Anthony Gismondi: Some say Syrah, some say Shiraz

Given the innate quality of most local Syrah in the market, it is a shame so few consumers have embraced the grape.

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It is getting to be that time of the year when big red wines start to look like fun again. So this week, we turn our attention to Syrah, or Shiraz, as the Australians would say. If you didn’t know, the names are interchangeable even if the styles are as different as night and day.


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Much has been written about Syrah in France, where it has been cultivated since Roman times. However, its spiritual home is in the northern Rhone Valley, where the quality and power can soar to dizzying heights. In Australia, where the grape was first planted in 1832, the signature grape took the name Shiraz, likely reflecting its pronunciation with a Down Under accent.

When I started in wine, Syrah was French, and Shiraz was Australian, which was pretty much the global production story. Today, some 45 years later, the black/blue grape has come to find itself in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, California, Washington State and while it is seldom if ever mentioned internationally, Syrah is also grown in B.C., where the overall quality of the wines produced is among the highest of any grape planted in the country.


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Thanks to DNA profiling, we know that Syrah is the offspring of two obscure grapes from southeastern France, Dureza (Ardèche) and Mondeuse Blanche (Savoy). Although it is always beguiling in the mouth, it is best known for its floral, spicy, and peppery qualities and its roasted, smoky, jammy, blackberry flavours. However, much of the difference between Syrah and Shiraz comes down to terroir and climate.

It can be the engine of many rich, almost sweet, blockbuster wines in Australia, especially Barossa. Still, when you take it to Heathcote in Victoria or Coonawarra or Mclaren Vale or the Hunter Valley, it shows its more savoury underbelly. In many ways, New World Syrah or Shiraz can be any style you like depending upon where you plant it — the cooler the site, the more likely it will show some Rhone characteristics while warmer sites show more of the Oz attributes.


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Certainly, in B.C., you find both styles: there are many dry, peppery, spicy northern Rhone-like examples being made, as well as a few of the softer, more generous, riper, Australian style, and each has its admirers. As of 2019, there are 553 acres of Syrah planted in B.C., just over half the size of Stanley Park. It is a modest number, given there were 516 acres planted in 2008. According to the latest vineyard survey, Syrah has slipped to fifth place, surpassed by Cabernet Franc.

Given the innate quality of most local Syrah in the market, it is a shame so few consumers have embraced the grape. But, at the same time, enthusiasts will feast on a small selection of labels that remind them of some of the best of the Rhone and Barossa Valleys can produce.


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If we have piqued your interest, here is an impressive list of B.C.’s finest Syrah labels, and given the small acreage in the ground, it suggests the inherent high quality of so many vineyards. As you look for the following wines, remember they are best purchased in private wine shops or direct from the winery.

In alphabetical order: Bartier Bros. Syrah Cerqueira Vineyard, Burrowing Owl Syrah, CedarCreek Platinum Syrah, Clos du Soleil Middle Bench Syrah, Corcelettes Syrah Micro Lot Series, Daydreamer Amelia, Hillside Syrah, Kismet Syrah Reserve, Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvee Classique, Maverick Bush Vine Syrah, Mission Hill 2016 Terroir Collection No. 23 Crosswinds Syrah, Moraine Estate Winery Syrah, Nichol Vineyard Old Vines, Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Syrah, Painted Rock Syrah, Orofino Syrah, Pentage Winery Syrah, Phantom Creek Syrah, Quails’ Gate The Boswell Syrah, Road 13 Jackpot Syrah, Rust Wine Co South Rock Vineyard, Screaming Frenzy Shiraz, Tightrope Winery Syrah.


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We should mention the power of these wines demand equally rich dishes, so think about serving the likes of lamb, venison, roast pork, bacon, charcuterie, sausages, meat and bean cassoulets, pheasant, and, well, as you can see, the richest of the rich. Bring on the fall.

Weekend wine picks

Sidewood Stablemate Shiraz 2018, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

$24.99 I 89/100

UPC: 9316770311620

The parcels of fruit are pre-selected for the perfect ripeness. A portion goes through the fermentation process as whole berries and under a partial carbonic maceration to add more layers of complexity. Finally, it spends 12 months in French oak barriques, one-quarter of which were new. In the glass, it’s textbook fresh Adelaide Hills, with plummy white peppery fruit and a lovely long and juicy midpalate that finishes fresh with a hit of spice and silky tannins that only add to its charm. Lambchops, anyone? Good value.


