This month, Richard Hem­ming ex­am­ines the syrah grape va­ri­ety

Living France - - A LA MANSION -

One of France’s great­est vi­nous ex­ports, syrah is far bet­ter known by its other name: shi­raz. What­ever is writ­ten on the la­bel, it’s the same va­ri­ety in the bot­tle. How­ever, there is an im­pli­ca­tion about style: most wine la­belled shi­raz tends to be full-bod­ied, ripe and jammy, while syrah is a more fra­grant and re­strained style, often char­ac­terised by a pi­quant spici­ness.

Cli­mate is the key to the dif­fer­ence. While typ­i­cal shi­raz from Aus­tralia tends to come from hot re­gions, the heart­land of syrah in France is cooler, by viti­cul­tural stan­dards: the north­ern Rhône val­ley. Run­ning be­tween Vi­enne and Va­lence, this re­gion only pro­duces 5% of the val­ley’s wine, but it spe­cialises in syrah.

Typ­i­cally, they are deep coloured with fresh bram­ble fruit flavours, medium body and com­plex flavours rang­ing from savoury spice to pep­per to charred meat. The most soughtafter ap­pel­la­tions such as Her­mitage and Côte-Rôtie rarely cost less than £25, but there are some bar­gains to be had (see my rec­om­men­da­tions below).

Syrah is also often used as a blend­ing va­ri­ety with grenache and oth­ers to make Côtes-du-Rhône reds – though it is usu­ally in the mi­nor­ity. You can also find syrah used to make rosé. Also, look out for syrah-viog­nier blends, where up to 10% of the white grape viog­nier is blended in – a most un­usual in­no­va­tion, based on the recipe for Côte-Rôtie.

Do­maine de Mont­val, Syrah 2015 PGI Pays du Gard (£8.99 Ma­jes­tic Wine) The Gard de­part­ment is one of the three main parts of the Langue­doc, where swathes of vine­yards pro­duce re­li­ably good-value wine from dozens of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties. De­spite the rel­a­tively warm ori­gins, this syrah from Do­maine de Mont­val has sur­pris­ing del­i­cacy. Full of black pep­per, flo­ral fra­grance and juicy black­berry fruit – and comes with a hefty dis­count when you buy six!

Michel et Stéphane Ogier, La Ro­sine Syrah 2014 PGI Collines Rho­dani­ennes (£14.60 Lay & Wheeler) Just op­po­site Côte-Rôtie (one of the Rhône val­ley’s top ap­pel­la­tions) are hill­sides known as the Collines Rho­dani­ennes. The Ro­mans prized th­ese vines, yet they re­main largely undis­cov­ered to­day. Thank­fully, pro­duc­ers such as the Ogiers are mak­ing wines that prove the re­gion’s po­ten­tial, with pris­tine black fruit and a won­der­ful savoury meaty char­ac­ter. If this had Côte-Rôtie on the la­bel, it would cost twice the price.

De­las, Do­maine des Grands Chemins 2014 Crozes-Her­mitage (£19 The Wine So­ci­ety) De­las is one of my favourite Rhône pro­duc­ers, and this Crozes-Her­mitage is an ab­so­lute stonker. It comes from their own or­ganic do­maine within a large ap­pel­la­tion area that takes its name from the pres­ti­gious hill of Her­mitage. This ex­am­ple is rich and smoky, with typ­i­cal black pep­per­corn spice on the fin­ish and chewy tan­nin that will sup­port bot­tle mat­u­ra­tion for up to a decade.

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