Syrah or shiraz as it's known in Australia and South Africa has emerged from its French heartland in the northern Rhone Valley to become the world's seventh most planted grape.
Its popularity either as a straight syrah or blended with other varieties has driven its meteoric rise across Europe, USA, South America, South Africa, New Zealand and most notably Australia where it’s become the nation's number one grape.
Syrah was originally made famous by wines from the northern Rhone town of Tain l'Hermitage. The Aussies were the first to create the now familiar blend with cabernet sauvignon but the grape's blending history is long – with Hermitage being added to Bordeaux wines during poor vintages in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The grape tends to produce powerful and full-bodied wines yet the taste and aroma can vary hugely according to climate and soil. Treatment by the winemaker, particularly the use of oak, can also have a huge influence although flavours of blackberry and peppery spice are typical.
So with such a wide geographical spread I decided to take a ‘syrah-ous’ look at shiraz’s many different faces.
First port of call had to be the northern Rhone – and to the less expensive neighbour of Hermitage. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Crozes-Hermitage 2010 , made by one of the region’s most famous producers, Chapoutier, scooped silver at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) and sells for £9.79 a bottle. The style is savoury and meaty with plenty of dark fruit in what is a very dark wine. There’s also pepper and spice.
To the other side of the globe and one of Chile's earliest and most famous winemakers, Errazuriz. They won an IWC gold plus a great value award this year for their super-charged Max Reserva Syrah 2011 from the Aconcagua Valley.
Defined by spending a year in oak barrels, the nose is intense and can be smelled from over a foot away. It has plenty of dark berry notes with masses of cream and vanilla and hints of coconut. There's also a touch of smokey tobacco. The taste is smooth with dark fruit and blackcurrant and enough vanilla to keep an ice cream factory ticking over for a year.
The 2010 is available for £12.50 from Tesco. The 2011 can be bought online for around the same price and is excellent.
Tesco Finest’s Swartland Shiraz 2012 , from South Africa, picked up an IWC bronze and is an excellent deal at the reduced price of £5.49 until September 3. It’s a powerful savoury wine with plenty of dark fruit – including bramble and blackcurrant – and a spicy finish of pepper and cloves.
So to the antipodes, starting with a New Zealand shiraz from the country’s most decorated winery Villa Maria. Many of the country’s winemakers have developed a lighter peppery style of syrah distinct from their Australian neighbours. Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Syrah 2010 scooped an IWC gold and is available from Majestic at £9.99 when buying two bottles until September 2.
Unfortunately I could only get the 2011 which I suspect will struggle to win any awards. Aromas include plum, blueberry and pepper. The taste offers plum up front before black pepper kicks in. It’s decent but a little too light and thin.
Moving on to Australia and a winery that only began producing in 2000. Heirloom scooped a stack of IWC awards this year including a gold for its Eden Valley Shiraz 2012. I managed to pick up their Barossa Valley Shiraz 2011 from Tesco for £11.99 and was impressed by the quality of this big red. The nose is ultra-powerful with bramble and dark fruit aromas with hints of chocolate, cedar and red fruit. There’s concentrated fruit flavours up front with herbs and pencil shavings afterwards.
Finally, the multi-award winning McGuigan winery has produced a shiraz blend following a northern Rhone tradition of adding a small amount of white viognier grapes. Bin 736 Shiraz Viognier 2012 is bramble juice in a glass. There’s also hints of red berries and a long spice and cream finish producing a very enjoyable wine. It’s reduced to a bargain £5.49 at Tesco until September 3.
So there you have it – six different syrahs and six different styles. It’s all a matter of taste but the Errazuriz and Heirloom were magnificent with the McGuigan not far behind.