Que Syrah, Syrah: Tasting New World Shiraz

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Drinks: Wines

New World winemakers love Syrah, so it was a surprise to find such scepticism among our sommelier tasters beforehand. But was there foundation for their fears? Clinton Cawood reports


While best known from its Rhône heartland or Australia, Syrah (or Shiraz, depending on the whim of the winemakers) has been receiving increasing attention in the rest of the New World, too, at a wide range of price points and quality levels.

Suppliers for this tasting could provide wines from any New World country (aside from Australia), and their choices speak volumes. South Africa and Chile are a clear priority for this varietal in the UK, with New Zealand and California less well represented.

The assumption among our tasters beforehand was that these wines would deliver distinct Shiraz characteristics, like black fruit and spice, in a New World way – in other words, big and fruity – but a number of panellists were sceptical about what they’d find in terms of quality. The results were surprising, and in most cases pleasantly so.


the panel
Laurene Amiet, One Aldwych Hotel Nicolas Angelina, Noura Fred Brugues, Sketch Lecture Room Clinton Cawood, Imbibe Olivier Gasselin, Bluebird Luciana Girotto, Marc de Grazia Selections Mike Harrison, Consultant James Hobeika, Ebla, Fakhreldine James Hocking, The Vineyard at Stockcross Daniel Marzotto, Osteria Dell’Angolo

HOW IT WORKS

Suppliers were asked to submit Shiraz/Syrah wines from New World producers. Red wines made from predominantly Shiraz/Syrah were acceptable – blends and rosés were not. Australia was excluded, as it is already an established produce, and would likely have dominated. Emerging Syrah/Shiraz producers were the subject of the tasting.

Each supplier was limited in the number of wines they could submit, and their choices provided information about which countries and price points were a priority. Suppliers were asked to provide their most commercially viable wines, not necessarily their most expensive ones.

Wines were tasted blind, with only the country of origin and price known. Flighting was done by country, in price order. Tasters were divided into two teams, each tasting wines from certain countries.

SCORING SYSTEM

The results use a pure 100-point scale, with marks below 50 quite possible. Wines were marked as follows:

90-100 astounding

80-89 excellent

70-79 very good

60-69 good


RESULTS

ARGENTINA

63 Las Olas Shiraz 2008, Valle de la Puerta, Famatina Valley

‘A very full mouthfeel. Spicy and balanced. At that price, what value for money.’ FB

‘Juicy, vibrant, very approachable and forward. Overdelivers for the money.’ MH

£4.59, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 4016


63 La Chamiza Professional Shiraz 2006, Mendoza

‘Fresh mixed berries – fresh and tannic. Strong vanilla aroma.’ LG

‘A lot of dark fruit, spiced berries; depth, with delicacy. Ripe and juicy palate.’ OG

£9.99, World Wine Agencies, 01608 658062

CALIFORNIA

83 Baileyana Syrah Firepeak Vineyard 2004, Edna Valley

‘Northern Rhône in style. Well made, with great length. Expensive, but worth it.’ JH

‘A bit of funk and spice, followed by rich fruit – really moreish.’ CC

£17.25, Great Western Wine Company, 01225 322820


81 Hahn Estates Syrah 2006, San Luis Obispo

‘Juicy, fruity wine, with a bit of menthol.’ CC

‘Tannic, with good length and really good value for the money. A food wine.’ LA

£9.20, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 40160


75 Zaca Mesa Syrah 2003, Santa Ynez Valley

‘Rich, creamy fruit. Some smoky pepper and spice. Complex and well made.’ JH

‘Rich and intense. Tannins a bit tight.’ LA

£12.75, Great Western Wine Company, 01225 322820


73 Syrah Central Coast, Qupe 2006, Santa Barbara

‘Restrained and elegant on the nose, with some fruit on the palate.’ CC

£10.30, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360


71 Marmesa Cerro Romauldo Syrah 2006, Central Coast

‘Rich and flavoursome.’ LA

‘Lots of liquorice, cassis and currants. The alcohol’s maybe a bit high.’ CC

£9.91, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577


68 Syrah Le Pousseur, Bonny Doon 2005, Santa Cruz

‘Smoky, intense fruit. Great balance and depth. Great poise – very good.’ JH

‘Restrained on the fruit front, but really big tannins. A food wine.’ CC

£9.80, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360


64 Cycles Gladiator Syrah 2007, Hahn Family Wines, Central Coast

‘Good balance, with a bit of a jammy nose. Good for the price, and by the glass.’ LA

