WHAT TO DRINK
This month, Richard Hemming examines the syrah grape variety
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.