Syrah – a Rhone Grape

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France

Originating in Southeastern France, Syrah was cultivated during the Roman Rule.  It is the child of two not so well know grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

Where it’s Grown

First grown in France, and found in particular in the Rhône Valley, it has spread globally and can now be found in Australia, where the call it Shiraz, as well as California, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South African, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and, as I just discovered, Tunisia.

 

(side note on Shiraz…the story goes that the grape was brought to Marseilles in 600BC by the Phocaeans from Shiraz, Persia. Another story has it coming from Sicily with the Roman Soldiers, but UC Davis DNA testing say it was born in Southeastern France)

Climate

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 grown long and will grow down, making 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.

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Larner Vineyard Syrah

 

Berries and Bunches

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, and pair that with thick skins and you have a very dark, sometimes almost opaque wine.

Syrah Grapes

Syrah Grapes

Home in the Rhône

Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache in 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,  and 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, adding the beautiful Viognier aromatic and creating a rounder mouthfeel for the wine.

Winemaking Techniques

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.

 

Oak Aging

Like most reds, Syrah is typically aged in oak.  In American they lean toward French Oak for this, in France and Australia it is often American oak.  In the Rhône, it is more often aged in larger Foudres so it has less oak contact, although sometimes blended with lots that have been aged in small oak barrels.  Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t need much oak addition.

 

How long to hold a Syrah?

Typically you can hold a Syrah for up to 10 years.  There are those who will tell you not to even look at the bottle for 5 years, and of course a well made Syrah from the Hermitage might age beautifully much longer, up to 30 or almost 40 years.  And keep in mind that wines can go through closed phases as they age, opening up again later.  This is where owning a Coravin comes in handy.

Tasting…

Adaptable as it is, 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.  But let’s break this tasting down a bit.

Sight

A Warmer Climate Syrah will be dark purple/black and almost opaque.

A Cooler Climate Syrah will be a deep purple burgundy with some translucency.

Aroma

Here we have to break it down a little further.

Primary Aromas (those are the ones that come with the grape which include the terroir)

  • Fruits like Blueberry, Blackberry, black currants or prunes.
  • Spices like black pepper, clove, anise (black licorice) or thyme
  • Floral notes like voilets, geraniums or roses.
  • Herb notes like cedar, eucalyptus, sandalwood or green olive

 

Secondary Aromas (these come from the winemaking techniques)

  • From Oak: Vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, smoke, coffee or coconut.
  • From Fermentation: Rubber, tar, solvents or stem

 

Tertiary Aromas (these come from aging)

  • Leather, cigar box, earth, spices and even truffle

 

Taste

Syrah is considered to be a full bodied wine and is supple.  The tannins (that dryness that you get on your teeth) are medium and it has a medium acidity.

Warm Climate Syrah

  • Dark fruits like blackberry or cherry, smoke, meat, leather, white pepper, licorice, earth.

Cool Climate Syrah

  • Dark Fruits, green olives, black pepper and spice.

Finish

Typical finishes are medium to long in length (that’s how long you can still taste the wine in your mouth)

Pairing Syrah with food

Most often when I have Syrah, I crave bacon.  Salty pork just loves this wine.  Want to have it with desert? I paired a Syrah with dark chocolate bark with fresh rosemary, bacon and a coffee infused sea salt and it was heaven! Pork barbeque is a good bet and if it is a bold Syrah, don’t be shy with the pepper. Stews and braised meats are good if you are drinking Syrah in a blend like a Rhone blend or a GSM.

If you have a lighter Syrah, like one from Washington or Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley (where yes it grows very well), think a little lighter. The wine will likely have a bit more acid and can pair with lamb or grilled eggplant.

 

Need a cheese platter?

With a full bodied Syrah look to harder cheeses or stinky cheeses. Bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola, or Stilton and hard cheeses like Parmesan or asiago. Smoked Gouda is one of my favorites with this wine, since the smoke in the cheese often is great with the smoke on the wine. And then charcuterie…well Bacon, and then all sorts of smoked meats.  If you are drinking a Cool Climate Syrah, you might pull out the olives if you get a little of that on the wine’s nose.

 

Quick summary for pairing…

  • Red meats, things that are grilled, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black pepper and hard or stinky cheeses!

Syrah is a perfect winter wine, as fellow wine lovers will attest. The kind of wine that you can curl up with. Maybe a nice rich stew, while curled up in a comfy chair, under a blanket with a fire in the fireplace, and a nice book to read. Of course you can enjoy Syrah all year, in the summer with Barbeque is divine, but I love having my nose in a glass, and quietly contemplating it over the course of an evening all by myself.

If you are looking for a Syrah:

  • In France, look to the Rhône:  Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf du Pape, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • In Washington State, look to Walla Walla, Yakima and the Columbia Gorge
  • In Oregon check out the Rogue Valley
  • In California check out the Russian River Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and then Santa Barbara from the Santa Maria Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon where it is the flagship wine.
  • In Australia you’ll find it in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
  • In Spain in La Mancha
  • In Italy in the Basilicata Region in Southern Italy
  • In Chile try Elqui and San Antonia for Cool Climate Syrah and The Colchagua Valley for a mild climate Syrah.
  • In New Zealand on Waiheke Island near Auckland then on the Coast in Hawke’s Bay and a little further south in Wairarapa and Martinsborough.
  • In South Africa you will find it in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson.
  • And in Switzerland in Valais.

Collage of Maps

There are tons of wines out there, but just with this one variety you can explore much of the world.  It’s on my list to do this year.  Check back with us for more information on wine and grapes as we continue our journey, learning and chronicling the journey of the grape from dirt to glass!

Want to know more about Syrah?  Try some of the links below. We attended a Seminar on Syrah in Santa Barbara County and listened to wine makers from across the area (and climates) speak.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

What is Terret Noir?

Wine & Cheese Pairing with Tablas Creek Terret Noir 2105

Terret Noir

Terret Noir is a Rhône Valley Grape that is dark but thinned skinned and produces a light colored wine. It is one of the 13 grapes permitted for blending in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, although it totals just 2 acres of vineyard in the region. Like Grenache you will also find Terret Blanc and Terret Gris the other color variations in the grape. Terret Noir is thought to be originally from Languedoc where Terret Gris was once grown widely and used in the production of vermouth.

This grape buds late (which is great, so you don’t have as much frost worry with it), produces abundantly and brings a freshness to other varieties when blended.

Terret Noir in Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles brought this grape in with their program to bring all 13 of the Châteauneuf-de-Pape grapes to their vineyard.  We had the opportunity to taste a single varietal of Terret Noir in their tasting room and took a bottle of the 2015 with us. (They made this as a single varietal in 2013, 2014 & 2015)

It was indeed a light colored wine, transparent cranberry red, leaning more toward orange than purple in my glass.  On the nose you get bright red fruit and spice with dried strawberries and brambles, like a walk in a meadow in summer after rain as you get all the lush green grasses drying in the sun.

In your mouth it is pomegranate and bright spices and the flesh of a bright red plum.

We paired it with a cheese and charcuterie plate and found it made the parmesan cheese taste sharper and less salty.  The dry Italian salami brightened the fruit in the wine while the wine brought out the savory tones in the salami.

Tablas Creek plans to use this as a blending grape. Watch for it to appear with Syrah and Grenache in a 2016 blend.

I always enjoy exploring those underappreciated grape varieties.  It widens your palate and reminds you that there is so much more out there than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

This wine pairs well with braised vegetables, grilled eggplant and salty meats and cheeses.

Come back and see what other great wine varieties we are tasting. Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.

In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

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