Epicurean Muse: Warm up with Syrah

Syrah, it’s sexy, silky and full-bodied, it can be quite dark and one to ponder.  Sound perfect for a cold, blustery night in January?  If you haven’t experienced a glass of Syrah lately, then I encourage you to do so.  This grape has a lot going for it, it’s luscious texture, rich flavors and distinctive spice make it pretty easy to instantly embrace. Syrah plantings are on the rise and it continues to receive positive press and reviews from some of the top publications in the wine industry.

This dark and relatively powerful variety is most notable in the northern Rhone region of France, where it originated.  In other parts of the world, such as Australia and South Africa, Syrah is also known as Shiraz.  While it’s the same grape with a different name, the wines can taste different from region-to-region.  The Rhone has a long history of producing more classic “old world” styles, which essentially translates to not quite as fruit driven as say Australian Shiraz. In this region, between the city of Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers and the northern Mediterranean, Syrah enjoys abundant sunshine, but must survive the cold, brutal winds known as Mistral.  These winds can blow for days and up to 45 – 50 mph.  Outside of the Rhone, just about everyone has experienced the big, jammy styles of Shiraz from Australia.  In fact, Shiraz is the most widely planted red grape in Australia.  Often times the climate is much warmer producing a fruit cocktail of plum, blueberry and blackberry.  However, in cooler growing regions you do get more notes of chocolate, earth, mineral and a hint of smoke.

Currently, Syrah is getting a lot of traction on the west coast of the U.S., and particularly Washington State where it is considered one of the best spots for the grape. Many of the west coast wineries in pursuit of the quintessential Syrah are known as Rhone Rangers.  These winemakers are dedicated to American-grown Rhone grape varietals including Syrah of course, as well as Viognier, Grenache and Petite Sirah.  Like their French counterparts, the Washington State Syrah tends to be perfumed, almost floral, but with fairly intense, concentrated wild berry fruit flavors, enhanced with herbs, wild game, savory umami, oily espresso bean and black pepper spice.  Think ultra rich, yet very elegant.  Syrah really can be considered the gentle giant of red wines.  It requires little to no aging, it’s ready when you are and eager to please.  Seems like the perfect companion to me and worthy of serious consideration.  Cheers!