially full character).

Syrah wines, broadly speaking, tend to be more variable in styling than is the case for many other “noble” red grapes. Some wine writers express the major perceived distinction as “Syrah vs Shiraz”, while many others express it in relation to its home in the Rhône region as “cool-climate vs warm-climate” wines. The “northern” or “cool-climate” or “Syrah” types are seen as somewhat leaner, smokier and less fruit-forward, and tannic enough to benefit from significant aging (though drinkable young); the “southern” or “warm-climate” or “Shiraz” wines are heavier-bodied, more fruit-forward, and more aimed at immediate consumption. Either way, one thing most seem to agree on is that Syrah/Shiraz benefits even more than most from getting a good airing before serving, so open it well in advance and decant (or otherwise aerate) it.

Syrah also appears in blends, especially from the southern parts of the Rhône region, where it is partnered with Grenache; northern Rhône Syrah-based wines are rarely if ever blended (save that, occasionally and curiously, a wee tad of white-wine Viognier might be added). Rhône reds are among the most prestigious in the world, and include such names as Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

For various reasons, Syrah has not been a big seller in the U.S.—which means that there are bargains (at least in a relative sense) to be had. Not a few wine writers (see some of the remarks below) feel that this disinclination arose from the glut of Australian Shiraz that washed onto American shores some years back; there was (and is), to be sure, some tremendously good stuff in there, but there was also a lot of overblown, and over-priced, super-jammy “fruit bomb” stuff of little or no character or distinction, giving the varietal an association with plonk. (That sort of problem has infested other varietals, too, from Riesling—“No American will pay over $6 for a bottle of Riesling” as a winemaker once complained to us—to Merlot.)

Factoid: In the U.S., awareness of Rhône wines was materially raised by the activities of a few dedicated winemakers who informally called themselves the "Rhône Rangers".

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Some Descriptions of Syrah Wines

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Some Syrahs to Try

(About this list.)

Pago de Vallegarcía “Vallegarcía” Syrah

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Tensley Syrah
(This is their basic Syrah; do not confuse it with any of their named Syrahs, such as Colson Canyon, OGT, or BMT, or their “lite” Syrah.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah
(This is not their “Casa Viva” Gran Reserva Syrah.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Montes Alpha Syrah
(This is not their “M” bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Charles Smith K Vintners “The Cattle King” Syrah. (Note that they produce a number of named Syrahs, so be sure it is the “Cattle King” bottling you are looking at.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Thursday, 23 January 2020, at 12:54 pm Pacific Time.