‘Definitely on the jammy side, with bubblegum and cassis notes.’ CC

£6.73, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 4016


64 Delicato Family Vineyards Shiraz 2006, Monterey

‘Meaty, with good concentration and a long finish. Good value.’ NA

‘Quite restrained and light, reminiscent of pomegranate and cranberry.’ CC

£6.82, Bibendum, 020 7722 5577

CHILE

79 Grey Shiraz 2006, Viña Ventisquero, Colchagua, Apalta

‘Smoky, meaty character. Acidity and tannins in balance. Good BBQ wine.’ LG

‘Rhônesque in style on the nose – this wine is spicy, earthy and multi-layered, with well-integrated fruit. It should age well.’ MH

‘This is what I was expecting of Chilean Shiraz – nice and full, well balanced with some juicy notes of red fruits.’ FB

£7.02, PLB Group, 07554 435299


78 Montes Folly 2005, Central Valley, Colchagua Valley

‘Big fruit, modern, some spices, good concentration. Generous ripe palate – very pleasurable.’ OG

‘Well balanced, this wine is built to age. French style there, almost Bordeaux.’ FB

£31.55, HwCg Specialist, 01279 873500


75 Perez Cruz Syrah Reserva Limited Edition 2006 2006, Maipo Valley

‘Spices. Concentration and lots of depth and poise. Wild berry character. Elegant and refined palate.’ OG

‘Peppery nose, and some liquorice. Very well integrated tannin and wood.’ MH

£11.98, Novum Wines, 020 7820 6720


74 Montes Alpha Syrah 2006, Central Valley, Colchagua Valley

‘A lot of typicity, depth, spices, intensity of concentration. Generous, with big tannins and high alcohol. Does the job nicely.’ OG

‘Some depth of fruit. Riper grapes. Multi-layered. Nice wood management.’ MH

£9.25, HwCg Specialist, 01279 873500


74 Antu Ninquen 2006, Colchagua

‘More of a food wine. Too full to do by the glass, but good in a brasserie.’ FB

‘Big concentration, lots of spice, chocolatey. Big chunky palate, with high acidity and crunchy tannins.’ OG

£10.38, Enotria, 020 8961 4411


73 Pangea Syrah 2005, Vina Ventisquero, Colchagua, Apalta

‘Violet and rubbery aromas on the nose. This is balanced, with concentrated fruit. Good product.’ LG

‘Moving up in price, especially from Chile. Tight nose, and substantial tannins.’ MH

£17.14, PLB Group, 07554 435299


72 Vina Chocalan Syrah Reserva 2005, Central Valley

‘Vegetal and spicy, with great concentration. A bit smoky.’ DM

‘More complex Old World brambly fruit. Some structure and acidity, but soft tannins. Needs some time.’

£6.37, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350


69 Caliterra Reserva Shiraz 2007, Colchagua

‘Black pepper, cooked wildberries, elegant, polished. Heavier and generous on the palate.’ OG

‘Light, with some cherry juice on the nose and a fresh mouth full of fruit. Ideal type of light red full of spice for lunch.’ FB

£4.97, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800


66 Cuvée Alexandre Syrah 2006, Casa Lapostolle, Cachapoal Valley

‘Almost Amarone style on the nose. It’s possible to get concentration with balance and freshness. Good for the winter.’ FB

‘A bit restrained, very dark fruit, but struggling to open up. Smooth palate.’ OG

£10.75, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711


65 Errazuriz Shiraz Max Reserva 2006, Aconcagua Valley

‘Minty, fruity, great tannin, good acidity – balanced, but needs more time.’ DM

‘Delicate, fine fruit, spice mix. Elegant palate. Concentration, but silkiness.’ OG

£10.67, Matthew Clark, 0870 600 0640; Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800


