Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Syrah, or is it Shiraz?

The Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia) grape may have received its name from the Persian city of Shiraz in Iran, where some believe the process of winemaking originated 7,000 years ago. But a UC Davis study concluded the grape variety, in its modern cultivated form, originated in the vicinity of the Northern Rhône valley of France, resulting from a cross between the Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche grape varieties.

France and Australia are responsible for most of the Syrah/Shiraz acreage in the world. A newcomer to the California wine scene, Syrah has gained popularity only in the last decade, with the state’s wineries shipping over 1.2 million cases throughout the U.S.

Characteristics of Syrah
The Syrah grape primarily expresses its characteristics through fruit and spice. Simple Syrah wines focus on the fruit, exhibiting dark berry flavors, such as blackberries and loganberries. Complex Syrah wines evolve into layers of flavor, expressing wood smoke, spice, cassis and black pepper
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Syrah is a powerful, full-bodied wine that transforms itself as it ages. While it may begin as a supple, fruit-driven wine, time in the bottle converts Syrah into an intense, complex wine with a rich conglomeration of spices.

Viticulture and Vinification Climate
The Syrah varietal has a low tolerance for temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Bud break occurs later than most varietals, and Syrah ripens early to mid-season. It is a grape that is naturally resistant to disease, but gray rot and bunch rot can cause problems.

Syrah is interesting in that it can do well in both cool and hot climates. In France Syrah is found in both the cooler Northern Rhone and the warmer Southern Rhone. Many who are use to Shiraz from Australia recognize the bigger, richer, jammy fruit forward aspects of warm climate Syrah. The cool climate Syrah is more restrained and very aromatic and feature floral notes of lavender or violet, leather, tobacco and smoked meats.

In the Vineyard
Considered relatively easy to grow, Syrah performs best in warm climates when yields are kept low.

In the Cellar
Syrah is one of the most tannic grape varieties to achieve commercial success. Because it demands a warm growing region, the tannins are typically soft, ripe and pleasing on the palate. Syrah thrives during a long, cool fermentation period and requires oak aging to mask its blatant fruitiness and reveal its powerful aromas and flavors. Syrah is a noble grape variety with the ability to produce intense, long-lived red wines.

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