What Defines Cool Climate Syrah?


When it comes to Syrah, retailers will tell you they can’t even give it away. What was once considered the next big thing (among sommeliers and wine writers, at least) proved to be one big epic failure in the marketplace. But don’t think that's stopping those who proudly call themselves wine geeks from thinking that it will still be the next big thing. (Okay, maybe the next, next big thing.)

In an effort to differentiate the grape from the schill known as Shiraz that once flowed from Australia like... well, like so much cheap wine, we’ve taken to referring to “real” Syrah as “cool climate Syrah.” Just like the Syrah that comes from Northern Rhone, where, as Ehren Jordan, winemaker of Failla recently pointed out, when temps in Côte-Rôtie soar to 80 degrees, the tank tops come out.

In an effort to determine just what differentiates cool climate Syrah from its warmer incarnation, a panel composed of two Master Sommeliers, the aforementioned winemaker as well as a popular wine blogger, blind tasted a dozen unpopular wines from around the world with a room full of wine geeks.

Their mission: to determine just what so-called cool climate Syrah tastes like. The panel generally agreed that it is savory, sometimes to the point of gaminess. One panelist reflected on the nuance of white pepper; another, pomegranate pith. The generic “floral” was tossed out there, safely, as was “pretty.” Used in a sentence: “The acidity flits about in a very pretty way.” (Yes, that was the wine blogger).

“Lacy” and “ethereal” were two descriptors the newly appointed MS probably didn’t use on her exam, but did use on this occasion, while “mid-palate clench” left the audience wondering just what goes on in a winemaker’s mouth.

So next time you’re looking for a savory wine with an ethereal quality reminiscent of pomegranate pith, look no further than cool climate Syrah.

Two of the best:
2010 Failla Estate Syrah
A whole-cluster wine smelling of black pepper, iron and blood with flavors of flower petals, spice and green olives.
2011 Peay Vineyards Estate Syrah
Chilli peppers and flowers dominate the nose and the acidity is mouth watering. Complex with incredible lift, a triumph in a difficult year.

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