Syrah, UC Davis
Since we made a virtual visit to the Rhône last week, with Viognier, we may as well stay in the neighborhood and check out the most important red grape in the region, Syrah, AKA Shiraz.
What to expect
How about a little intensity? Expect deep, rich, concentrated flavors – nearly black in color – with spice and tannin to spare! The best will still show beautifully 20 years down the road.
Where Pinot Noir is the seductive “gateway” red, Syrah is for the convicted red-wine lover. The exception is the high production/low-end fruity, somewhat sweet versions that come from Australia. But just as White Zin isn’t representative of the best of California’s Zinfandel, these big-box store bargains don’t tell the whole story for Australia. They also produce some magnificent examples! Penfold’s Grange, for instance.
Of course, Shiraz is the name they use for Syrah in Australia. And, don’t let them hear you say “Shih-RAHZ!” They’re quite definite that it’s pronounced “Shih-RAZZ.” Continue reading
Question from Cheryl: Is Petite Sirah the same as Syrah?
Reply: Hi, Cheryl. Thanks for writing! They’re not the same, but they’re related. Dr. Carole Meredith, of UC Davis, used DNA comparison to determine that two varieties of southern France, the very ancient Syrah and a grape called Peloursin are the parents of Petite Sirah.
Syrah is such an old variety that it may be that Julius Caesar enjoyed a goblet of Syrah, in his time, just as much as we do, today! Peloursin is almost unknown in California and isn’t considered a particularly distinguished variety in France.
In the 1870s a man named Durif made this crossing with the hope that he’d have a mildew-resistant version of Syrah. Petite Sirah is still known as Durif in southern France. What he got was a variety that does have better mildew resistance, but also happens to be quite vulnerable to bunch rot. It’s a tight-clustered variety that really wasn’t well suited to the growing conditions there.
However – in warm, dry climates, like ours here in northern California, it does quite well! It was introduced, here, in 1878.
For a long time Petite Sirah has been viewed as a lesser step child of Syrah. It was used as a blender for any red that wanted more pigment and tannin. It’s gaining in popularity, almost by the day, and it even has its own fan club! Check http://www.psiloveyou.org/
to learn more about it. Continue reading