WSET® 2 Reading, Chapter 11: Syrah and Grenache (Class Notes)

The only country outside France to have established a sustained international reputation for premium-quality Syrah (Shiraz) is Australia. Although Grenache is the third most widely planted black grape variety in terms of worldwide vineyard area, most of the vines are found in Spain and southern France. It is most commonly used as part of a blend with other varieties.

THE FLAVOURS OF SYRAH/SHIRAZ

  • Color:
  • Fruit:  
  • Non-fruit: 
  • Aromatics:
  • Tannin:
  • Acid:
  • Body:
  • Oak: 
  • Climate:
  • Ageability:

This black grape variety is known as Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia. For simplicity, we will refer to it simply as S. S grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are small with thick, darkly coloured skins. The wines it makes are deeply coloured, with medium or high levels of tannins and medium acidity. The wines are usually full-bodied and generally have a black fruit (blackberry) and dark chocolate character. In wines from moderate regions, this may be accompanied by hints of herbaceousness, smoked meat and spice (black pepper). In hot regions there are more sweet, spice notes (liquorice). With age, the best wines develop animal and vegetal complexities. S does not ripen in cool climates.
Many S wines undergo some oak treatment, either through barrel ageing or the use of chips or staves. These can give toast, vanilla, or coconut flavours to the wine.

THE FLAVOURS OF GRENACHE/GARNACHA

  • Color:
  • Fruit:
  • Non-fruit:
  • Aromatics:
  • Tannin:
  • Acid:
  • Body:
  • Alcohol:
  • Oak:
  • Climate:
  • Ageability:
  • Note:

This black grape variety is known as Garnacha in Spain, but in most other regions it is known as Grenache. G grapes are large, with thin skins, high sugar levels and low acidity. The resulting wines are seldom deep in colour, but are usually very full-bodied. They typically have a red-fruit character (strawberry, raspberry), with spicy notes (white pepper, liquorice). With age, the spicy notes evolve into toffee and leather. Grenache needs a hot climate to ripen.
With their thin skins, it is easy to make rosé wines from G grapes. These tend to be full-bodied and dry, with red fruit flavours (strawberry). Some are light-bodied and fruity, with medium sweetness.
G is used widely for rosé wines in the southern Rhône, southern France, and Spain. Most are best consumed when young and vibrant. Very few benefit from ageing, although some are aged in oak, which can give the wins an orange hue and dulls the fruit, but adds savoury complexity.

SYRAH AND GRENACHE TOGETHER

This combination works in a similar way to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although it is easier to make a complete, satisfying wine from Syrah than 100 per cent Cabernet. Adding Grenache to Syrah can result in a wine with more alcohol, lower levels of tannin and acidity, and red fruit and extra spice flavours. Adding Syrah to a Grenache-based wine boosts the levels of colour, tannin, and acidity, and adds a dark fruit character. Many souther Rhône wines include several other varieties, as well as S and G. Some of these (Mourvèdre and Cinsault) contribute to the character of the wine; others are used because they give high yields and are cheap or easy to grow.
In Australia, a Shiraz-Grenache blend is frequently a full-bodied, fruity red with very soft tannins, a wine that is ideal for serving lightly chilled. There are also some more serious wines made from this combination, particularly from South Australia, which are full-bodied, intense, and complex. These serious wines may include other varieties in the blend, such as Mataro (Mourvèdre). Such blends are known colloquially as ‘GSMs.’

PREMIUM SYRAH AND GRENACHE REGIONS (THE GOOD)

  • The Northern Rhône
    • This is the classic region for Syrah wines. The finest wines are made from grapes grown on the steep terraces that tower above the Rhône. Many of these terraces are so narrow that no machinery can be used. The vineyard work as to be done by hand, which makes these wines expensive to produce. However, the sunlight and good drainage provide ideal conditions for the production of powerful, complex, ageworthy wines. The best appellations are Côtie Rôtie and Hermitage, although these wines are rare and expensive. Crozes-Hermitage is a larger appellation that includes some flatter sites.Its wines are generally less intense and less complex than those of Côtie Rôtie and Hermitage, but prices are lower. The wines often display black pepper flavours, tannins, and acidity found in Syrah wines from a moderate climate.

  • The Southern Rhône
    • Here the valley broadens out and there are no steep slopes. The vineyards stretch far away  from the Rhône, covering wide, stony plains. It is hotter and drier here than in the northern Rhône, and the conditions are ideal for Grenache. This is usually blended with other varieties such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault.

