June 17, 2024

Serious about Syrah: Wines worth getting to know


Northern Rhône in France and Barossa valley in Australia both produce fine examples of this grape variety

Most of us are familiar with the so-called international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon, but probably less so with Syrah. This is a pity, as the wines can be as good as any. The two regions best known for Syrah – aka Shiraz – are the Northern Rhône in France, and the Barossa valley in Australia. Both produce distinctive but very different styles of wine that are admired the world over.

The Barossa valley, one of the oldest wine regions of Australia, is steeped in history. The area was settled by Silesian immigrants in the mid-19th century, and many of the names, shops and churches still reflect that German heritage. The Barossa is best-known for its rich, powerful full-bodied Shiraz, often made from very old, dry-farmed vines. Whisper it gently but the two greatest Australian Shiraz actually come from neighbouring Eden Valley (Henschke Hill of Grace) or, like Penfold’s Grange, is a blend of Barossa and grapes from other regions.

While the Barossa valley is gently undulating, the Northern Rhône is the opposite; impossibly steep-terraced slopes with spindly vines somehow clinging on to the stony granitic soils. The best-known names here include great wines such as Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, followed by Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage.

The wines range in style depending on soil and grower, but most are deeply coloured, sharing a bouquet of violets, and savoury dark cherry and liquorice fruits. Côte Rôtie is lighter and more perfumed than the firmer, more tannic Hermitage. Given the difficult terrain and tiny holdings, the wines are rarely cheap. Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage or a wine simply labelled Syrah from a good producer is often the best value. I feature two here.

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Whether from the Barossa or the Northern Rhône, the best wines can last and improve for decades. Most good independents offer a decent selection; searsons.ie has an excellent range of wines from top growers such as Stephan Montez and Stephane Ogier. JNwine.com has Gerin, Coursodon and Perret. Other names to look out for include Graillot, Domaine des Lises, Mark Haisma, Clape Chave and Gonon, while Guigal and Jaboulet, names familiar to many, started out in the Northern Rhône, and now cover both north and south.

O’Briens has a very good range of Syrah and Shiraz, including Penfolds, Torbreck, Bethany and others from the Barossa, and Cave St-Desirat, the excellent Cave de Tain, and Ferraton from the Northern Rhône. As well as the wine featured here, the Crozes-Hermitage from the Cave de Tain (€20.95) and the La Croix des Mariniers (€14.95) are well worth seeking out. SuperValu has the excellent Delas Crozes-Hermitage for €25.

The hedonists among you would probably prefer richer, riper Barossa Shiraz, the aesthetes cooler, piquant Rhône Syrah; either way you are spoiled for choice.

Syrah 2019, Cave Saint-Désirat, Vdp des Collines Rhodaniennes
13%, €10, down from €14.45 for September
The 2019 vintage of this wine is exceptional. Delicious, cool, savoury dark cherries with lightly drying tannins on the finish. At €10, worth buying by the case. A great all-purpose red to drink with most red and white meats.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

Yalumba Galway 2018, Barossa Shiraz, Australia
14.5%, €16.95
Warming and smooth with ripe plums, blackcurrants, pepper and vanilla. Perfect with grilled or barbecued meats, with the ripeness to pair nicely with pulled pork.
From La Touche, Greystones, latouchewines4u.ie; Dunnes Stores, dunnesstores.com; Joyce’s Supermarket, joycesupermarket.ie; O’Briens, obrienswine.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Waterford, ardkeen.com; Higgins, Clonskeagh, higginsfflicence.ie; The Hole in the Wall, D7; wineonline.ie.

Syrah d’Ogier 2018, Stephane Ogier, Vin de France
14.5%, €23.50
From one of the great Syrah producers, this has floral aromas, abundant smooth dark cherry fruits, and a lightly tannic finish. Try it with plainly roasted feathered game.
From Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Deveney’s, D14, deveneys.ie; Donnybrook Fair, donnybrookfair.ie; McCambridges, Galway, mccambridges.com; McHughs, D5, mchughs.ie; Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2018, South Australia
14.5%, €37.95
Made primarily from Barossa fruit, this has powerful, velvety rippling cassis and dark cherry fruits, with subtle dark chocolate and spice. Drink now with a roast of lamb, or keep for a decade or more.
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie

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