I’m a huge fan of wines made of Syrah, both the super-ripe, jammy, high-alcohol Australian version (usually called Shiraz) and the leaner, meatier French style. And while I have lots of both in my cellar, if I had to choose my preference is for the latter.
I was introduced to Syrah at one of the first wine tastings I ever attended. Up to that point, most of my wine experience had been with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, so I was used to smelling and tasting herbs and oak to go along with the berry fruits in the wine. What a surprise, then, when I put my nose in a glass of something called “Crozes-Hermitage”! Pepper, earth…those were new aromas! And in the mouth there was a meatiness to the wine and no sign of any oak. While I couldn’t pronounce the name, I found out it was made of Syrah and have been hooked on the grape since then.
Finding French-style Syrahs outside of that country has proven challenging over the years, however. California makes some wonderful ones, but they tend to be a lot riper and fuller-bodied. Italy’s and Chile’s are too earthy for me, and South Africa’s too funky. So I was both stunned — and very pleased — when I tasted my first bottle of Nichol Syrah.
It was the 1998 — that first great Okanagan red wine vintage — and oh, baby what a wine! By then I had been drinking and collecting some of those same Crozes-Hermitages I had orginally tasted (Hermitage has always been too expensive for me) and the Nichol was a dead ringer for a mid-weight Crozes. At the time it was just over $20 so I snapped up a half dozen bottles and then tasted them over a period of ten years. To my even greater delight, they got better as they got older. When that 1998 was ten, it was spectacular, with no sign of decline at all!!
Since then, I have bought Nichol’s Syrahs every year and found that even in rainy vintages, they are incredibly consistent and continue to age anywhere from 5 – 10 years. Part of the reason is the age of the vines — they are the oldest in the Okanagan and produce fabulously ripe fruit. The other is Ross Hackworth, who bought the winery from the original owners almost a decade ago and has carried on their wine making style and tradition. In my mind, it is clearly the best Syrah in BC, even in the face of previous challenges from Township 7 and new competition from Marichel. At about $32, it is at least $10 cheaper than a similar quality wine from France, so should be considered a great buy.
In very good years, Nichol also makes a small amount of a Reserve Syrah, which is darker and more brooding than its regular sibling. I’m still testing those ones from an aging perspective, but they look to be even longer lasting.
Finally, I would be remiss — even with all this talk about Syrah — to not mention Nichol’s great Pinot Gris. This wine is a true “Gris”, meaning they leave the skins on for a while to give the white wine extra colour. Depending on the year, that can mean it is anywhere from a light pink to almost orange! But it is still bone dry, crisp and clean, a beautiful wine, especially in summer.
So lots of props to Ross and Nichol for making such classic Syrah (and Pinot Gris). You can buy it at the winery, on-line or in select speciality stores. It is definitely worth the effort!