By Al Begin - The Syrah grape is believed to have its origins in the Rhone region in southeastern France.
It is considered to be one of the world’s most diverse grapes as it can produce the bold Syrah and the jammy Shiraz.
Syrah was the world’s seventh-most grown grape in 2004. There are more than 19,000 acres of Syrah grapes planted in California, and it is the most widely planted red grape in Australia.
Syrah grapes tend to produce strong, and very dark, violet-coloured wines. The Syrah grape is also used in blending with other grapes to produce wines with very good aging potential due to the high levels of tannins that can be obtained from this grape. A good example of this would be the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.
Recent DNA testing has shown that the Syrah grape originated from the Dureza (a black grape) and Mondeuse Blanche (a white grape) grapes. Syrah grapes require heat to fully ripen so they would never succeed in Nova Scotia with our shorter and cooler growing seasons.
The Syrah gape is also referred to as the Shiraz, Hermitage, Antourenein Noir, Candive, and Marsanne Noir grape. However, it is not to be confused with the Petite Sirah grape.
Syrah is the ‘old world’ style of producing the wine. Syrahs will tend to have more of the leather, spice, peppery and oak tastes, and would be predominantly from Europe although there are other wineries making the Syrah wines.
Shiraz is the ‘new world’ style of producing the wine. Shiraz would tend to be more jammy and full-bodied, and are also likely to have a higher alcohol content. They became popular in Australia but have spread to other regions of the world such as South America, New Zealand, and the United States.
A Syrah wine will pair very well with lamb, ribs or duck. It will also pair well with Indian or Mexican foods.
In the Vineyards
The vineyards in Nova Scotia are likely finished pruning their vines. It will soon be time for the vineyard workers to assess for frost or severe cold damage. The -25 C temperatures that hit Nova Scotia twice last week will very likely have caused some damage to the grape plants. The damage is more likely to occur to viniefera (purebred) plants than the hybrid (modified) plants.
Fortunately, each bud on the grape vine has a primary, secondary, and tertiary bud inside of it. The secondary and tertiary buds act as ‘back-ups’ for the plant should the primary bud have suffered frost or cold damage. The thinner portions of the vines that are further away from the base are more likely to suffer damage than the thicker portions of the vines.
Checking for cold and frost damage on a grape vine is actually very simple. Simply take a portion of your vine indoors and allow it to come to room temperature for a couple of hours. Run a razor blade along the vine, slicing through the bud, and exposing all three buds inside. Look to see if the buds are still green (alive) or brown (dead).
Just hope that not all three buds were damaged as occurred to some of our vines last year. The plants will still survive and grow this year, you just won’t get any fruit from the portions with damages buds.
The book “The Heartbreak Grape” by Marq De Villers chronicles the true journey of Josh Jensen as he tries to find the perfect location to grow the Pinot Noir grape in California. He eventually succeeds and establishes the Calera Winery (www.calerawine.com), which produces some amazing wines today.
The book is a wonderful and endearing read about one man’s obsession with proving others wrong, and himself correct, and establishing a Pinot Noir vineyard with limestone characteristics similar to the region of Burgundy, half a world away.
The book was so enjoyable that I made the effort to track down one of the Calera Winery’s Pinot Noirs (turns out they sell them at the Bayers Lake NSLC).
The Fermented Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel recently tasted the 2009 Genesis Syrah. It is from the Columbia Valley in Washington, and is produced by the Hogue Cellars. It is available from your local NSLC for $19.49.
It is made from 85 per cent Syrah, six per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, three per cent Lemberger, three per cent Sangiovese, two per cent Merlot and one per cent‘other’ grapes.
The nose is of dark berry, leather and wood/oak. The taste is of plum, pepper/spice, tobacco and oak, and there are light tannins at first but they quickly dissipate. This wine is not a jammy fruit bomb, but rather, it is a very well-balanced wine with some maturity and character.
After a couple of minutes in the glass it develops into a wonderful wine with growing body and character. This wine is what we understand a good Syrah to be.
A barrel of wine contains 288 bottles of wine. This wine is not a full barrel, but it rates 245 out of 288 bottles. The rating for this wine will likely increase if you were to hide a couple of bottles in the cellar for a few of years.
Al Begin is the chief barrel toaster for the Fermented Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel, and you can send your wine questions, gifts, or recommendations, to him at email@example.com.