Five Deeply Compelling Reasons to Drink Syrah/Shiraz

There is no difference, physically, between Syrah and Shiraz: they are the same grape.  It is all about style.  ‘Shiraz’ is the term usually (although not always) used for wines that are made from grapes grown in warmer climates – think South Australia, the style is usually riper, slightly higher in alc, and more full bodied.  ‘Syrah’ is reserved for wines that are grown in cooler climates, although not all cool climate shiraz’ call themselves thus.  Generally you might expect higher acid, lower alc and more ‘finesse’ in a syrah.  BUT.  There are no rules dictating what wineries should do, it just comes down to what each chooses.  As consumers, we can make assumptions when we read ‘syrah’ but it might not always tell us the whole story. In my opinion there is absolutely a time and a place for both styles, but this tasting is all about the cooler expressions.

If very ripe, ball-tearing, full-bodied shiraz is your only vice, turn away now because these wines are not that.  They are without exception elegant, fine, juicy, supple and spicy (all of which is most definitely my thang).

Jayden Ong, One Block Yellingbo Syrah, Yarra Valley 2017

I first came across Jayden at a Young Guns Of Wine tasting at Il Lido in Cottesloe a couple of years ago.  He specialises in ‘cool climate single vineyard sites’ around the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula.  Like other exciting and high-quality producers, Jayden spends untold time on the vineyards, managing them organically where possible (natural compost, cover crops, you name it), and avoids using herbicide/fungicides.  The wines are made with wild ferments (indigenous yeast, not inoculated), and with minimal fining and filtration etc.  They are about the vineyards and the vintages that they are from.  This particular vineyard in Yellingbo (Upper Yarra) called Tibooburra (if you’re a fan of Luke Lambert this may ring a bell for you as he also sources fruit from this vineyard) was planted in 2001 and at 240m elevation is one of the coolest microclimates in the Yarra Valley.

So, to the wine…

The nose is black and spicy – red liquorice, salted black liquorice, star anise, hints of fennel, requisite white pepper, pomegranate and blackberry.  This is already making my mouth water.  The palate is creamy and fine, medium bodied at best and elegant for it.  It’s basically begging for food.  The spices form a mohawk (wall to rival the Great Wall of…) down the palate, they forge a path through the dense red berry there.  There is a crushed slate minerality to this wine… it’s black… like wet unpolished granite.  Saline lick.  Blackberry.  Mulberry straight off the bush in summer.  This is supple, bouncy, but also tight, and polished – there is juniper and spice in there, I love it.  Love it.  Hoooooh boy do I love it.  The structure is formed by the razor sharp but powder fine tannins, the savoury spice layer speaking of black pepper (interestingly, the compound rotundone, which is responsible for the ‘pepper’ characteristic, is also present in basil, thyme, black pepper, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and geranium).  Bloody bargain if you ask me.

Drink: Now, to 2030+

RRP: $38

Frankland Estate, Isolation Ridge Vineyard Frankland River Shiraz 2016 (+ 2017)

From the 2017 vintage onwards, Frankland Estate have changed the name of this wine to ‘syrah’. I think it’s probably more fitting of the silky, elegant and refined style that this is.

Certified Organic in 2010 and planted to three different clones of syrah, the Isolation Ridge vineyard is broken down into seven individual blocks, each ‘hand tended’.  This 2016 is not 100% syrah; it includes a dash of viognier and malbec.  Usually viognier is perceived as an increased silkiness on the front of the palate, and present in the lifted, floral aromas.  Viognier was made for syrah.  They’re a match made in you-know-where when they’re done right.  And this is done right.  The wine spends time in some big-ass and very beautiful oak barrels (3500L) which help to accentuate the purity and finesse of the fruit.  Winner of a Silver Medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards, the 2016 was followed by the beautiful 2017.  At the Melbourne Wine Show in 2019, the 2017 Isolation Ridge Syrah took home THREE trophies including the trophy for Best Australian Shiraz.  Of course, it pretty much sold out on the back of that win, but I did some calling around and found a solitary stash at OLD BRIDGE CELLARS in North Fremantle.  You can call Jay Beeson and he’ll sell you some.