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Corcelettes Syrah 2018, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$27.90 I 91/100

UPC: 626990231059

It was a pleasure to taste this wild, dry, desert-styled Syrah. The fruit comes off the home estate on the Upper Bench of Keremeos, grown in the local Stemwinder soils. The site is dry and windswept, much as it is in the Northern Rhone. The nose is a smoky mix of black fruits and black pepper with strong garrigue notes of Okanagan sagebrush. They continue to a rich, dry, structured Syrah that seems years from ultimate maturity. Some sweet black raspberry pulls you into the back end of the wine and holds your interest through 2025. Serve now if you must with a rich lamb ragu or even lamb meatballs and root vegetables.


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Bartier Bros. Syrah Cerqueira Vineyard 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$29.99 I 90/100

UPC: 275149

The Bartier Syrah is grown a stone’s throw from the winery on the Black Sage Gravel Terrace’s Cerqueira Vineyard. The nose is wide open, offering sweet cassis mixed with floral violet undertones and a strong minerality. The attack is savoury and silky, pushing wild silver sage-scented blackberry jam through the finish. Young, round, and lively, it’s gulpable now but will age for many years. The fruit is mostly destemmed (10 per cent whole cluster) before undergoing an 18-day ferment and 17 months in neutral 225L French oak. Impressive terroir wine Mr. Bartier.

Hillside Heritage Series Syrah 2018, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada


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$32 I 91/100

UPC: 626990053538

I love this juicy, fresh style with incredible black raspberry fruit streaked with Okanagan savoury herbs and a whiff of smoked meat. So alive and fresh, it is a real delight to sip already, and at 12.8 per cent, it is a testament to brilliant terroir and educated wine growing. The tannins are dense but fine-grained and build just enough structure to funnel the juicy red and black fruit along the palate. While you can cellar this, you can also drink it now. The fruit is Naramata Bench from Hidden Valley Vineyard, picked in very late October. It had a nine-day cold soak and a total of 17 days of skin contact before spending eight months in 21 per cent new French oak — brava winemaker Kathy Malone, stock up while you can.


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Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah +11/10 2018, Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$36.99 I 90/100

UPC: 850451002074

The LS Syrah is estate-farmed at the Perfect Hedge Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. Côte Rôtieinspired, the wine always has a small drop of Viognier in the mix. The style is wild and rugged on the surface, but underneath it is more subtle. The first pick is a whole-berry ferment in stainless steel, and the second is fermented in 500L open-top French puncheons. It is all aged for 20 months in French oak (28 per cent new). The result is sophisticated fragrant blue fruit with a subtle mix of grilled meat and smoke throughout rich Bing cherry and black raspberry. There is tannin to drop but nothing to indicate it will not emerge in 2024-2026 as a tasty Okanagan Syrah.


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Recipe match: Warm B.C. blueberry bisque

September marks the slowdown of the fresh B.C. blueberry season. But there’s still time to savour the sweetness of the berry bounty. This recipe submitted by the B.C. Blueberry Council sees either fresh or frozen berries used to create a surprisingly savoury soup — with some seriously good colour:

2 tsp (10 mL) oil

1/2 cup (125 mL) finely chopped shallot

4 cups (1 L) fresh or frozen B.C. blueberries

1 cup (250 mL) vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 tsp (2 mL) fresh ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground allspice

Salt, to taste

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) half-and-half cream

1 cup (250 mL) crème fraîche or sour cream

2 tbsp (25 mL) finely chopped fresh chives

In 4-quart (4 L) saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add shallots, cook until translucent.


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Add blueberries, broth, nutmeg and allspice; cook over medium heat until the blueberries soften and begin to burst, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool slightly then blend until smooth; press through a fine sieve; discard solids.

Return blueberry mixture to pan and whisk in half-and-half cream. Simmer, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.

In a small bowl, mix crème fraîche and chives. Spoon bisque into 8 soup bowls and top each with 2 tablespoons (25 mL) chive-crème fraiche.

Serves eight. 

Recipe match

Warm blueberry bisque is likely best on its own, but if you are daring, we suggest a local Gewurztraminer.

Meyer Gewurztraminer 2020, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $18.12

Lime blossoms, gooseberry, lilies mix with a thread of citrus, herbal bitterness through the finish. Perfect for lightly spiced and fragrant curries or soups.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Gewürztraminer 2020, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $20.00

Apricot, ripe yellow apple, peach blossom, honeysuckle, and ginger spicing slide along a slender palate. It is primed for enjoying now.



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