63 Amayna Syrah 2007 2007, Viña Casal de Gorchs, San Antonio, Leyda Valley

‘Touch of green and peppery on the palate. Very fresh. Fragrant black berries, smooth and round.’ LG

‘Dark, deep and broody. More vegetal Old World nose. Nice acidity. Food friendly.’ MH

£11.84, Paragon Wines and Spirits, 020 7928 7300


62 Caliterra Tributo Shiraz 2005, Colchagua

‘Green leaves, rich and a bit spicy.’ DM

‘Dark berries and a vegetal character. Spiced orange and dark chocolate.’ OG

£6.68, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800


61 La Playa Syrah 2007, Colchagua Valley

‘Deep nose of blackberry, as well as farmyard. Green pepper on the palate.’ FB

‘Some depth and spice, a little rustic.’ MH

£4.70, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5576


61 Cantaluna Shiraz 2006, Colchagua Valley

‘A touch of reduction on the nose, but will probably go with age. If the nose becomes like the palate, this will be the perfect type of Chilean wine to do by the glass.’ FB

£5.00, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 4016


ALSO TASTED

Falernia Syrah Reserva 2006,
Valdivieso Reserva Syrah 2007,
Viu Manent Secreto Syrah 2007

INDIA

60 Sula Shiraz 2008 2008, Nashik

‘Sour berries, and good structure.’ JH

‘Smoked meat on the nose, with some fruit as well.’ CC

£6.22, Novum Wines, 020 7820 6720

NEW ZEALAND

70 Tinpot Hut Syrah 2007, Hawkes Bay

‘Leafy palate with flavours of dark chocolate and currants.’ OG

‘Showing much more varietal character. This has nice acidity and long finish,
plus it’s good value too.’ MH

£9.62, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350


68 Schubert Syrah 2005, Martinborough

‘Nice Old World style – complex, needs time and would benefit from decanting.’ MH

‘Spice and freshness, full and long.’ FB

£21.50, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5576


65 Te Mata Woodthorpe Syrah/Viognier 2006, Hawkes Bay

‘Vegetal, fruity and a bit spicy.’ DM

‘Very leafy. Big ripe fruit, Indian spices and leather. Soft tannins and ripeness.’ OG

£9.50, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188


63 Southbank Estate Syrah 2005, Hawkes Bay

‘Quite spicy with some concentration. This has a wild berry character, though it’s a touch vegetal too. Ripe, very leafy, underripe character.’ OG

‘This is clean and fragrant, with the tannins in line. Well-structured wine.’ LG

£11.32, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600


63 Vidal Syrah 2007, Hawkes Bay

‘A very polished wine. The palate has lots of depth, but elegant fruit. Silkiness, and ripe dark fruit.’ OG

‘Fresh, dark fruits, good balance and acidity. Fresh fruit.’ LG

£7.44, Matthew Clark, 0870 600 0640; Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800


61 Murdoch James Saleyard Syrah 2004, Wellington, Martinborough

‘Smoky flavour, berry, liquorice.’ DM

‘Shows maturity, cooked fruit, leather and a little musk.’ OG

‘Smoky and light – meaty on the palate. Fresh. Blackberry.’ LG

£12.80, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820


60 Chalk Ridge Syrah 2007, Coopers Creek, Hawkes Bay

‘An evolved palate. Some cedar notes and managed tannins.’ MH

‘Nice aromatic nose – this is a well-made Shiraz. The grape’s personality is kept, and complemented by freshness.’ FB

£8.99, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711


ALSO TASTED

Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007, Alpha Domus Syrah 2007


SOUTH AFRICA

78 Glen Carlou Syrah 2005, Paarl

‘Eucalyptus and pine on the nose. Full and fruity on the palate, with a fresh finish.’ CC

‘Good nose – ripe and developed, and well balanced.’ JH

£10.25, Enotria, 020 8961 4411


75 Spier Private Collection 2005, Stellenbosch

‘Spicy, with good concentration, nice fruit and a long finish.’ NA

‘Nice nose – complex and supple, with black jam and ripe fruit. Will develop.’ LA

