Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tasting Syrah/Shiraz Around the World

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Doug Lehmann at Pearson's in Washington DC

In recent years, I have tasted Syrah/Shiraz with winemakers around the world. In this posting, I am recalling a number of these tastings, with winemakers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, South Africa, Paso Robles, Berkeley, Austria, Washington State, Oregon and Australia (in no particular order).

Weinrallye # 61: Syrah/Shiraz – a Global Player

This posting is being published as part of the Weinrallye, a monthly blog event in Germany.  Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading " Syrah/Shiraz – a Global Player”.

Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. This month's wine rally is organized by Susanne Werth-Rosarius (hunderachtziggrad).


Syrah/Shiraz is a dark-skinned grape grown all around the world that tends to produce a powerfully flavored, full-bodied wine, with a peppery and sometimes lusty taste.

Syrah has a long tradition in the Rhone region in the South of France. In Australia, it became popular under the name Shiraz, where it now has long been established as the most grown red grape variety. Some sources suggest that the grape variety originates in the city of Shiraz in Iran, from where it was brought to France and there named Syrah. In the US, it is mostly called Syrah, but should not be confused with Petite Syrah, which is a different grape variety.

The wines that made Syrah famous were those from Hermitage in the northern Rhone valley, in the 18th and 19th century.

Syrah arrived in Australia in the early 19th century and was first planted in Hunter Valley. By the end of the century, Syrah was fully established as one of Australia’s grape varieties. Pinfold’s Grange is the most famous Shiraz from Australia, although it is not 100 percent Shiraz, but a blend.

In the last few decades, Shiraz/ Syrah has enjoyed increased popularity, both in the Old and New World and recently broke into the top 10 of varieties planted worldwide.

Hermitage 2004 and 2005 with Owner/Winemaker Eric Bonnet of Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, at Bistro Vivant in McLean, Virginia, USA

Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique is a family-owned winery in Courthézon in the southern part of the Rhône Valley in France. Eric Bonnet: “My family has been making wine for a number of years now. My great-grandfather started it. He did not bottle the wine he made under his own label, but sold it by barrel to a negociant. My father started to bottle the wine in 1980.” The family owns 38 hectares of vineyards in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC and other areas.

Hermitage 2004 and 2005

Tasting notes: 2004 - Deep ruby in the glass, notes of plum, meat, and spices on the nose, solid acid/tannin backbone on the palate, full-bodied and mouth-filling, more open, more approachable than the 2005. 2005 - Deep ruby in the glass, notes of blackcurrant, gunflint and tobacco on the nose, a bigger nose than the 2004, full-bodied with good acidity and sweet tannin, still a bit closed on the palate. Hermitage is typically at its best between 10 and 20 years after the vintage, but the greatest examples from the strongest years can go on for several decades. This one should be put aside for many years.

Picture: Bistro Vivant Co-Owner Aykan Demiroglu, Eric Bonnet, Winemaker and Co-Owner of Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique and Christian G.E. Schiller at Bistro Vivant in McLean, VA, USA

Dinner with Owner/Winemaker Eric Bonnet of Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France/USA

2008 Boekenhoutskloof Syrah with Winemaker Jean Smit at Boekenhoutskloof in South Africa

From an initial 6000 bottles in 1996, now Boekenhoutskloof’s output is running at 3 million bottles, of which 95% is its second label Porcupine Ridge and the new Wolftrap, and 5% the premium category wines Boekenhoutskloof and The Chocolate Block. Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof is one of the oldest farms in the Franschhoek Valley and has seen a phenomenal development since 1996. It now enjoys a reputation as one of the leading wine estates in South Africa.

Tasting notes: Rich dark berry, black plum, pepper and coffee and mocha on the nose. The palate is rich with plenty of complexity and hints of blackberry, dried cherry, prune, and cranberry.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with winemaker Jean Smit at Boekenhoutskloof

Boekenhoutskloof – Producer of Sensational Premium Wines as well as Good Value Table Wines in Franschhoek

2007 Syrah, Thacher Vineyards, with Sherman Thacher at Thacher Vineyards in Paso Robles, California

Thacher Vineyards is in the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area, which is located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s central coast. More than 26,000 acres are planted to vineyards that provide fruit for Paso Robles wineries and others throughout the state. Today there are more than 170 wineries.