When I heard what it [the 2017] won I called the distributor and bought everything I could. You can tell them [that’s you] that I’ve got some stashed away. I’ve got what they need. – Jay Beeson, Proprietor of Old Bridge Cellars

So, to the wine…

Wow.  Spicy red berries waft out of the glass, the wine has energy already and I haven’t even got it in my mouth yet.  On the palate, this is fine but plush, there is tannin for sure, but rather than forming a ridge within the wine, they are dispersed evenly and finely throughout the fruit, providing a structure that is almost imperceptible.  It is satisfying and plush and elegant.  There’s a black cherry vibe going on there too.  Black cherry, rhubarb, blackberry, with hints of saltbush, sage and fennel.

Drink: To 2040

RRP: $45

Brokenwood, Indigo Vineyard Shiraz, Beechworth 2017

Although the Brokenwood winery and cellar door is in Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley, the portfolio is a collection of vineyards and regions from around the country.  This wine is from one of the cooler areas represented in this tasting – Beechworth in Victoria.  At a general elevation of 540m above sea level, the region is birthplace to grapes that produce wines of bright natural acidity, line and direction.

So, to the wine…

This is no exception.  Pretty and aromatic from a while away, the palate is bursting with red jubes, red liquorice and finely crushed black pepper.  It is pretty, silky, lyrical and rhythmic.  The length is brilliant, it goes for really quite some time, drawing out the succulent red flavours into a very distinguished point.  If you were to quickly glance at this wine you may think it beautiful.  It is. It is also redolent with pink peppercorn, enduring, elegant structure and a finesse that is thrilling.  Yes again.

Drink: Now to 2040+

RRP: $66

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz, Margaret River 2017

I love this wine.  I love it each vintage, and each vintage expression is slightly different than the last.  If I am completely honest, this is the best iteration yet, and I am head over heels for its inherent balance.   It is equal parts exotic spice, sea salt, red berry, tannin, texture, acidity and form.  Leeuwin Estate sources the grapes for this wine from the Peppy Park vineyard, further south of the winery.  At the end of 2018 the estate increased the area under shiraz vine as a reflection of the growing popularity of the style, and to furnish their own pursuits of clonal specificity.  The future of shiraz at Leeuwin is set to expand, and with the focus and attention that they have poured into development of the varietal, no doubt it will increase in quality as well.

So, to the wine…

Restrained as ever on the nose, The palate is singing.  This is not like the other wines, it doesn’t have an immediate attack of red fruit on the front of the palate.  It is silky, and gracious and pure, the savoury exotic spice is laced into the palate, interwoven through the fruit.  It is salty and long and fine and everything is so laced up that it

Drink: Now to 2040+

RRP: $41.50

Singlefile, Single Vineyard Frankland River Syrah 2019

Co-founded in 2007 by Viv and Phil Snowden, the Singlefile winery is in Denmark (nestled amongst the Karris in an undeniably picturesque, lush part of the world), but they source fruit from a number of vineyards and regions within the Great Southern and just further afield.  This wine is from the Riversdale vineyard (planted 1997) located 7k’s north-west of the Frankland River township.

So, to the wine…

This really does have the fresh licorice root flavours on the nose – they’re green and raw and somehow real.  Authentic.  Cached in behind that is an abundance of red berries of the red currant, red cherry, blood plum persuasion.  The palate is fine and pretty, propped up by a firm structure and powdery tannins.  They really cushion the flavours and usher them through the finish.  The aftertaste is something else, it has a chewiness, a red liquorice flow.   There is a savoury elegance to this wine, and I’m all about it.

Drink: Now to 2030

RRP: $39