Do chocolate, coffee, raspberry, violets, black pepper and spice sound appealing? If so, you will likely enjoy wines made from the syrah grape.
Not all syrah is equal – especially considering the various continents where it is grown. Variances in climate, soil, weather and viticultural ideologies result in radically different wines made from syrah. So much so that most would be hard pressed to believe they are made from the same grape variety.
Syrah can appeal to a large audience because of its varying personalities. Australia offers what can be the biggest style of syrah, or shiraz as the Aussies refer to it. Within the country, the two big regions offer differing styles.
The warmer summers of Barossa Valley generate the richest and fullest style. These wines are best suited for a hearty meal considering their richness and higher alcohol contents.
For a little more finesse, look to McClaren Vale. Its Mediterranean climate offers slightly lighter wines, more suitable to host guests.
Down a step from the big boy syrahs of Australia, we find ourself in California. As with all things, California is divided as to who grows the best. Is it the alluvial soils of Napa? The calcareous soils of Paso Robles?
Napa no doubt produces amazing wines – its rich soils allow grapes to grow plentifully in the warm summer sun. The results are syrah with a classic richness and body, soft and approachable acidities, supported by no shortage of new oak-barrel aging. But as we all know, cabernet sauvignon is king in Napa Valley.
Paso Robles offers a different option. This viticultural area offers the largest daytime to nightime temperature variation anywhere in North America. The resulting wines display ripe and fruit forward approachability, with a refreshing natural acidity that lightens the mouthfeel. The syrahs of Paso Robles aren’t necessarily light – they do have richness and body, but because of the large diurnal swings, the grapes naturally retain a higher acidity, livening up the mouthfeel.
For lighter and more ageable syrah, seek out French selections. France is home to the coolest climate for syrah, which makes for much lighter wines with considerably higher acidities. Uniquely, these wines have a long life in the bottle and can take time to mature.
The northern Rhône Valley is home to the great appellations of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Cornas and Saint Joseph. While these wines offer similar aromatics and flavors, they do not offer the richness and body of their new world counterparts. These wines offer more purity of fruit because they do not see much new oak. They are more precise in mouthfeel and display more floral notes of blackberry, black raspberry, violets and fresh tobacco.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.