Grand Syrah tasting

In June 2016 Andover Wine Friends were treated to a great line up of single varietal Syrah wines.  It was fairly comprehensive (with apologies to N America) and showed what good  wines are being made a range of price levels.  We finished the evening with two older wines, one of them truly outstanding.  I tasted the main line-up in advance and here are my notes. 


1. The Society’s Rosé, Pays d’Oc IGP, 2015, 12.5%

Cheerfully bright pink and bursting with strawberry fruit. Great value at under £6.  And of course made from Syrah.  Perfect summer quaffer with a bit of substance too. 

France: northern Rhône

2. Offerus, Saint-Joseph AC, J. L. Chave Selection, 2012, 13.5%
Notionally a négociant wine (‘selection’) but actually mostly from two of their own very good vineyards

Purple tinge with a rim already developing; initially stern on the nose with pepper, herbal and stony fragrance; zippy, refreshing palate with lively raspberry fruit over more restrained herbal and spice touches; decent length, carries its 13.5% abv well, moderately tannic youthful grip. Very good, quality matches the Chave name at £20.

3. Saint Cosme, Côte-Rôtie AC, 2011, 12.5%
Whole cluster fermentation; aged for 15 months in barrique, 50% new

Pale ruby in colour with no youthful tints; taut, concentrated nose with lifted violet and stony notes with cranberry fruit; promise of bouquet carries straight into silky, elegant, textured palate with real finesse; richness from 50% new oak; long with refined fruit and a smoothness of touch; fine firm tannins and racy acidity with that precise fruit and oak all point to a decade or more of further potential. Elegant and powerful. Oak still not completely integrated; drink from 2018/19.


4. Case Via, Syrah, Fontodi, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT, 2010, 14.5%
wild yeast, maceration for 3 weeks; 12 months in French oak barrels, 50% new

Deep almost impenetrable purple-tinged colour, closed nose with some evident warmth, black cherry and balsamic touches; great depth of ripe black cherry fruit on palate supported by fine thyme and marjoram themes; quite chunky tannins and moderate acidity. Definitely a wine that needs food for that big Italianate structure. Fair length. Distinctive Syrah in an Italian style, £29

Cooler new world: New Zealand, Chile, Australia

5. Le Sol, Craggy Range, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, 2011, 13%
100% destem; combination of open top fermenters and stainless steel tanks; selected yeasts; aged for 18 months in French oak barriques, 35% new

Deep purple-tinted colour (see the near black wine pictured from above at the beginning of this post) and weighty legs presage a wine of real weight and concentration; nose dominated by herbal and spice notes and concentrated surprisingly black rather than red fruit; powerful textured palate with evident new French oak; fruit not quite escaping from its earthy, oaky covering at the moment; bright acidity and pretty fine chalky tannins have plenty of structure to allow this to emerge with another 5 years in the bottle. Great potential, £33

6. Tabalí, Reserva Especial Syrah, Limarí Valley, Chile, 2012, 14%
limestone soils unusual for Chile; destemmed; cold maceration of 8 days at 8º C; controlled temperature fermentation; aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 70% new

Bright ruby colour, initially this lacks some precision on the nose but then tobacco and liquorice notes emerge over raspberry and blackberry fruit. Ripe, attractive if simple fruit, soft tannic structure. Drink now, hold for a year or two. Highly drinkable, very good value at £12.50.

7. Yarra Glen Syrah, Jamsheed, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, 2012, 13%
high proportion whole bunch; aged in neutral French barriques

Pale ruby colour; refined, exotic, lifted raspberry and cinnamon bouquet carries through to the elegant palate. Ripe and graceful. Beautifully judged in the winery with a filigree texture but with a full fine tannic structure and fruit-covered acidity that will give this legs. Drink now and for 10-15 years at least. Excellent quality for its £22.50.

South Africa

8. The Foundry Syrah, Stellenbosch, S. Africa, 2009, 14.5%
16 months in French oak barrels

Fairly deep colour. Some concentration and warmth on nose, blackberry and dried herbs, a touch earthy. Powerful palate which is more expressive than the nose. Slightly clunky tannins, good length; a wine of real character with some complexity at just £12.95.

