Que syrah, syrah: best of the reds
by Rhys Mathias - "I’ve been drinking" column
It's a grape variety that has slipped almost surreptitiously into New Zealand wine glasses over the last few years, turning us off traditional varieties and alerting us to the fact we have the perfect climate for a grape that finds its purest form in both the old and new worlds.
It is syrah/shiraz, the back bone of the Barossa and the northern Rhone, with styles differing so much you could be mistaken for presuming they were two different grapes - hence the two names for one variety.
Wine uber-babe Jancis Robinson even puts it under two different listings in her BBC Wine Course book, saying shiraz tends to taste "richer, riper, and more full bodied than France’s typical syrah-based wines".
Drinking great Barossa shiraz is important in the education of any young wine drinker. It’s big, alcoholic, full of ripe fruit and can taste of leather, chocolate and cigar boxes. Drinking great syrah from the northern Rhone is more seminal. The wine is soft, less fruity but has a delightful white pepper taste (and nose), and when viognier is added, slightly perfumed.
Originally from Persia, the grape has had an inexorable advance over 5000 years, and although it is not the most planted variety, it is hard to challenge the view it is the greatest of the red grape varieties because it makes such excellent wine of different styles.
Italian viticulturist Romeo Bragato wrote more than 100 years ago that New Zealand was ideally suited to syrah, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s it started appearing in wine shops as a serious contender.
Te Mata, Stonecroft and Okahu were early producers who had faith, but only in the past five years has it started to hit straps and show up on supermarket shelves.
Look at the list of gold medal winners in our major wine shows and you will see an increasing number of syrah. It is also winning best in show, a sure sign New Zealand has the climate (perhaps only in Hawke’s Bay consistently) to sustain its development.
Five years ago, British wine writer Tim Atkin told us we should rip out all the cabarnet wines, which produce those nasty green flavours in average years, and replace them with syrah.
He was right. Mission, Selaks and Trinity Hill are all turning out superior syrah with a lovely peppery nose and taste of sweet, ripe fruit, for under $20.
Going up a level it’s hard to beat the powerful intensity of Te Mata Bullnose, the Unison and the Vidal Soler. Even in the Waikato, Mystery Creek and Ohui Vineyard (Opoutere, in the Coromandel) have both produced good quality syrah in a lighter style but with that traditional nose.
- What I’ve been drinking
Syrah all the way this week with the 2005 Ohui ($24 at Hamilton Wine Co) and the Selaks The Favourite ($19 in supermarkets). At this price Selak stands out as a fruity, peppery, ripe little number which punches well above its weight. It shows we can make excellent syrah under $20 and with experience and as the vines age, it will only get better.
Ohui is light, almost pinot style but the structure is good and it will develop a little in the bottle. It’s good to see another Waikato (Coromandel) label in the market. They also make a very passable merlot and a lightly oaked chardonnay.
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