Guide to Syrah: origins, characteristics and appellations
Syrah is a grape variety renowned for its ability to produce spicy, full-bodied, powerful, aromatic, and age-well red wines . It also gives fine and fruity rosé wines. It prevails in the north of the Rhône Valley , and is widely planted in Languedoc-Roussillon , in Provence and in the rest of the world where it is very successful and is one of the greatest red grape varieties .
It is a relatively fragile grape variety and vulnerable to certain attacks by parasites. Its berries are medium, with dark-skinned, ovoid-shaped grapes. These grow on medium, elongated clusters, surmounted by long branches.
The origins of this grape variety at the base of quality red wines
According to in-depth research and DNA tests, Syrah would come from two ancient grape varieties: Dureza (an old variety of Ardèche with dark berries, a descendant of Pinot Noir ) and Mondeuse Blanche (a variety of Savoy from formerly to White skin). The meeting between these two old varieties of grapes would have occurred for the first time on the west bank of the Rhône.
This meeting was also very interesting, because neither of the two grape varieties had ever been really popular before being crossed. They were later planted in the northern Rhone Valley, considered the cradle of Syrah. This one is also known under the names of Shiraz, Sirane, Sirac, Serene, Hermitage…
However, no verified source indicates how long this grape variety has been around. It is quite possible that the ancient Romans planted it in the Côte Rôtie region. At that time, it would have had the name Allobrogica. It is also possible that it is even older than that, as some historians believe it was cultivated by the Greeks 500 years earlier than the Romans.
Syrah wine regions and the wines it produces
Although we don't know precisely how long this grape has been used to produce wine, one thing is for sure that it continues to grow in popularity. It is popular all over the world, but reaches its best expressions in the wine regions of France, precisely in the north and south of the Rhône Valley .
In the northern part of the Rhone
In northern Rhone, Sirane is the main red grape variety . It produces aromatic wines , well colored and capable of aging for a long time.
The Côte Rôtie is its northernmost point. The steep slopes of this vineyard, facing south-east, are perfectly located to reach maximum maturity which results in deeply colored, relatively tannic wines, with fruity and sometimes fragrant aromas.
Mainly facing east, Saint-Joseph is one of its great appellations . This region has less sunshine and therefore less ripening time. This results in a lighter, faster-aging style of wine.
Perhaps the most famous of its appellations, Hermitage is renowned for its long-maturing reds and made in limited quantities. Its granitic soils and southern exposure allow the grapes to ripen completely, creating colorful, heady Syrah wines with fruity flavors and aromas. With age, the tannins soften and the wine becomes rounder with a silky, spicy, oaky dark fruit flavor.
Crozes Hermitage is the largest appellation in the northern Rhône and, like the others, produces red wines only from Syrah. Its richer soils allow for a style of wine that is smoother, finer, elegant and can be tasted earlier. Spicy notes accompany fresh aromatic flavors of red and black fruits.
Finally, Cornas benefits from a much warmer climate, so that its producers are often among the first to harvest. Syrah is its only red grape variety. The red wine obtained is slightly black, thick, often tannic in its youth and with good aging potential.
In the southern part of the Rhone
In the southern Rhône Valley, Sirane is found more often in blends alongside Grenache noir , Cinsault du Carignan and Mourvèdre .
Châteauneuf du Pape is a large region in the southern Rhône. Its wines are generally blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. They are quite full-bodied, balanced, rich, and with aromas of dark fruit and sweet oak flavors.
The Côtes du Rhône are the other emblematic region of Sirane. The latter gives wonderful balanced red wines, with spicy and red fruit notes, soft and rounded tannins, with surprising concentration and intensity. The proof with this magnificent bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône .
La Sirane in the rest of France and the world
In France, Syrah is also found in Provence and in Languedoc-Roussillon, which would also be the region where it is most planted. The Syrah grape varieties are also grown almost everywhere abroad (Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, California, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Australia) where they often take on another name.