Syrah – That Affordable and Approachable Wine Varietal

The Thursday night tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton was all about Syrah. We tasted five Syrahs, four of which were from California, one from southern Oregon. George and Gail were unavailable to do the tasting, so Alan presented these wines. Let’s see what we can learn about Syrah.

Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza that most likely occurred in the French Rhône-Alps region. Syrah is most notably grown in the Northern Rhône regions of Côte-Rôtie where it may be blended with up to 20% Viognier and Hermitage where it may be blended with up to 15% Marsanne and Roussanne. In the southern Rhone, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Syrah makes up a smaller proportion of the blends. It is also common along the Mediterranean in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where it is primarily used for blending as well.

In Australia Syrah is known as Shiraz, where it is the most widely-planted grape variety. It was introduced with the First Fleet in 1788, but it was not until 1820s that winemaking was successful. GSM, the term for a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre, was coined in Australia, though Shiraz is not used just for blending in Australia.

Australian winemakers have great critical as well as popular success. So much so that others have adopted their spelling of the varietal wine, Shiraz.

Syrah is commonly planted in Spain, Chile, Argentina and less widely in Italy. Washington State, California and to a lesser degree Oregon have planted this Rhône variety as well. The Rhone Rangers is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines and has almost 200 winery members from California, Oregon, Washington and New York.

Syrah thrives in a warm climate and prefers well-drained, rocky soil. It buds late and ripens early. Best quality fruit is produced with limited crop quantity and spare watering. Syrah has a very dark color, complex flavors and significant tannins. For these reasons it is a good blending grape. It can make very age-worthy wines on its own as well.

Let’s see what kinds of flavors we perceive in this collection of Syrah. Our mission for the evening is to choose our favorite wine. Not too tough.

2010 Alta Colina Toasted Slope Estate Syrah $38. This inky dark-violet colored wine had scents of sweet dried fruit. The flavors followed with sweet, dark fruit and black pepper. Tannins were significant and a bit grippy. This big wine from Paso Robles cries out for BBQ. This big flavorful wine needs a suitably strong food partner.

2009 Rosenblum Vintners Cuvee $17. Less dense in color than the prior wine, with caramel on the nose and bright, red-fruit flavors with significant tannins and a lighter weight in the mouth. The finish was very long.

2010 Sobon Estate Amador County Syrah $15. This dark-ruby colored wine had and interesting combination of fruit and vegetal scents and flavors. In the glass, scents of dark fruit and dill were followed by ripe, dark-fruit and green tea flavors. Tannins were significant, but not grippy. This wine would be a pleasant companion to pizza, pasta and barbecued pork chops.

2004 Rockblock Del Rio Vineyard Syrah2004 Rockblock Del Rio Vineyard Syrah $40. A garnet color in the glass followed with licorice, spice and dark-fruit scents. Flavors of blackberries and dried fruit with significant, grippy tannins had a long finish with a bit of heat. There was a lot of texture to this wine, almost chewy. This wine is produced by Domaine Serene from grapes grown in the Rogue Valley within the Southern Oregon appellation. This was the group’s favorite wine of the evening. It was Pete’s favorite as well.

2010 Cline Sonoma Coast Syrah2010 Cline Sonoma County Syrah $13. This wine was a very light-ruby color in the glass, lighter than I expect for a Syrah. There was a bit of smoke and tart fruit on the nose followed by raspberry and blackberry flavors with very significant tannins and a very light weight in the mouth. The combination of tart fruit and weightlessness in the mouth with great tannins made this my favorite wine of the evening. This is a red wine I will enjoy during the summer with lighter fare. And check-out the Green String seal on the bottle. Cline Cellars farms their grapes in a natural and sustainable manner. That’s a plus.

There was a nice variety of flavors and complexity in this group of wines. Even some reds that will be good for summertime when I generally prefer lighter reds. I had prepared myself for heavier bodied, very ripe red wines, but that was not the case with these wines. There was a nice variety of richness and weight in these wines. And these wines are very reasonably priced. Always a consideration. A good showing for Syrah.


Reference: Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz

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