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Syrah Masters 2015: the results

 A move away from high-alcohol blockbusters towards wines of greater restraint was the keynote of this year’s Global Syrah Masters, writes Lucy Shaw.

WHILE THE meaning behind the name Syrah is much disputed, DNA profiling at UC Davis in 1998 found the variety to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-east France: Dureza from Ardèche and Mondeuse Blanche from Savoie.

Jancis Robinson MW states in Wine Grapes that this crossing first took place in the RhôneAlpes region, most likely in Isère. Syrah’s style and flavour profile vary dramatically depending on where it’s grown.

In cooler climates the wines are medium to full-bodied with notes of blueberry, blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hotter regions like the Barossa Valley, Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known there) has a jammier character, softer tannins and notes of liquorice, spice, prune and leather. Syrah is a vigorous, mid-ripening variety with small berries and a short window for optimum harvesting. Its tannins are much more gentle than Cabernet Sauvignon and it generally has more weight on the midpalate.

The variety thrives all over the world, from Chile and South Africa to Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. While the grape reaches its apogee in Hermitage and the Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône, Syrah has also found a happy home in Australia – with fine examples hailing from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and the McLaren Vale – having been introduced to the country by James Busby in 1832.

In our inaugural Syrah Masters competition, 150 wines from 14 different countries, including Israel, Turkey, Thailand and Switzerland, were submitted.

Judging took place on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. Served blind and assessed without prejudice about their country of origin, the wines were arranged according to their price band as well as style, from low-priced to high, and unoaked to oaked, in order to make the competition as fair as possible. Furthermore, the varietal Syrahs were assessed separately from the blends.

At the entry level, judges were looking for deep colour, juicy fruit and full-bodied softness.

At the top end, they were seeking the aromatic, perfumed Côte-Rôtie style. Of the 150 wines that entered, 131 received a medal, making it our most successful Masters competition to date. Among them, 25 wines were awarded Gold meals while a quintet scooped the top accolade of Master, three of which hailed from Australia, one from the Rhône and one from the lesser-known Syrah hub of Switzerland.

The majority of wines to enter were from the New World, though there were a decent number of entries from France. Two-thirds of the wines were made from 100% Syrah, the other third being Syrah-dominant blends.

A positive trend to emerge from the tasting was an evolution in the style of New World Syrah towards elegance and restraint and away from the high-alcohol monsters of the past. “If I could use one word to sum up the wines today it would be ‘restraint’, which is a surprise. I was expecting more blockbusters from the New World,” noted Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor, who admitted to being a sucker for the “peppery, floral character” of the Syrahs from the northern Rhône, but also found the Swiss Syrahs to be a “pleasant surprise”.

Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust was also full of praise for the wines on show. “There was a clear progression through the price points and a greater concentration and depth of fruit. Good judgments were made with the winemaking – there was very little overoaking going on. