David’s VINTAGES Preview- Sept 2nd, 2017

Back to Syrah School
By David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel & Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I say syrah, you say shiraz – are we speaking the same language here? Well on September 2nd VINTAGES is releasing a slate of seven syrah/shirazes that help explain the ins and outs, and ups and downs of this important red grape. If you were to buy one of each, and set up a back-to-school Labour Day tasting and BBQ with a dozen friends and neighbours, you would quickly have many questions answered. Total cost of this exercise about $250, or about $20 per head.

I suggest a BBQ by the way because syrah/shiraz is perhaps the most grill friendly grape on the planet (and my favourite red after pinot noir). Often smoky, often peppery, often thick and ripe, and usually very easy drinking, it can be enjoyed pretty much off the shelf and it fits nicely into more casual settings.

So are syrah and shiraz the same grape? Essentially yes, although I have heard both French and Australian winemakers argue they are growing different clones. Which is likely, but it doesn’t matter much. More important is the climate in which the grape is grown.

In cooler regions it shows a leaner style – higher acidity, lower alcohol and less fruity more savoury aroma of black pepper and smoked meat. And the wines are usually aged in more subtle, less oaky French oak barrels. Most examples thus are labelled syrah. This is certainly the style to expect from France’s Rhone Valley, where some people, including the French of course, say the grape originated.

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In warmer regions the style is richer – acidity drops, alcohol rises and the fruit becomes very ripe and jammy, with less peppery spice. This richer, softer style can handle generous wood, so American oak is often the barrel of choice. Most such examples are labelled shiraz, thanks to the Australians who dodged the whole French thing by naming their wine after the Iranian city of Shiraz, where others suggest the grape originated.

So what if the wine is not from France or Australia? Well there is no ‘regulation’ about what to call it, so one only hopes that the style is leaning into one camp or the other and is indicated accordingly on the label.

Fortunately, VINTAGES has selected one wine from each of the major producing regions in the world, so I can explain it country by country. And we will proceed in an orderly fashion into the classroom – stand up straight and no chewing gum please – and taste from the coolest to the warmest regions, at least according to their latitude. And we then finish off with a selection of Old World whites.

Buyer’s Guide VINTAGES Sept 2nd


Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington ($19.95)
Latitude 46.06
David Lawrason – The northerly Pacific Northwest is, in my opinion, one of the great syrah regions of the world – specifically in the dry, rain shadow interiors of eastern Washington and the southern Okanagan in British Columbia where summer days are hot and dry and desert nights are cool. The grapes get fully ripe but acidity remains firm. Most bottlings are labelled syrah. This has a generously oaked nose with smoke, mocha, pepper and vanilla. It is full bodied, quite dense, smooth and a touch sweet, but even handed and balanced in its own right. Quite classy and drinkable, and good value at $20.…

Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2014 Les Jalets Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône, France($26.95)
Latitude 45.07
David Lawrason – This is a very typical northern Rhône example from a company with a very long heritage in the region. Note the grape name -syrah – is not on the label, as is the custom in French appellations. It mid-weight syrah with pretty aromas of cherry-plum fruit, with subtle well integrated meaty, licorice and vaguely smoky complexity. It is firm, sour-edged and stony – with ferrous/iron and vaguely meaty notes so typical of the granite soils of the region.
Michael Godel – Les Jalets is a perfect little Crozes Hermitage from which smoky, liquid peppery, red pitching to black fruit meshes seamlessly with silk woven texture and soft, sweet tannin. This is just so grown up, cultured, properly conditioned syrah and few peers lead by this example to open the portal into fine Northern Rhône wine.
Sara d’Amato – A crunchy, smoky and altogether representative northern Rhône syrah. This is a step up from the sometimes generic wine of the large appellation of Crozes Hermitage and offers solid value. The 2014 is by no means over the hill and offers generous, undulating flavours and velvety tannins.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah 2013Paul Jaboulet Aîné Les Jalets Crozes Hermitage 2014Château De L'ou Infiniment Syrah 2015Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2014

Château de l’Ou 2015 Infiniment Syrah, Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon, France ($26.95)
Latitude 43.90
David Lawrason – The far southeast corner of France near the Spanish/Catalonia border has a classic Mediterranean climate, with very hot, dry summer days. Syrah is often blended with grenache in this area, but this example flies solo – a thick, dark example with an almost overripe almost raisiny nose with licorice, vanillin, licorice and earthy notes. Lovely texture and impressive length.
Sara d’Amato – The Catalan word “L’Ou”, which is the name of the estate’s lieu-dit, means egg, referring to the egg shaped vessels that were historically used to feed the livestock of the region. The egg shape symbolizes much more to the grape growing and winemaking of the estate such as fertility, coicompleteness and balance – these are all reoccurring themes found in the wine from this organic producer located on the Plaines of Roussillon and the schist soils of the Haute Vallée de l’Agly. Unlike the northern Rhône version, this is much fleshier, a little riper, exceptionally dark and thoroughly inviting.

Creekside 2014 Iconoclast Syrah, St. David’s Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake ($24.95)
Latitude 43.09
David Lawrason – Syrah does not much like Ontario winters (I don’t blame it) but Creekside has been able to nurse it through, and get decent ripeness in the warm St. Davids Bench sub appellation. This is deeply coloured ruby-black with fairly lifted aromas of blackberry, black pepper, wood smoke and some syrah smoked meat. It is mid-weight, very firm, tart edged (it was a cooler year) and tannic, but I like the drive and intensity.
Michael Godel – Creekside’s syrah acumen is now cemented in National Wine Awards platinum legacy with thanks to their Goliath slaying Estate bottle. So high expectations abound for the St. David’s Iconoclast. By no stretch of the assessment or imagination does it disappoint. Two winemakers (Rob Power and Yvonne Irving) take the grape into their nest and work it like no other Niagara team. There is a sweetness of fruit and tannin here that seems impossible in a dry syrah of such perfect sour-patch flavour.

