Fred Tasker: Syrah grapes make hearty wines

I like syrah a lot. The grape is not afraid to go it alone, making a wine that’s dark as ink, full-bodied, with big, ripe tannins and flavors of blueberries, mulberries and black pepper.

Syrah reaches its peak in France’s cool Northern Rhone region, producing some of the country’s most august, powerful wines all by itself. These are wines of muscle and complexity – so powerful they sometimes are given a dollop of viognier, a spicy white grape.

But often syrah is a team player, blended with other red grapes to make it more approachable. In the Southern Rhone, down the Rhone River toward historic Avignon, it is blended with red grenache for its spice and fruit, mourvedre for its complex earthiness, carignane for its abundance, cinsault for its softness and fragrance. This produces wines of pleasing softness, fragrance and fruit.

In France’s southwestern Roussillon area, in the Provence region, syrah tends more toward herbs and spice than the hearty fruitiness of other regions.

In California, it makes concentrated, hearty wines sometimes called “kinder, gentler” versions of cabernet sauvignon.

By itself, syrah goes well with big, red meat dishes – prime rib, brisket, grilled ribeye steak, wild game, roast goose.

Syrah blends go well with grilled pork, roast chicken, lamb, spicy barbecue, pizza, semi-soft cheeses, cheeseburgers, grilled veggies and more.

In Australia, the syrah grape was brought in from France in 1831 and renamed “shiraz.” Today, while it’s the same grape, Australia’s warmer climate and differing winemaking methods make it usually a softer, sweeter, fruitier wine. When it’s blended with its buddies, grenache and mourvedre, it’s so popular the Aussies call it “the holy trinity.”

Highly recommended

▪ 2010 Trione “River Road Ranch” Syrah, Russian River Valley (95 percent syrah, 5 percent viognier): deep dark hue, aromas of violets, flavors of black plums and earth, hearty and rich; $32.

▪ 2013 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut “Occultum Lapidem,” Cotes-du-Roussillon Villages Latour de France (50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 10 percent carignan): hearty and full-bodied, aromas and flavors of rosemary and licorice, powerful tannins, long finish; $30.

▪ 2012 Andreas Shiraz, Bokdal Family Vineyard Wine of Origin Wellington, South Africa: powerful aromas of smoke, spice and blackberries, flavors of blackberries and chocolate, big, ripe tannins, long finish; $53.


▪ 2013 Hahn Winery Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, Central Coast (60 percent grenache, 37 percent syrah, 3 percent mourvedre): deep purple hue, hint of oak and floral aromas, rich and hearty, with flavors of raspberries, blueberries and cinnamon, long finish; $14.

▪ 2013 Esprit du Rhone, Cotes-du-Rhone AOC (60 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 5 percent carignan, 5 percent cinsault): aromas and flavors of strawberries and mint, light body but concentrated fruit, long, dry finish; $12.

▪ 2013 Cachette Cotes-du-Rhone, Cotes-du-Rhone AOC (50 percent grenache noir, 35 percent carignan, 10 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah): aromas of violets and camellias, flavors of red raspberries and cloves, intensely fruity, long finish; $15.

▪ 2012 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet, South Eastern Australia; (66 percent shiraz, 34 percent cabernet sauvignon): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, milk chocolate and cloves; $12.

▪ 2013 Cotes-du-Rhone “Les Trois Couronnes” (80 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah): aromas and flavors of black plums and black pepper, rich and hearty, soft tannins; $10.

▪ 2014 Lindeman’s Bin 50 Shiraz, South Eastern Australia: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums, bittersweet chocolate and cloves, soft tannins; $9.