Although cultivated since antiquity, competing claims to the origin of this variety gave credit to it either being transplanted from Persia, near the similarly-titled city of Shiraz or to being a native plant of France. Starting in 1998, combined research of the University of California at Davis and the French National Agronomy Archives in Montpellier proved syrah is indeed indigenous to France. DNA profiling proved syrah to be a genetic cross of two relatively obscure varieties, mondeuse blanc and dureza.
More than half the world’s total Syrah acreage is planted in France, but it is also a successful grape in Australia (called Shiraz or Hermitage), South Africa and California. Syrah is a fairly new variety in California, first introduced in 1971. Some of the state’s vines were propagated from Hermitage and some from Australian cuttings. It is also one of California’s most rapidly increasing varieties. In 1984, there were less than 100 acres. Syrah now accounts for 12,700 vineyard acres, almost half of which is less than three years old and not yet bearing fruit.
Syrah vines are relatively productive, yet not too vigorous. Like Merlot, it is sensitive to coulure, and although Syrah buds fairly late, it is a mid-season ripener. Syrah requires heat to get fully ripe, but can lose varietal character when even slightly overripe. The berry is thick-skinned and dark, almost black.
Syrah forms intense wines, with deep violet, nearly black color, chewy texture and richness, and often alcoholic strength, with aromas that tend to be more spicy than fruity.
|Typical Syrah Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors|
|Varietal Aromas/Flavors:||Processing Bouquets/Flavors:|
|Fruit: black currant, blackberry||Terroir: musk, civet, truffle, earth|
|Floral: grass||Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood|
|Spice: black pepper, licorice, clove, thyme, bay leaf||Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar|
|Herbal: sandalwood, cedar||Bottle Age: cedar, cigar box, earth, leather|
Each time our tasting panel reviews Syrah, we conclude that, for both sensual appeal and great value, we should drink this varietal more often.
by Jim LaMar