Syrah, also known as Shiraz, is a dark-skinned grape variety grown throughout the world and used primarily to produce red wine. In 1999, Syrah was found to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-eastern France, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Syrah should not be confused with Petite Sirah, a cross of Syrah with Peloursin dating from 1880.
The style and flavour profile of wines made from Syrah are influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown with moderate climates (such as the northern Rhone Valley and parts of the Walla Walla AVA in Washington State) tending to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and notes of blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hot climates (such as Crete, and the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of Australia), Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of liquorice, anise and earthy leather. In many regions the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allow the wines produced to have favourable aging potential.
Syrah is used as a single varietal or as a blend. Following several years of strong planting, Syrah was estimated in 2004 to be the world's 7th most grown grape at 142,600 hectares (352,000 acres). It can be found throughout the globe from France to New World wine regions such as: Chile, South Africa, the Hawke's Bay, Waiheke, New Zealand, California and Washington. It can also be found in several Australian wine regions such as: Barossa, Heathcote, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale
Wines made from Syrah are often powerfully flavoured and full-bodied. The variety produces wines with a wide range of flavour notes, depending on the climate and soils where it is grown, as well as other viticultural practices chosen. Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, and black pepper. No one aroma can be called "typical" though blackberry, coffee and pepper are often noticed. With time in the bottle these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savoury "tertiary" notes such as leather and truffle. "Secondary" flavour and aroma notes are those associated with several things, generally winemakers' practices (such as oak barrel and yeast treatment).
The Syrah-dominated appellations (AOCs) of northern Rhône have, like most other French appellations and regions, no tradition of varietal labelling of their wines. Indeed, such practices are generally disallowed under AOC rules, and only the AOC name (such as Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage or Hermitage) appears on the label. Varietal labelling of Syrah/Shiraz wines is therefore a practice that has emerged in the New World, primarily in Australia.
To confuse matters, in northern Rhône, different clones of genuine Syrah are referred to as Petite Syrah (small Syrah) or Gros Syrah (large Syrah) depending on the size of their berries, with Petite Syrah being considered the superior version, giving wines higher in phenolics.
As a general rule, most Australian and South African wines are labelled "Shiraz", and most European wines (from such regions where varietal labelling is practiced) are labelled "Syrah". In other countries, practices vary and winemakers (or wine marketers) sometimes choose either "Syrah" or "Shiraz" to signify a stylistic difference in the wine they have made. "Syrah"-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. "Shiraz"-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples, presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smoky, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression. It must, however, be realised that this rule of thumb is unevenly applied.
Alternative Names: Shiraz, Hermitage
Viognier is a white wine grape variety. It is the only permitted grape for the French wine Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. Outside of the Rhône, Viognier can be found in regions of North and South America as well as Australia, New Zealand, the Cape Winelands in South Africa and Israel. In some wine regions, the variety is co-fermented with the red wine grape Syrah where it can contribute to the colour and bouquet of the wine.
Like Chardonnay, Viognier has the potential to produce full-bodied wines with a lush, soft character. In contrast to Chardonnay, the Viognier varietal has more natural aromatics that include notes of peach, pears, violets and minerality. However, these aromatic notes can be easily destroyed by too much exposure to oxygen which makes barrel fermentation a winemaking technique that requires a high level of skill on the part of any winemaker working with this variety. The potential quality of Viognier is also highly dependent on viticultural practices and climate with the grape requiring a long, warm growing season in order to fully ripen but not a climate that is so hot that the grape develops high levels of sugars and potential alcohol before its aromatic notes can develop. The grape is naturally a low yielding variety which can make it a less economically viable planting for some vineyards.
Viognier wines are well known for their floral aromas, and terpenes, which are also found in Muscat and Riesling wines. There are also many other powerful flower and fruit aromas which can be perceived in these wines depending on where they were grown, the weather conditions and how old the vines were. Although some of these wines, especially those from old vines and the late-harvest wines, are suitable for aging, most are intended to be consumed young. Viogniers more than three years old tend to lose many of the floral aromas that make this wine unique. Aging these wines will often yield a very crisp drinking wine which is almost completely flat in the nose. The colour and the aroma of the wine suggest a sweet wine but Viognier wines are predominantly dry, although sweet late-harvest dessert wines have been made. It is a grape with low acidity; it is sometimes used to soften wines made predominantly with the red Syrah grape. In addition to its softening qualities the grape also adds a colour-stabilizing agent and enhanced perfume to the red wine. In the Rhone region, the grapes normally are not affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea though botrytized Viognier is not unheard of.
In winemaking, the grapes are often harvested early in the morning to produce the clearest juice possible. Some winemakers will allow contact with the skins. The skin of Viognier is high in phenols - compounds that can leave an astringent component to the wine if juice is left in contact with the skins for too long. Sometimes the wine is put through malolactic fermentation to give the wine more weight and to decrease acidity. In New World Viognier, the lees may be stirred in a process called batonnage in order to increase the smooth texture of the wine. The wine is then left on the lees till bottling in a manner similar to sparkling wine production.
In the creation of the dessert style Viognier, the grapes are often picked in late October or early November in the Northern Hemisphere. A common harvest technique used in the Condrieu is known as à l'assiette where a plate is held underneath a Viognier vine that is then shaken to allow the overripe grapes to drop onto the plate. Fermentation is then stopped early through the use of sulphur dioxide to allow the wine to retain a high level of residual sugar. The wine is then chilled and put through sterile filtration to ensure that the wine is stable and will not start fermenting again in the bottle.
Depending on the winemaking style the grape can often hit its peak at one-two years of age, though some can stay at high levels of quality up to ten years. Typically Condrieu wines are the Viogniers most often meant to be drunk young while Californian and Australian wines can handle age a little bit better.