Syrah or Shiraz…or How About Both?

One of my favourite wine grapes is Syrah. And one of the reasons for that is it can make two completely different — but equally enjoyable — wines from the same grape. But not everyone likes both Shiraz and Syrah…read on and find out why that’s too bad!

The Syrah grape is indigenous to France in the Rhone Valley, where for hundreds of years it has made inky black, peppery, black cherry-flavoured wines. They tend to be leaner in style, a bit acidic, but when they are ripe they can age for years to produce wonderfully complex wines like Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas.

Shiraz — which is more familiar to most folks — is made in Australia, but because of warmer temperatures getting the grapes riper (plus more oak barrels), it tastes completely different! Think blackberry jam, with a streak of licorice in a luscious, mouth filling package…yum!

I find it interesting that some people don’t like Syrah because it doesn’t have enough fruit in it, and some don’t like Shiraz because it is too fruity and jammy! But for me, it can be the best of both worlds if you choose carefully!

On example is the Syrah by Nichol Vineyards from right here on BC’s Naramata Bench. Ross Hackworth makes what most would say is the best French-styled Syrah in Canada, with incredibly ripe, peppery black fruit that ages so well that by 8 years old in a good vintage it is a dead ringer for a good French Crozes-Hermitage! I just tried the 2008 and it is a beautiful young wine; last year, the 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 all showed they were in great shape. And at about $35, it is a great value compared to $50+ French versions!

For Shiraz, I recently had a couple of high end Aussie versions that blew me away. The first was the 2004 G.A.M. from Mitolo, a wine rated 97 points by Parker that was a serious revelation. Like a concentrated blackberry liquor without the sweetness, it had a finish that lasted 30+ seconds. Still young, it was amazing! Just as good — but different — was d’Arenberg’s 2002 Dead Arm Shiraz. This is a huge wine and more like a Syrah than a Shiraz, as not as jammy and more tannic, but still mind boggling in its fruit concentration. Neither of these wines is cheap ($50 and $60 when I bought them a few years ago), but boy were they good…and easily justified their high ratings.

In all three cases, these are wines that benefit from a few years in the bottle, so that may be a detraction for some people. But if you can wait…wow, what a payoff!

So here is some advice. Go by a bottle of Syrah (from France or California or BC) and Shiraz (from Australia). Invite a few friends over and grill a couple of steaks on the barbie and open both bottles a few hours in advance to let them breathe. My bet is if they are good examples of each style, you — and your guests — will leave liking both versions of this increasingly popular grape!



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One Response to “Syrah or Shiraz…or How About Both?”

  1. Chris O'Neal Says:

    I was told once that the reason its called Shiraz in Australia is because upon arrival, the crates carrying the vines were printed in such a way that it looked like Shiraz instead of Syrah, so they kind of went with it. Since it is Australia and everything is upside down there, I have no problem believing the story.

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