Content director John Stimpfig explains why he puts wines produced from this red grape variety on a pedestal above all others.
I was recently asked to choose a red grape variety – on its own or dominant in blends – to drink for the rest of my life. My response was immediate and without hesitation: Syrah / Shiraz. It’s the grape world’s greatest double act.
Why Syrah? Why not? For me, top class Syrah has the perfume and freshness of Pinot Noir without the tantrums in the vineyard. It’s also softer and more generous than Cabernet. In effect, it occupies a glorious sweet spot between these two arch rivals.
I willingly confess that my heart prefers the Northern Rhône style. But I’m certainly not averse to a big Aussie Shiraz, particularly if it’s made by someone like Ben Glaetzer. His AMON Ra and the Bishop are welcome on my dining table any time you like.
Of course, these days, it’s a big mistake to generalise about blockbuster Aussie Shiraz. Particularly when you factor in some of my all-time favourite Shiraz wines like Penfolds St Henri, Clonakilla, Jim Barry’s Armagh and many others. As Huon Hooke pointe out in Decanter last year, at least 25 Australian wine regions produce excellent Shiraz right from the Hunter to the Swan Valleys. ‘No other country offers such a range of Shiraz from a variety of terroirs.’
Moreover, Australia doesn’t just do Shiraz. It does some pretty damn good Syrah too in the Yarra, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania. There’s a very good reason why Shiraz-Syrah occupies so much of Australia’s vineyard. It’s almost infinite variety is delicious to drink.
In the land of the long white cloud, Kiwi Syrah is often every bit as good as its Northern Rhone counterparts. Indeed, according to Bob Campbell MW, New Zealand’s best Syrah’s have similar floral, pepper and dark berry notes to many of the wines from the Northern Rhone.
Whilst South Africa continues to make some great Shiraz, most producers are increasingly putting Syrah on the label as a nod to the Northern Rhone. In the US, Californian and Washingtonian wineries are going down the Syrah-style route. The same is true in Chile and Argentina where the wines are a touch riper and bolder. As Peter Richards points out, ‘Chile can do northern Rhone-esque Syrah with a swagger that’s hard to match.’
And let’s not forget Syrah’s native homeland. Happily, the Northern Rhone remains Syrah’s undisputed Mecca. There the 65km stretch from Vienne to Valence incorporates the superstar appellations of Cote Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, St Joseph and Cornas. Together, they produce utterly wonderful wines which offer sublime quality and character at unbelievably good prices compared to Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Of course, being a self-confessed Syrah fanatic, I would say that, wouldn’t I.