Syrah | Vincabulary


{SEE-rah} {seh-ra} {shir-AZZ}


Que Syrah? Est Shiraz!

Though two different names, the grapes are indeed the same. What’s in a name? Well, in the case of Syrah/Shiraz, a LOT.

Over time, the words have come to differentiate the grape stylistically. Syrah denotes old world in style: savoury, high acid, high tannin, black pepper and dark floral notes. Shiraz as a name lends itself to fruitier examples of style: new world plump ripeness, soft tannins, earth, black licorice. The grape is late budding, very deep in colour and with very high anthocyanins, indicative of texture, longer aging and making friends with oak.

The grape itself is ancient – Syrah is the offspring of the grape varieties Dureza (father) and Mondeuse Blanche (mother), from the Ardèche and Montpellier regions of south eastern France. DNA typing has concluded Syrah originated from northern Rhône, though the date of first plantings are unknown. In the year AD 77, Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia about the wines of Vienne (today’s Côte-Rôtie), where famous and prized wine was made from a dark-skinned grape variety that had not existed some 50 years earlier, in Virgil’s age. For centuries it has been recognized that the spiritual home of Syrah in the northern Rhône are the wines of Hermitage, the hill above the town Tain-l’Hermitage. There is a little hermitage (chapel) built on the top that you can still hike up and visit today, and where the Knight Gaspard de Stérimberg is supposed to have settled as a hermit after his crusades. The chapel was built in honor of Saint Christopher and today is owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet Âiné.

Syrah loves granite, especially when it’s well draining and angled on a slope. You may increasingly hear people volley about the term “cool climate Syrah” and the like, attempting to differentiate the wine’s structure and freshness from the backlash against flabby, warm climate Australian Shiraz (a cloak that Australia as a whole is still struggling to disrobe).



Liberty School
Syrah 2008
Paso Robles, California
$22-26*  13.5%

Mellow through time in bottle, this 2008 is a current release on this market, and a phenomenal price if you’re looking for a well-crafted, pedigreed wine with some age. Dusty cassis and light raspberry spice lead into a silken textured wine, with tannins worn to the nub, and a concentrated cocoa finish. Liberty School only releases the Syrah to the Canadian market (lucky us).



Woodcutters Shiraz 2010
Barossa Valley, Australia
$33-37  14.5%

This big, damson, grilled juicy plum red is dense, without being heavy. There is a cooling and riveting pulse of floral throughout – violets, iris – overlaying lush blackberry, sweet fennel sausage, fresh black pepper and black licorice finish.



Nichol Vineyard
Syrah 2010
Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC
$35-40*  13%

I love pouring this wine blind for people. 9 out of 10 wine pros will peg this old world. The freshness! The bright acidity! The savoury elements! Yes – all of that, plus an unmistakably alluring dried and fresh herbal vein. Dark cherry, pan roasted Christmas spice, textured and mineral, and that length… Wow. Oldest Syrah vines in Canada, on steep granite.



Reyneke Wines
Reserve Syrah 2010
Stellenbosch, South Africa
$30-34  14%

This organic syrah is like bittersweet cocoa in the mouth. Powdery, plush, bittersweet. Intriguing and mysterious. A bit of dried currants and polished blueberries over an undercurrent of clay. Medium bodied, lifted acidity with powdery cloaked tannins trail a long finish.



M. Chapoutier
Les Meysonniers
Crozes-Hermitage 2009
$27-32  13%

To me, Syrah IS northern Rhone. It’s the style I personally love, though challenging for many to conquer. If you’re not there yet, don’t give up. Come back later. Grilled meat, savoury black cherry, and whole cloves on the nose. The textured palate echoes with charcuterie, black cracked pepper, dried cassis. The tannins, while hard edged and structured, act as the perfect frame for the fruit. Espresso on the lingering finish.



De Martino
Legado Reserva Syrah 2010
Choapa Valley, Chile
$20-24*  14%

The untamed wildness of this delicious wine is direct from its site. Choapa is approximately 800m above sea level, in the Andes, in Chile’s dry north. These ungrafted vines yield fresh, thorny, red cherry and charred/caramelized onion aromas. The Juicy, full palate is bright with fresh cracked pepper, cured salami and spiced red currant. Intense, almost saline minerality and a spicy lingering finish.


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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Some may be in limited quantities. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores. Prices may vary.


Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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