viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

Viticultural and Wine Characteristics of Syrah


Source: Wine Grapes (Jancis Robinson; Julia Harding; José Vouillamoz)


Vigorous. Mid ripening with a short ripening period between veraison and harvest, plus a short window for optimum harvesting. Needs careful trellising and training to protect it from the wind in spring. Very susceptible to chlorosis and unsuited to soils with a high active lime content (and should not be grafted onto no R rootstocks). Susceptible to mites and botrytis bunch rot, especially near harvest. Also susceptible to a disease of unknown cause described variously as Syrah/Shiraz disease/decline/disorder and found in many parts of the world, where leaves turn red, swelling and cracks appear at the graft point and vines eventually die (some clones appear more susceptible chan others). Berries are small and tend to shrivel quickly once ripe.


Until the late twentieth century, Syrah was grown chiefly in the Vallée du Rhône and, as Shiraz, in Australia. But a combination of a surge in Australian wine exports, a fashion for all things Rhôneish and a certain ennui with Bordeaux red wine grapes combined to encourage widespread planting of this variety. Its wines have a very different profile from those of the Cabernet family. Their tannins are in general much gentler and there is more obvious weight on the mid palate, especially if, as is often the case, Syrah is blended with other Rhône and southern French varieties such as Grenache (Garnacha) and Mourvèdre (Monastrell). Syrah´s flavours tend to be in the leather, liquorice and tar spectrum with marked black pepper or even burnt-rubber aromas in slightly underripe examples but much sweeter black-fruit flavours in Syrah picked fully ripe in warm climates. Wines made from very ripe to overripe (and therefore thoroughly shrivelled) berries can have flavours of dark chocolate and prunes, sometimes with porty overtones.

Syrah plantings have increased quite staggeringly in France in the last fifty years: from 1,602 ha (3,959 acres) in 1958 to 68,587 ha (169,482 acres) in 2009, making it the third most planted red wine grape overall after Merlot then Grenache (garnacha). It is planted throughout south and south-eastern France (it would have difficulty ripening reliably north of Lyon) with the greatest total area in Languedoc-Roussillon (43,163 ha/106,658 acres), not least because in recent years, as the EU has offered uprooting and replanting incentives to tackle its wine surplus in southern France, Syrah has been considered the first-choice cépage améliorateur (improving variety) to replace the poor-quality, high-yielding varieties such as Aramon Noir, Alicante Henri Bouschet and Carignan (Mazuelo) planted in the first half of the twentieth century and to add structure, complexity and longevity to blends often based on Grenache. Throughout Languedoc-Roussillon, Syrah is most often encountered in blends. In the southern Rhone, Syrah is the second most planted variety, on about a third as much vineyard as Grenache, and is generally used to add backbone and longevity to blends such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and similar wines. Provençal vineyards to the east have a long tradition of growing Syrah and, often, blending it with cabernet sauvignon (a blend also long sanctioned in Australia).

It is in the northern Rhone that French Syrah shines as a mono-varietal wine. The magnificently concentrated, long-lived reds grown on the granite rock of Hermitage represent the most ‘manly aspect of Syrah, varying considerably according to precise soil type and aspect but usually with a notably glossy texture and luscious but bone-dry fruit. Crozes-Hermitage is a lesser, earlier-maturing version made on lower ground around the hill of Hermitage. The steep, south-east-facing terraces of Côte Rôtie represent almost the northern limit of Syrah cultivation and, not just because a small proportion of Viognier is often co-fermented with the Syrah, this is stereotypically Syrah at its purest, most refreshing, lighter and more 'feminine' (although Guigal's single-vineyard trophy wines are exceptionally concentrated versions). Saint-Joseph's terrain between Côte Rôtie and Hermitage is too varied tu allow generalizations.

Syrah has been planted in Italy since 1899, when it was introduced from Montpellier to Piemonte, but total plantings were still only 1,039 ha (2,567 acres) by 2000. Italian wine growers are generally much more besotted by Bordeaux red wine grapes but the most successful area for Syrah so far has been Cortona in southern Toscana, although several appellations on the island ot Sicilia (eg Alcamo, lirice, Menti) allow varietal Syrah wines, so it is perhaps not surprising that 5,357 ha (13,237 acres) were recorded there in 2008. Recommended producers ot varietal Syrah in Italy include Gillardi in Piemonte; Isole e Olena and Fontodi in the heart ot the Chianti region; La Braccesca, Ruffino and Tenimenti d'Alessandro in Cortona; and Cottanera and Planeta on Sicilia.

Wine producers in Spain, on the other hand, have recently been planting Syrah so enthusiastically that the national total rose from under 3,000 ha (7,413 acres) in 2004 to 16,568 ha (40,940 acres) by 2008. Most Syrah vines are in Castilla-La Mancha in the centre of the country but there are also significant areas in Aragón and Catalunya in the north east, Murcia in the south east and Extremadura in the west. Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón, was one of the earliest Spanish exponents at Dominio de Valdepusa near Toledo and others who have produced Syrah of seriously notable quality, only rarely as a varietal, include Abadía Retuerta, Castell d'Encus (Thalarn). Finca Sandoval and Pago del Ama. The wines tend to be notably sweeter and plumper than French Syrahs.