Shingleback 2013 Davey Estate Shiraz, Mclaren Vale, South Australia, ($23.95)
Latitude 35.22
Sara d’Amato – There is nothing a-typical about this bold, McLaren Vale shiraz but it is cleanly expressive, unencumbered by excessive oak and sweet tannins. The flavours have been well meshed over time but oxidation from age is not particularly apparent. Big but not brazen.

Sidewood 2013 Mappinga Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, South Australia ($49.95)
Latitude 34.92
David Lawrason – Shiraz grows throughout Australia, and is that country’s signature grape. From a single vineyard in the higher elevation of the Adelaide Hills, this is a very intense shiraz brimming with dark blackcurrant-cassis and cranberry fruit, Aussie menthol, vanillin, white pepper, juniper and some tarry notes. All this comes together well on the palate, which is quite full bodied, soft, and touch sweet, but drenched in flavour.

Shingleback Davey Estate Shiraz 2013Sidewood Mappinga Shiraz 2013

Fess Parker 2013 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, California ($34.95)
Latitude 34.61
David Lawrason – Though the latitude is definitely southerly, some Pacific moderation seeps into the Santa Ynez Valley and environs of Santa Barbara County. Actor Fess Parker, better known as Daniel Boone, was an early proponent of syrah in this area, and most producers do you use the syrah name. This buxom edition really delivers. It has a very fetching and complex nose with classic syrah character -oodles of ripe black cherry fruit, ample wood smoke, vanilla, pepper, licorice and meatiness. It is full bodied, very smooth, dense and hottish, with very intense and focused flavours.

Cederberg 2015 Shiraz, South Africa ($25.95)
Latitude 32.58
David Lawrason – This classic South African shiraz was released in May but is still on shelf, substituted here for the Grinder Shiraz coming Sept 2, which I was not able to taste. This grape is hugely important in South Africa – where producers easily interchange syrah and shiraz on the label. Cederberg the appellation, and Cederberg the winery, are high in the remote mountain region north and inland from Cape Town. This is a beautiful shiraz with a pure, fragrant nose of finely ripened blackberry, cedar, violets and chocolate. It is a full bodied, dense red that also displays great minerality and tension, with Cape iodine and roasted herbs on the palate.

Fess Parker Syrah 2013Cederberg Shiraz 2015Tabalí Vetas Blancas Reserva Especial Syrah 2013

Tabalí Vetas Blancas 2013 Reserva Especial Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile ($17.95)
Latitude 30.74
David Lawrason – Syrah was first planted in Chile in the mid-90s, and gains have been swift.  Northerly Limari sits at a ‘hot’ latitude, but again the cold Humboldt Current in the nearby Pacific Ocean cools things down. The nose is quite lifted with violets, ripe plum-prune fruit, some pepper, a touch of meatiness (so typical of Chile) and oak vanillin. It is quite full bodied and dense, with firm structure, considerable green tannin and juicy acidity.
Michael Godel – Vetas Blancas meaning “white steaks” is particularly noticeable in varietal syrah, to my mind the signature grape variety for Limarí and Tabali. Plenty of fruit abounds, dark and rich in syrah that is showing its best right now.

Old World Rosé & White

Esprit Gassier 2016 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Freshly back from Provence and still in a rosé state of mind, I was pleased to discover this pale, elegant example with aromatic notes of herbal garrigue and a stoniness. Pure and refreshing with the potential to extend your summer.

La Chablisienne Chablis Beauroy 1er Cru 2014, Burgundy, France ($34.95)
Michael Godel – This is a most interesting time to get an assessment in for the ’14 Beauroy, a cru that just seems to open for business earlier than most. The fruit density is higher than many ’14’s and yet there is no hiding from the stony Kimmeridgian, oyster shell impart that soil just has to give from (any part of Chablis) but including this left bank Premier Cru. Chablis to enjoy now and for five more typical years.

Esprit Gassier 2016La Chablisienne Chablis Beauroy 1er Cru 2014El Camino Rectoral Do Umia Albariño 2015Domäne Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Riesling 2015

El Camino Rectoral Do Umia Albariño 2015, Rías Baixas, Spain ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – I was taken by the great varietal and regional character expressed in this $15.95 albariño from El Camino. A touch restrained but offering a lovely saltiness on the palate with a touch of bitter citrus pith and an appealing nutty character. Bring on the seafood kabobs.
Michael Godel – El Camino is albariño of ambient and full-throttle three-chord substance, affordable, playable and might just be your key to a beautiful Rias Baixas relationship. While it may not be the most aromatic varietal on the planet it makes up with texture and great depth in its tangy fruit. It’s time to give this grape some love and attention.

Domäine Wachau Terrassen Federspiel Riesling 2015, Wachau, Austria ($21.95)
Michael Godel – Riesling from the Wachau done in such a (necessary) stylistic is dry as the Terrassen stones and wound with further feverishly dry intensity. It’s like sucking on the most concentrated lime lozenge rolled in sea salt and pure periodic earthly elements. This sort of straight to the Austrian point riesling should not be missed.

And that’s a wrap for this week. John is still on family vacation so next week Michael takes the lead for Part Two.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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