|Syrah is the only grape
used to make the famous Rhône wines of Côte
Rotie and Hermitage, but also forms the backbone of most
Rhône blends, including Chateauneuf du Pape.
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.
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
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.
Each time our tasting panel reviews
Syrah, we conclude that, for both sensual appeal and
great value, we should drink this varietal more often.