Argentina Syrah is being made into a fresher, lighter style, that would please any Rhône lover - especially from the high altitude vineyards. Patricio Tapia picks the top wines to try.
Argentina and Syrah
Malbec is not the only variety in Argentina now being made in a fresher, lighter style that is less loaded with alcohol and less influenced by new oak. Syrah is also getting this treatment. Long offering very ripe and sweet wines, it is slowly delivering a fruitier and fresher face; Syrahs that are now more enjoyable for fans of the northern Rhône.
Of the more than 200,000 hectares of vineyards planted across Argentina, only 12,809ha are given over to Syrah, and more than 90% of these grow under the intense sun in Mendoza and San Juan. In lower (and therefore warmer) zones, the wines will usually feel too rich and sweet for Rhône lovers: there’s ample ripeness and juiciness but also a lack of acidity. For the best and most elegant examples you must climb the mountains.
In high-altitude vineyards, the temperature drops and the poorest soils allow for more structured wines. The foothills of the Andes in San Juan, as well as in the Uco Valley or some parts of luján de Cuyo, are home to some of the best Syrahs in Argentina – more precise in their fruit and more vibrant in their acidity, sometimes with those spicy, mineral and savoury charcuterie or bacon fat tones that one tends to associate with northern Rhône examples.
But we must also cast an eye to the south. Young vines in valleys like Neuquén and Rio Negro also give fragrant and fresh examples, thanks to the Patagonian winds that temper the warm climate. True, these are simpler than the best Syrahs from high-altitude Mendoza, but they are still generous in fruit flavours and creamy in texture.
This movement to fresher, lighter wines is a recent phenomenon, so advances are most evident in the most recent vintages. With few exceptions, look for wines from 2012 onwards, where you can taste the progress of Argentinian Syrah.