£9.88, PLB Group, 07554 435 299


75 Boschendal Reserve Collection Shiraz 2004, Franschhoek

‘Some depth and ripeness.’ JH

‘Pepper steak on the nose, with some cherry and raspberry on the palate.’ CC

£8.69, Matthew Clark, 0870 600 0640


74 Kanu Limited Release Shiraz 2004, Stellenbosch

‘Spices, black fruit, young, with good intensity. Rich, with good structure.’ LA

‘Juicy, with lifted acidity and good tannin.’ CC

£7.95, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711


71 Pump House Shiraz 2006, Backsberg Estate Cellars, Paarl

‘Liquorice and blackcurrant on the nose and palate. Some good fruit and tannin.’ CC

£8.35, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5576


69 Guardian Peak, Shiraz 2007, Engelbrecht Els, Stellenbosch

‘Some development. Ripeness and balance. Well made.’ JH

‘Very good value – spicy, with good fruit, a long finish and good concentration.’ NA

£6.26, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188


69 Kevin Arnold Shiraz, Waterford Estate 2006, Stellenbosch

‘Very mineral – interesting with food.’ NA

‘Pleasant shortbread aromas, and not shy on the palate. Liquorice-heavy.’ CC

£12.30, Fields, Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360


67 Brick Road Shiraz 2005, Middelvlei, Stellenbosch

‘Very rustic, with quite light body.’ LA

‘Very complex, with some ripeness and opulence. A really good wine.’ JH

£9.99, World Wine Agencies, 07764 372229


66 Jakkalsfontein Shiraz 2004, Fairview, Swartland

‘Fruit and spice – really complex. Would be good with grilled meat.’ LA

‘Preserved cherries. Aromatic, with big grippy tannins.’ CC

£11.95, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350


66 Nelson Estate Shiraz 2002, Paarl

‘Rustic, earthy notes. Very European in terms of structure. Well made.’ JH

‘This would be a good match for dishes that come with a sauce, which would counter the dryness of this wine.’ LA

£11.36, Corney & Barrow, 020 7265 2530


65 Iona Syrah 2006, Elgin

‘Blueberry, liquorice and cherry flavours, with good tannic structure.’ CC

‘Good fruit and long length, but it’s on the expensive side.’ LA

£11.07, Enotria, 020 8961 4411


65 Lourensford Estate Syrah 2007, Stellenbosch

‘Really good fruit/acid balance.’ JH

‘Fresh, unripe black fruit and young tannins. Young.’ LA

£6.62, Hatch Mansfield, 01344 871800


64 Capell’s Court Shiraz 2007, Linton Park, Wellington-Paarl

‘Medicinal, with long concentration.’ NA

‘Dark fruit, but quite young and fresh.’ LA

£5.86, Eurowines, 0870 162 1420


63 Luddite Shiraz 2005, Walker Bay, Stellenbosch

‘Lots of fruit – ripe strawberry, blueberry, liquorice and red berries.’ CC

£16.45, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820


61 Slowine Shiraz 2006, Paul Cluver, Elgin

‘Black fruit, peppery and intense. A good by-the-glass candidate.’ LA

‘Black cherry and plum preserve. Has some astringency.’ CC

£4.77, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188


61 Brampton Shiraz 2006, Rustenberg, Simonsberg, Stellenbosch

‘A well balanced palate, with good fruit. Very enjoyable overall.’ PH

‘Quite a big wine. Juicy and stalky, with some nice acidity.’ CC

£6.50, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188


ALSO TASTED

SAAM Mountain Vineyards Shiraz 2007,
Linton Park Shiraz 2007,
Radford Dale Shiraz 2005,
Durbanville Hills Shiraz 2005

Many thanks to Brasserie St Jacques in London for hosting the tasting.


panel comments
california, india, south africa

LAURENE AMIET One Aldwych Hotel

‘My first impression was that I’m not a big fan of Shiraz from the New World. But I must admit that I found South Africa to be good – close to the Old World in style. I’m still not convinced about Californian Shirazes, though. They were a bit high in alcohol, which is a shame. The Shiraz from the Cape is light, with lots of fruit. And California’s quite expensive, whereas you could find South African Shiraz to do by the glass. It means volume, and nowadays you need that. As for India, I’m still not convinced, but I’m keen to try more.’

