The big daddy of the Rhône, this dark skinned grape is known as Shiraz down under. It comes from two not so well known grapes; Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche from southeastern France. Today you will find it grown in California, Australia, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Chile and of course, France.
This grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate. Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum. Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.
Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache is acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM.
Syrah thrives in warm climates and adds a bit of work in the vineyards. The leaves and canopy reach for the sky and it’s necessary to thin the leaves so that the berries get sun for ripening.
In Châteauneuf-du-Pape it is the one variety that is allowed to be trellised. The canes on Syrah, unlike the other Rhône varieties grown down toward the ground and so it is near to impossible to head train.
It also produces large quantities of small clusters with small berries. To concentrate the fruit, vineyards must crop thin and drop fruit. But those clusters with small berries provide lots of skin and as such bold tannins.
Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.
We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.
There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.
Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones
For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body.
So in essense he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.
Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3. But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines.
These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness. The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.
A little geekiness on these Syrah clones
Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.
174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.
877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.
Syrah thrives in warm climates where it’s canopies reach for the sky, but it can be grown in cooler climates where it will express itself differently in the glass. The canes on this vine will grow down, which makes it impossible to head train.
It is the one Châteauneuf-du-Pape variety that is allowed to be trellised; otherwise the grapes would be on the ground. The leaves often need to be thinned to let the berries get some sun so they can ripen.
In the vineyards it is said, “Syrah likes a view”. Because it is such a vigorous vine, planting it at the top of a hill with poor soils helps to concentrate the berries and temper the rigor of the vines.
The grapes are typically small clusters with small dark (almost black) berries, but this vine produces them in abundance. The skins are typically thick. Because there are many small berries, when you crush the grape you have lots of skin contact, which can give you bold tannins.
Home in the Rhône
Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache is acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM. You find it in the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is the only grape allowed in the famous Côte Rôtie & Hermitage wines in the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone they co-ferment Syrah with small bits of Viognier.
Syrah is often given an extended maceration, meaning it is often cold soaked for days or longer. This mitigates some of the harsh tannins from those thick skins. It also increases the color, due to the extra time with skin contact, and brings forward the fruit flavors while tempering the herbaceous notes.
It is typically aged in oak and as it is a big wine, new world versions might lean toward new French oak. In France, in the Rhone, these wines are typically aged in larger Foudres with less oak contact. Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t really need the oak.
This grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate.
Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum.
Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.
Pairing with cheese
Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Parmesan
How to serve
how to serve
try serving at room temperature
may need to decant depending on age
pair with food
Pair with food
meat, barbecue flavors, Bacon, dark chocolate and fruit.