Since 2004, the Thacher Winery - with the grasshopper label - has been hand-crafting wines from vineyards found on the Westside of Paso Robles and in Southern Monterey County. It is a boutique winery that specializes on Rhone blends and Zinfandels. Currently, Thacher Winery produces 1800 cases.

100% Syrah from Coast View Vineyard, Monterey County

Tasting notes of Sherman Thacher: This wine is clear and bright, with a deeply intense shiny purple core, fading to a medium purple rim. Legs are slow and sheeting, with saturated purple color. On the nose, this wine is clean and developing, with medium plus intense aromas of ripe black cherries, French roast coffee beans, vanilla, cedar, plum sauce, cocoa nibs, tar and cola. On the palate this wine is dry, with medium plus firm tannin, medium plus spicy alcohol, medium plus filling body, and medium acid. Flavors are medium plus intense, and include ripe black cherries, vanilla extract, cedar, roasted coffee, black huckleberries, cola, cinnamon and Chinese five-spice. The finish is very long and supported. Firm tannins carry throughout, with dense chocolate and black fruit flavors. Acid to balance. Outstanding. This wine is ready to drink, but has enough structure, depth and complexity of elements to last 5-7 more years.

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Sherman Thacher at Thacher Winery in Paso Robl

Visiting Sherman Thacher and his Thacher Winery in Paso Robles, California

2008 Syrah Fenaughty Vineyard with Jared Brandt at his Donkey and Goat Winery in Berkeley, California

The Donkey and Goat Winery is a wife and husband owned and operated winery located in Berkeley, California, producing “natural” wines. Tracey and Jared Brandt are the "donkey and goat" behind these naturally made wines. Tracey and Jared just make the wine, they do not own vineyards. The wine they make is very special: Tracey and Jared are followers of the natural wine movement. It is a rather new winery, established in 2004.

Jared: It was the first year we made this wine in our Rousseau 4t wooden open top vat. We do not make wine in plastic. Never have and never will. All of our reds are fermented in open top wood vats. The wines like Fenaughty, that go into the 4t vat, benefit from less temperature extremes and longer mid-range temps (in the high 70’s to low 80’s). Like all of our red wines, we only use the machine for whatever level of de-stemming is desired. In this case only we de-stemmed 75% leaving the rest whole cluster. The Fenaughty vineyard also has Viognier planted so we picked a few hundred pounds with the Syrah to result in approximately 3.5% co-fermented Viognier in our final blend. Crushing is achieved via pigeage à pied (foot stomping) and in our Rousseau vat, our stompers must channel their inner Lucy to get the job done. Wild yeasts are employed without nutrients or other enhancers. We punch down by hand up to 3 times daily which is an extreme work out in a 4 ton tank with 25% whole cluster! The cooperage was a mix of 1-3 yr old French oak barrels. Malolactic fermentation was natural and completed by early summer. The wine stayed sur lie for 8 months when it was racked and returned to barrel for the final 12.5 months of aging until the final blend was assembled in early June 2009. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration on July 14, 2009.

Jared’s tasting notes: Tobacco, earth and herbs intermingled with violets grab your olfactory immediately. With a moment to breathe, mineral, fresh meat and spice box come to the fore. Red fruits like cherry, plum and raspberry tickle the palate. Long, firmly structured yet smooth tannins coat the mouth and linger for minutes while you ponder what this wine is and what it will become.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Jared Brandt from the Donkey and Goat Winery in Berkeley, California. Donkey and Goat Produces in the Middle of Berkeley Natural Wines, where I recently spent a couple of hours with Jared talking about what natural wines is all about.

2009 Syrah Schuettenberg with Franz and Christine Netzl at their Estate in Carnuntum, Austria

The Carnuntum region, which covers an area south east of Vienna and south of the Danube, has a long tradition of viticulture stretching back to Celtic times. It experienced an upswing under the Romans. At some point it was the occasional residence of Roman Caesars. The Carnuntum is rich in Roman remains, including an amphitheatre and a roman palace.

The Netzl Estate is located in the small town of Göttlesbrunn in the Carnuntum. The family has been involved in wine production since 1820. Franz and Christine Netzl are regarded as one of those responsible for the red wine boom in this region.

The vineyard area totals 20 hectares, with holdings in the Aubühel, Bärnreiser, Haidacker, Holzweg, Kräften and Neuberg sites. 80% of the area is planted with the red varieties Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, while the remaining 20% is planted with the white varieties Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Welschriesling. A bottle-fermented sparkling wine is also produced. Annual production is around 80.000 bottles of wine.