9. Fable Mountain Vineyards Syrah, Tulbagh, S. Africa, 2011, 14.5%
Fruit grown at 400-650m, high day/night temperature variation; open top fermentation barrels; wild yeasts; max. 30º C; 30% whole cluster; wine stays on skins for 4-6 weeks; aged in 500 litre barrels, some lees stirring; ‘100% hand made with love and care’!

Medium ruby with purple tint still showing after 5 years. Weighty on the nose, fresh earth after rain, red berried fruit; very beautiful palate which effortlessly stitches together its fine blackberry-to-ripe-plum fruit, a rich satiny texture, followed by real length and slightly grippy tannins. Not sure how the tannins will develop further after 5 years but certainly has the fruit to develop. Drink now and for next few years. It would be good to try again in another 5 years.

South Australia

10. Peter Lehmann, VSV 1885 Shiraz, Barossa, 2009, 14.5%
‘VSV’ of course stands for Very Special Vineyard, being 4 acres planted in 1885; wine on skins for 10 days, aged 12 months in French hogsheads

Garnet tinge developing in a mid ruby wine. Very attractive entrance with ripe blackberry to blueberry fruit, black chocolate and a touch of balsamic concentration all pointing to very old vine character. Mouth-filling fullness, no hint of heat from 14.5% abv because of the richness, well held in check by refreshing finish. It would be good to know how much new oak was used as there is a definite vanilla note. Very fine ripe tannic structure and a (just) dry, stony finish with good length. Powerful, balanced, complex. Definitely drinking now, could well develop olive and further balsamic notes with 5-10 years more in bottle. Truly remarkable value £24. 

11. Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, Adelaide, 2012, 14.5%
Single vineyard fruit from the ‘spiritual home of Penfolds’ founded by Dr Penfold in 1844, now in Adelaide suburbs. Hand-picked, fermented in original wax-lined wooden fermenters, basket press, aged for 15 months in French (70%) and American (30%) oak, 90% new.

Youthful purple still to the fore in a pretty deeply coloured wine. Tight, concentrated raspberry to blackberry nose with the concentration currently offset by a delicate violet touch. Bold and precise fruit on first entry with layers of that red-to-black fruit character, vanilla and coconut from oak, with further herbal and spicy complexity. An absolute baby after just 3 years in the bottle but already broachable because of the ripe fruit core and the yielding but present tannic structure. Definitely has the fruit concentration and slightly tart acidity to develop for 10-15 years and probably much more. Build for cellaring … and then drinking. Impressive, but should be as close to £100 a bottle … or good value as a baby-Grange at a third of the price of the latter? Either way, definitely an outstanding wine.

Two bonus bottles: Barossa with some bottle age and the iconic Hermitage 1978

Amon-Ra, Ben Glaetzer, Barossa, 2005, 14.5%

Fruit from dry-grown vineyards between 100 and 110 years old; fermentation in open fermenters with hand plunging three times a day; matured in 100% new oak (80% French, 20% American), 70% hogsheads, 30% barriques. The bold blackberry fruit is now accompanied by an intense umami and black olive notes with a beautiful integration of the whole.  This really showed why it is worth ageing top quality Barossa Shiraz. 

And a real rarity to finish with, from the cellar of a very generous member of our group: 

La Chapelle, Hermitage AC, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 1978

This is a legendary bottling which has regularly been given 100 points or 20/20 according to whatever scale you prefer.  Fruit grown in four named plots on the hill of Hermitage, so steep that the grapes are brought down on sledges.  The 1978 was not only famous for its high quality but also for being the first year that helicopters were used to spray the vineyards. Yields are a miserly 10-18 hl/ha which is between one third and one half of Grand Cru Burgundy.  

Pale garnet hue with a red core. Elegant strawberry fruit with the fruit leading rather than the accompanying leather and mushroom notes.  Delicious, sublime fruit supported by the famously firm, tactile palate – clearly at this age the structural elements of the wine, the acidity and the tannins, have wrapped themselves into a single whole.  A remarkable survivor. 




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