Over the border in Portugal, Syrah is planted to no enormous extent and mainly in the Alentejo and also in the Tejo and Lisboa regions, with experimental plantings in the Douro. Recommended producers include Cortes de Cima, who pioneered it in the Alentejo, long before it was officially permitted, plus Quinta Lagoalva de Cima and Quinta da Lapa in the Tejo.

Switzerland, and especially the sunny slopes in the upper reaches of the Vallée du Rhône in the Valais, produces unexpectedly concentrated wine from mature vines. Recommended producers include Jean-René Germanier. Simon Maye & Fils, and L’Orpailleur. There was a total of just 181 ha (447 acres) in 2009.

Syrah, often labelled Shiraz in markets where Australian wine is familiar, is also found in many other European and Mediterranean wine-producing countries such as Croatia (110 ha/272 acres in 2009), Romania (16.4 ha/41 acres in 2008), Hungary (100 ha/247 acres in 2008). Malta (100 ha/ 247 acres in 2010), Cyprus (257 ha/635 acres in 2010) and Turkey, where there was quite a sizeable area - 1,489 ha (3,679 acres) — in 2010. Greece grows a limited amount of Syrah but the likes of Alpha Estate, Gerovassiliou and Spiropoulos have demonstrated that it can produce both fine varietals and the odd accomplished blend in different climates here. Syrah is also reckoned to be the second most planted red wine grape in Lebanon, and Israel had 350 ha (865 acres) in 2009. The variety likes warmth.

One would therefore expect California to be an enthusiastic grower of Syrah but in fact the 2010 state total of 19,283 acres (7,803 ha) was dwarfed by the more than 37,290 acres (15,091 ha) devoted to the much more fragile, supposedly cool-climate variety pinot noir. Fashion rules the Golden State, but the worldwide fashion for Syrah has eluded Californians - or perhaps they just got there first. Under the noisy influence of a California movement known as the Rhone Rangers, total plantings in the decade to 2003 rose from 400 to 17.000 acres (162 to 6.880 ha), but since then there have been remarkably few new plantings. It is said that the American consumer is bemused by Syrah, doesn't really know what to expect. The advent of the Sideways/Pinot Noir phenomenon and a sudden rise and fall in the reputation of Australian Shiiraz have combined to diminish the lustre of Syrah in California. Syrah was a major beneficiary of the new Central Coast plantings and the county with the most is San Luis Obispo with 2,770 acres 11.121 ha. Many ambitious, relatively new wine producers here are devoted to the variety and to blending it with other Rhône grapes, but often in tiny quantities. Some of the more obvious Syrah producers are Alban (Edna Valley), Cline (Carneros), DuMol and Pax Walker (Russian River Valley), Swanson (Napa), Lagier Meredith (Mount Veeder), Terre Rouge (Sierra Foothills), Baikmt (Edna Valley), Favia (Sierra Foothills) and Sean Thackrey´s ingenious blends.

Washington State winemakers on the other hand are firmly in the grip of Rhone fever, which resulted in a dramatic increase in plantings of Syrah in recent years to a total of 3,103 acres ( 1,256 ha) by 2011, making it the third most planted red variety after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The variety responds well to the famously bright-fruited style of the state and some at those who have already made a name for their Syrah (there are many more in the wings) are Betz Family, Cayuse, L'Ecole No 41, Hedges Family, McCrea Cellars and Charles Smith of K Vintners.

Oregon's climate is less obviously suitable for Syrah but the state had 572 acres (231 ha) plwnl by 2008 and the likes of Domaine Serene and newcomer Gramercy Cellars certainly show poffifial ¿or the variety here. A little is also grown in Idaho and in Arizona, Texas and Colorado. Tedesdii Vineyard on the Hawaiian island of Maui have planted several acres of Syrah. nudy to replace the inferior Carn Elian Mexico has plantings of Syrah in Baja California and Caabtàm dt Zaragoza.

In Chile, Syrah is currently regarded with considerable hope and ambition. It was first planted there at the end of the nineteenth century but was later eradicated in the agrarian reform of the 1970s. Syrah began its second life in Chile in the mid 1990s, a trend led by Errázuriz in Aconcagua, although there is some debate about who actually planted first (Richards 2010). Thanks to the recent rush to develop this variety, plantings had already reached 3,370 ha (8,327 acres) by 2008, the vast majority in Colchagua although there have more recently been encouraging results in the more northerly and cooler San Antonio, Liman and Elqui regions from the likes of Casa Marin, Falemia, Matetic, Maycas del Limarf and Viña Leyda. In Cachapoal, Altai'r incorporate Syrah in their impressive red blends and top-notch varietal wines are produced by the likes of Lapostolle and Santa Rita; in Colchagua, Montes, Polkura and Viu Manent have had good results.