The following vintage, 2010, was one of the 3 best Austrian Syrahs produced in this year, according to the Fallstaff Guide:

1. Syrah 2010 – Weingut Toni Hartl, Reisenberg (92 Falstaff-Punkte)
2. Syrah 2010 – Weingut Erich Scheiblhofer, Andau (92 Punkte Falstaff-Punkte)
3. Syrah Schüttenberg 2010 – Weingut Franz und Christine Netzl, Göttlesbrunn (92 Punkte Falstaff-Punkte)

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Christine, Christina and Franz Neztl in Göttlesbrunn in the Carnuntum

Visiting Christine, Christina and Franz Netzl in their Weingut Netzl in Carnuntum, Austria

2009 Murray Syrah with Kelly and Tim Hightower at their Hightower Cellars in Washington State, USA

Hightower Cellars is a small winery in the Red Mountain area of Washington State, owned and managed by the charming husband and wife team Tim and Kelly Hightower.

About half a century ago, there was basically no wine industry in Washington State. And if wine was made, it was not with the noble European vinifera grapes. But the American wine boom that had its origin in California moved to the north, first to Oregon and then it also reached Washington State.

Hightower Cellars is about 200 miles away from Seattle, on the way from Seattle to Walla Walla. The vineyards the Hightowers own are all in the Red Mountain AVA - the land surrounding the Red Mountain – between Benton City and Richland. It is part of the Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. The Red Mountain AVA is a small AVA with 600 acres under cultivation of primarily red varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah potentially producing exceptional wines.

2009 Murray Syrah

This 2009 Murray Syrah is the third release of the estate vineyard Syrah. It is 100% from grapes grown on Red Mountain; two different clones of Syrah co-fermented with 5% Viognier.

Tasting notes: The intensity of the vineyard is starting to show even in this young wine. The Syrah is dark red with a floral and brambly berry nose with a hint of tar and creosote. The palate is pleasingly plush, smooth with a continuation of the brambly berry fruit through the finish.

Christian G.E. Schiller with Tim and Kelly Hightower in the Tasting Room

Visiting Kelly and Tim Hightower and their Hightower Cellars in Washington State, USA

2007 Dominio IV Syrah/Tempranillo Blend "Spellbound" with Owner/Winemaker Patrick Reuter at his Dominio IV Winery in McMinnville, Oregon, USA

About two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are in the Willamette Valley. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes. Oregon’s major wine regions are the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. Some regions straddle the border between Oregon and the States of Washington and Idaho.

Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. Oregon's biggest producer ships only 125,000 cases per year and most produce under 35,000 cases. The State features many small wineries which produce less than 5,000 cases per year. In contrast, E & J Gallo Winery, the US’ largest winery, produces about 70 million cases annually. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market.

With a production of about 5000 cases, Dominio IV is one of the smaller wineries in Oregon.

2007 Dominio IV Syrah/Tempranillo Blend "Spellbound"

Syrah 58% and Temprenillo 42%.

The back label says: “You’re so pretty you’d make any mountain quiver. You’d make fire fly from the crater. If you walk across my camera I will flash the world your story. I will pay you more than money, not by pennies, dimes, nor quarters but with happy sons and daughter. To Leigh from Patrick via Woody Guthrie and Ingrid Bergman.”

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Patrick Reuter in McMinnville

Visiting Patrick Reuter and his Dominio IV Winery in McMinnville, Oregon, US

2009 Peter Lehmann Shiraz with Doug Lehmann of Peter Lehmann Wines in Washington DC, USA

Peter Lehmann Wines is one of Australia's most respected winemakers.  The wines are made from grapes purchased from about 185 independent growers as well as grapes grown in the 4 company-owned vineyards. Many of Peter Lehmann Wines growers’ families have worked the same vineyards for five and, in some cases, six generations. Peter Lehmann Wines produces around 600,000 cases annually with distribution to Australia but also to the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. Today, Peter Lehmann Wines is part of the Donald Hess family. The Barossa Valley in South Australia is one of the best wine-producing regions on Australia, around an hour from Adelaide.

Tasting notes: This is such a classic taste of Barossa Shiraz, with lashings of chocolate and plum aromas and flavors. It’s a big mouthful of fruit with a firm and generous structure delivering all the comfort you’d expect from a Peter Lehmann wine.

Meeting Doug Lehmann of Peter Lehmann Wines at Pearson’s in Washington DC, USA/Australia

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