NICOLAS ANGELINA Noura

‘The South African wines, from the mid-range to the top are quite good value and quality – I wasn’t expecting them to be that good. A few were aromatic, with mint and eucalyptus. At the lower end South Africa was not really good, though. California was overpriced for the quality of the wine, I thought, but it was a different style – longer, more concentrated and tannic, with greater potential for ageing. And India’s improving.’

CLINTON CAWOOD Imbibe

‘The line between the South African and US offerings was quite distinct, with the Californians delivering wines of a more typically New World style, with more ripeness, concentration and alcohol. In the South African flight, some were able to achieve significant elegance, although a number also failed to hit the mark. Overall, however, the Cape offered excellent value for money at all price points represented here, whereas the Californian offerings were on the pricey side.
At the top end, the Californians delivered complexity and elegance.’

JAMES HOCKING The Vineyard at Stockcross

‘I expected diversity and great value, but realised I’d also find some super-ripe wines that don’t quite work. Above all, I was looking for balance and minerality. I found the South African offering quite disappointing at all price levels. There were just too many jammy confected wines with one-dimensional character. There were some good bottles, but only at the top end of the price scale. California, however, was surprisingly good at all price levels. The wines had richness and guts. It’s California: one, SA: nil.’

PIERRE HOBEIKA Ebla Fakhreldine

‘It was a pleasure to discover different styles of this grape. The tasting lived up to expectations – I thought the wines were very good, and there was a lot of variety. The South African wines did start becoming repetitive, but in the middle range they were all good. The quality was better in California – there was more varietal character, the grapes were riper, and there was greater use of oak. There were a couple from South Africa that I liked, that were very stylish. The Californian wines were more consistent. The Indian wine was very good value – as a starting point that’s certainly very impressive.’


panel comments
argentina, chile, new zealand

FRED BRUGUES Sketch Lecture Room

‘I did enjoy the tasting, but it hasn’t changed my mind on New Zealand Shiraz. I think we’re all good for one thing in life, and New Zealand should stick to Pinot Noir. I had to go too far up the price range to get to what I liked in New Zealand, which is a shame because the Chileans could do the same at half the price. The problem in Chile was over-extraction.’

OLIVIER GASSELIN Bluebird

‘Shiraz can be the most versatile of grape varieties, bringing the best of any New World wine district. But I thought quite a few of the wines did not show enough varietal character, while others were past their best. On the upside, a few showed depth, elegance, freshness and complexity, which is what I would look for in a New World Shiraz. Overall I was surprised. I thought they’d be concentrated and alcoholic, but they showed elegance. The best had spice and concentration to match, but some didn’t show enough varietal character. Overall the wines were well priced. I was expecting something more difficult to taste – this was much easier than I thought it would be.’

LUCIANA GIROTTO Marc De Grazia Selections

‘I was looking for good value-for-money wines, good quality overall and a lot of entry-level products. Overall, the wines weren’t bad. Maybe some weren’t such great value. The Chilean wines were chunkier and jammier, but not unpleasant. The wines from New Zealand were more Old World in style. They were a bit pricier, but the quality was relative. The Chilean offerings were more approachable and more food friendly.’

MIKE HARRISON Consultant

‘I expected to find similar wines to those we saw in the Sommelier Wine Awards – New World-style upfront fruit bombs. But there were Old World-style Syrahs with more complexity. There were a couple of stand-out wines – especially one Argentinian wine at the end, which just confirms this country’s potential. There were a few wines that expressed no individuality or varietal character. But most achieved a benchmark of what you’d expect. I was a bit disappointed by the Kiwi offering – I’ve had Syrah from there that was so on the money, but these were up and down. In general, there was great food friendliness and the tannins were well managed.’

DANIEL MARZOTTO Osteria Dell’Angolo

‘The most interesting offerings were from Chile. New Zealand was too light in taste for the varietal, in my opinion, and I didn’t like the two from Argentina very much. The wines from Chile showed character, good extraction, balance, complexity and nice acidity, which is sometimes difficult to find in New World. And the Chileans offered the best value for money.’


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May / June 2009

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