      The main regional appellation is Côtes du Rhône. Within this, the better vineyard sites are entitled to label their wines Côtes du Rhône Villages. The possibilities available in terms of yields, choice of grape varieties in the blend, and winemaking techniques, means that styles and quality vary considerably. The very cheapest wines tend to be medium-bodied, with light tannins, and a simply juicy red fruit and peppery-spice character. The best could pass for Châteauneuf-du-Pape in terms of body, complexity, intensity, and length.

      There are a number of smaller, highly regarded appellations in the southern Rhône, of which the most famous is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Some wines are 100 per cent Grenache but most add some Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Very few use all of the 13 permitted varieties. Typical Châteauneuf-du-Pape is full-bodied, with medium tannins and low acidity and an intense, complex character that includes red fruit (strawberry), spice (pepper, liquorice), and animal (leather) notes.

  • South of France
    • Increasing numbers of premium Grenache and Syrah-based wines are being made in the South of France, from appellations such as Minervois. The main varieties in the blend are often Grenache and Carignan (the latter can give tough wines with high levels of acid and tannin). Syrah, as well as Mourvèdre, are used to add complexity to the best wines.

  • Spain
    • Garnacha (Grenache) is the most widely planted variety in Spain. It reaches its highest expression in the deep-coloured, powerful, full-bodied wines of Priorat, where it usually is the main component of a blend. As such, it usually Priorat has established itself as a premium-quality region for Grenache-based blends. The best are these are very high-quality, complex wines that sell at high prices.

      Garnacha can be used as part of the blend (with Tempranillo and other varieties) in Rioja, although it is rarely seen in the best wines from this region. It is also used alone or as the main component for rosé wines. The best examples of these comes from Navarra and Rioja.

  • Australia 
    • Australia is famed for its Shiraz (Syrah), Shiraz is grown throughout Australia, and is made in different styles. Perhaps the better known style is for wines that are made from grapes grown in hot climates in regions such as Hunter Valley, McLaren Vale, and the Barossa Valley. These wines have flavours that include intense black fruit (blackberry, plum), sweet spices and notes of dark chocolate. Use of oak in these wines can be pronounced, giving flavours of smoke, vanilla, and coconut. Shiraz from the Barossa is particularly powerful and is most closely associated with this style. The hot, dry conditions in Barossa and McLaren Vale are also ideal for Grenache, though this is less commonly seen.

      Where most moderate conditions are found, in areas such as certain parts of Victoria (Grampians and Heathcote), a different style of Shiraz is made. These wines are more peppery and can be less full-bodied than those from the hotter regions. The best examples are intensely flavoured and complex, and can be quite similar in style to the wines of the Rhône.

      Within South Australia, some of the very best Shiraz are multi-regional blends. Blending allows Shiraz wines with different characteristics to contribute to a more complex whole. It also helps producers to make premium wines of consistent quality and style in larger quantities. These wines sometimes mention the origin of each wine used in the blend in the information on the back label, but the geographical indication (GI) will be South Australia.

  • Other Locations
    • Shiraz plantings are increasing in countries around the world, including South Africa, where deep-coloured, full-bodied wines are made with aromas of dried fruit (raisin, prune, fruitcake), smoked meat and oak. Full-bodied, dark-fruited Shiraz wines are also made in California and Washington State. New Zealand (Hawke’s Bay), and Chile (San Antonio) are showing great promise for more elegant, fruity style with some peppery spice.

BULK, INEXPENSIVE CAB AND MERLOT REGIONS (THE BAD)

  • Pays d’Oc IGP
  • Languedoc AC
  • Spain
  • South Eastern Australia

Much wine under the Côtes du Rhône appellation is made in large volumes to be sold at low prices. Similarly, inexpesive blends that include local varieties, as well as Grenache and Syrah, are made in the South of France. They are sold as Pays d’Oc IGP and Languedoc AC. Large quantities of inexpensive G-led wines are also made in Spain.

For inexpensive Shiraz, the main production areas are Riverland, Murray-Darling, and Riverina in Australia, (These names do not appear on labels. Instead, the wine will be labelled as South Eastern Australia.)

SYRAH AND GRENACHE IN BLENDS

  • Shiraz-Viognier 

An increasingly fashionable combination is Shiraz-Viognier. This follows a northern Rhône tradition of adding some white grapes to the fermentation of Syrah. Viognier helps give the wine a smooth texture, and adds a trace of exotic fruit character.

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