Argentina has more Syrah planted than Chile: 12,960 ha (32,025 acres) in 2008, the majority in Mendoza, up from fewer than 1,000 ha (2,500 acres) in 1990. As in Chile, most producers call their wine Syrah rather than Shiraz and the variety is an important component in many top red blends such as Cuvelier Los Andes and Dominio del Plata as well as delivering a range of styles on its own in the hands of, for example, O Fournier. But since the Argentines already have their very own hugely successful alternative to Bordeaux grapes in Malbec (COT), there is less impetus to focus on Syrah than across the Andes. That said, San Juan has shown a particular aptitude for the north Rhone grape, which is also found in Peru, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Of all Syrah's many homes outside France, Australia is by far the most important, and has the second largest plantings after France of the variety, here called Shiraz, although when it was first taken to the Antipodes, probably from Montpellier by James Busby in 1832, it was known as Scyras. It flourished and was eagerly adopted in New South Wales and then spread quickly to other wine-growing states. It fell briefly out of favour in the late twentieth century when ‘French’ cabernet sauvignon seemed more exotic and glamorous but today Shiraz is the most widely planted variety in the country, with 43,977 ha (108,670 acres) in 2008 — almost 45% of the entire red wine crush and 24% of the total grape crush. Much of it is planted in the inland regions such as the Riverland, Murray Darling and Riverina, where it is heavily irrigated and makes oceans or inexpensive, sweet, lightweight red wine that have done little for the image of Australian wine in recent years.

Much more serious and certainly more concentrated wines are made in the Barossa Valley, where 5,281 ha (13,050 acres) of the variety include many of Australia’s oldest vines, some of them centenarians producing extremely rich, long-lived, spicy nectars such as Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most famous wine - although Henschke’s Hill of Grace Shiraz, also made from some of the oldest vines in the world, grown in the Eden Valley, is a serious rival. Tar and chocolate are the predominant flavours, while the Shiraz of McLaren Vale (2,882 ha/7,122 acres) is rather more open and fezy. Langhorne Creek grows 2,097 ha (5.182 acres) of easy, spicy Shiraz but its name is relatively rarely seen on labels; Australian wine producers are inveterate blenders. It makes finer textured wines in the Clare Valley (1,614 ha/3,988 acres), cooler and tarter examples in Padthaway (1.470 ha/3,632 acres) and Coonawarra (1,241 ha/3,067 acres) in South Australia, and has its own very particular earthy style in the Hunter Valley (1,001 ha/2,474 acres) in New South Wales. There are also significant plantings in Western Australia, Queensland and Canberra District, where Clonakilla pioneered a particularly Rhone-like style of wine, introducing co-fermentation with viognier, which became a rather exaggerated trend at one stage. Virtually every Australian producer worth their salt, except those in the coolest reaches of the country, makes a worthwhile Shiraz or possibly several. Cabernet/Shiraz blends have also long been popular in Australia.

New Zealand is generally too cool for the heat-loving Syrah (there were just 278 ha/687 acres in 2008) but Hawke's Bay in the North Island has already provided some delicious exceptions to this rule, notably made by Bilancia. Craggy Range. Sacred Hill, Te Mata and Trinity Hill. The wines are based on a single clone imported from Australia and rescued from the Te Kauwhata viticultural research station by Alan Limmer of Stonecroft. Martinborough also seems to suit this variety, as Dry River, Ata Rangi and Kusuda have demonstrated. Almost all examples in New Zealand are labelled Syrah rather than Shiraz, to emphasize its cooler climate presumably.

In South Africa, the name Shiraz is more widely used, perhaps inspired by envy of Australia's formidable track record as a wine exporter, although two styles of the variety exist. Shiraz generally denotes the dominant full-throttle, heavily oaked style that is more Australian than French, although there are notable exceptions such as Boekenhoutskloof, The Foundry, Haskell and Lammershoek, all of them highly successful Cape renditions of a lighter, more savoury style (labelled Syrah). There were 9,907 ha (24,481 acres) of the variety in 2008, quite widely dispersed and representing nearly 10% of the total vineyard area, a huge increase since 1995, when it represented just 1%. Virus-free clones have made a big difference to the quality of the vines but there is still a major problem with what has been labelled Shiraz disease, a fatal, graft-transmissible viral disease specific to South Africa that also affects Merlot, Gamay Noir and Mai bee (COT) and some white varieties. Research is still underway but it is thought to be caused by several different grapevine viruses and spread by mealybugs. It is different from what is known as Syrah decline in France and Syrah/Shiraz disorder in California. These appear to be connected to specific clones and do not spread from vine to vine; the symptoms start at the graft point and the cause is as yet unknown.

As well as producing varietal wines, the variety plays a major part in many excellent blends with, for example, Grenache (Garnacha) and Mourvedre (Monastrell), particularly in the Swartland, where top producers include Eben Sadie, Mullineux and Lammershoek. In the bigger, oakier style of varietal wines some of the more successful performers include Simonsig, Haskell, Hartenberg, De Trafford and Saxenburg. Good examples from Stellenbosch include Quoin Rock and Waterldoof; cooler-climate styles are produced by, for example, Eagles Nest (Consrantia), Julien Schaal (Elgin) and Luddite (Walker Bay). Solms-Delta also make sweetish, potent wines from desiccated Syrah grapes.

China grew 195 ha (482 acres) of Syrah in 2009 and it was also known in Thailand.

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