By Anthony Gismondi
I find it telling that in 2014 wine drinkers still ask me if there is a difference between Syrah and Shiraz. The question alone sums up the work that needs to be done if this grape is ever destined to reach the fame, glory and lofty levels of sales enjoyed by Cabernet Sauvignon. But since you asked, the short answer is there is no difference: Syrah and Shiraz are different names for the same grape.
The longer explanation begins in northern France the original home of at least modern Syrah. From here the grape moved around the planet and as it spread the name evolved, no more so than in Australia. Shiraz, as it came to be known Down Under, was planted as early as the 1830s. Most of its life it was referred to as Hermitage, an obvious nod to the eponymous French appellation in the northern Rhone where it originated. In 150 years it would become a runaway success, featuring established boutique wineries and later on among the giant brands that invaded wine shelves in Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
It is fair to say Down Under producers kick-started a global rise in Syrah/Shiraz plantings and a subsequent jump in varietal wine exports across the planet. It wasna��t all love at first site. I remember American producers telling me they were pulling out the Syrah vines they had planted a decade earlier because, despite the media and trade hype, there was little enthusiasm for Syrah or Shiraz among wine consumers. Truth be known, varietal Shiraz/Syrah has had its ups and downs most of its modern life going from the hugely popular flavour of the month to inexplicably languishing on store shelves.
All the while, French Syrah remained an enigma of sorts hidden behind its obscure appellation system that favours geographic origin over the name of the grape on the label. Even so, the northern Rhone (Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, and St. Joseph) and selected Vins de Pays wines from further south remain the spiritual home of Syrah after nearly three decades of intensive competition from Australia, South Africa, Chile and the United States.
The very observant will have noticed subtle label changes during the years as marketers moved between Shiraz (the Oz style) and the Syrah (the French style) to redefine their wine. At the height of Australiaa��s supremacy, Shiraz was the odds-on favourite worldwide but when interest in Australia wine waned, many New World producers returned to the Syrah moniker hoping to invoke interest in the leaner, cooler meatier style more reminiscent of the Rhone a�� in stark contrast to the sweet, and sometimes sour, blueberry/chocolate style that comes out of South Australia.
While the great Syrah/Shiraz debate was taking place on retail shelves worldwide, closer to home British Columbia producers were setting the foundation for local Syrah to become a game changer in B.C. Much progress has been made since the early 2000s, with Syrah consistently topping all wines in our national competitions and in this writera��s estimation, making some of the most interesting red wines in the country. But winning competitions versus winning consumersa�� hearts are two very different things and like the rest of the world, local Syrah continues its struggle to connect with drinkers on an everyday basis.
No matter its name, ita��s whata��s in the bottle that counts and when it comes to Syrah, or Shiraz, its spicy, rich, fruit flavours and soft rounded tannins gives it a leg up on most of the competition. The New World style offers intense flavours of blackberries, black currants and plums but when you add our cool climate to the equation you get important additions of mineral, white pepper, bacon and a more linear style that takes the variety to new heights.
With fall fast approaching and the days shortening, we present a curated list of some of our favourite local Syrah/Shiraz just in time for the cooler weather and the richer fall fare. Young Syrah works well with grilled meats, especially lamb or duck sausage. Roast pork is another good choice and if your Syrah is fruity enough a big fish stew would work too. Where cheese is involved the older, and the harder, the better.
Burrowing Owl 2011 Syrah, $38
A consistent performer for more than decade, the BOV has that savoury, Black Sage demeanour with licorice, black olive, blackberry and smoked meat notes.
C.C. Jentsch Cellars 2012 Syrah, $29
A touch of co-fermented Viognier cleaves open this smoky, dark chocolate, plum flavoured meaty red. Good value.
Once the category leader, the blockbuster, oaky Oz style still has appeal. For those who like the Shiraz big and soft.
Laughing Stock Vineyards 2012 Syrah, $36
An absolute knockout from its floral savoury meaty notes to its peppery, gamy, black licorice flavours. One for the cellar.
Le Vieux Pin 2011 Equinoxe Syrah, $85
A cool year with a cool demeanour yields a superb spicy red with bacon, white pepper and floral notes. Rhone in the Okanagan.
Mission Hill Family Estate 2011 Select Lot Collection Syrah, $30
Floral, boysenberry, black pepper, meaty, licorice elegant smoky red. Lamb anyone?
Nka��Mip Cellars 2010 Qwam Qwmt Syrah, $35
Randy Picton manages the heat and alcohol to make a generous, full-bodied juicy, spicy black-fruited Syrah.
Painted Rock Estate Winery 2011 Syrah, $40
Cool Skaha bench Syrah with its meaty, peppery smoky black cherry fruit with a dollop of wilderness.
Poplar Grove Syrah 2011, $25
The house style emphasizes early drinking with an enticing coffee, peppery, savoury, blackberry, milk chocolate flavour flecked with black tea highlights.
Sandhill 2012 Syrah Sandhill Estate Vineyard, $22
The latest Sandhill Syrah from the home on the Black Sage Bench is unbeatable for the price.
Sandhill Small Lots Program Syrah Phantom Creek Vineyard 2012, $40
One of the oldest Syrah sites yields an expressive, blockbuster, smoky, espresso, licorice, blackberry flavoured red.
Thornhaven Estates 2012 Syrah, $25
Classic, cool, mid-valley, mid-weight Syrah with fresh blackberry fruit, spice and vanilla. Super value.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun