In the year 77 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote about a wine that many insist is Syrah. A Roman conqueror and philosopher, he was in what is today’s Rhone wine region of France, waxing enthusiastic about a dark skinned varietal that produced a wine he called Allobrogica.
It’s just as likely he was referring to obscure Dureza, the grape Syrah calls father. Unfortunately for Pliny, he died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 but the Syrah lineage survived in spite of an identity crisis. Over the years, Syrah would be called by such names as Hermitage and Shiraz and Marsanne Noir. Wild stories would be attributed to its origin including travel from Greece over 1800 years ago and an exotic tale of a Persian birthright.
Carole Meredith and the UC Davis DNA experts squashed these and other rumors in 1999 discovering that Syrah is the result of a mixed marriage between the red grape Dureza and the white grape Mondeuse blanche. As it was obvious through their studies that neither parental grape had originated or traveled outside of the Rhone, the UC Davis team determined Syrah was indeed a natural-born French citizen, raised on the often foggy shores of the Rhone River.
That solved, Syrah set off to conquer the world. As the confusion over its birthplace illustrates, it grows virtually anywhere from Australia (where it is still called Shiraz) and South Africa to France, Chile, the United States and the Middle East. Quickly becoming a wine drinker favorite with its friendly fruit-forward personality, it developed a cult following with aficionados swooning over smooth, caramel covered tannins on its trademark long finish. Syrah sales rocketed and suddenly wineries were bottling multiple Syrah vintages every year, each bottle bearing a unique vineyard name.
Syrah has many characteristics and like most wine grapes, exhibits a different flavor profile depending on where it is grown and tasting notes invariably include berries: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and currents of all colors. Fruit coexists beautifully with elements of tobacco, black pepper, leather, coffee, licorice or chocolate, intertwined with floral notes of carnation and violet.
It also possesses a strong varietal backbone making it versatile for aging. Syrah can be savored as a young, bold wine or aged to a mellow medley of smoky fruit and terroir. Renowned for a smooth lingering finish, it makes an excellent sunset wine with or without food.
However with so many food-friendly flavor components, Syrah is the perfect red wine choice for a picnic, backyard BBQ, that wine you sneak into a concert and sneakily serve in paper cups, even one that goes with a stewed-for-48-hours spaghetti sauce masterpiece.
Syrah wines can be jammy and fruit forward, laced with tobacco: this style is excellent with pulled pork from the smoker, slathered in a sweet sauce – especially one incorporating currants or berries to enhance the wine further. Food and wine enjoy a symbiotic relationship, each foiling the other to highlight the best.
Natural richness and a good acid balance make Syrah a great choice to accompany Nicoise salad, the sturdy varietal structure standing up to the saltiness in tuna and olives while not caving to these dominant flavors. The fruitiness in the wine provides a good balance to the vegetal salad. Add a hunk of warm crusty bread and soft butter for an authentic French meal experience.
Syrah goes well with almost any tomato-based pizza you can imagine. Pepperoni, salami, ham, spicy jalapenos, fresh grilled veggies and cooked pineapple all mesh nicely with the spicy, jazzy notes of Syrah. An added benefit for pizza lovers is that an adventurous pesto or chimichurri sauce pie work as well with loquacious Syrah.
Syrah also pairs well with a cooler outdoor climate, both for growing and for drinking by a fireplace. On the chilly hillsides of northern California’s Sierra Nevada, grapevines work a bit harder in the volcanic hardscrabble to ripen in time for harvest. Seeing the infant grape clusters straining for the sun’s warmth in early spring, it’s hard to imagine that these same vines will be heavy with purple fruit in six or seven months.
Harvest comes each fall, then crushing of the grapes, fermentation and bottling. With red wines, many spend another 12 months or more in oak barrels before bottling to add complexity and depth. Each bottle is dated with the year the grapes were harvested, not the year bottled, hence fine red wines are often years old by the time they are made available to consumers.
Craveyon’s 2013 Syrah is sourced from these windy, frost prone slopes that once beckoned miners of California’s 1848 Gold Rush. The resulting wine has a deep, regal crimson color that when swirled in the glass releases a brilliant bouquet of sweet, ripe berries and a hint of floral perfume.
Your first sip is reminiscent of freshly baked blackberry pie dusted with mocha, evolving into a strong varietal Syrah with leather and pepper notes and that long, classic finish.
Drinkable now, it can also be stowed away to enjoy beside a harvest fire this fall. Either way, you’ll want multiple bottles of this great Syrah and a Craveyon wine subscription is a wise and economical solution to stock your wine cellar.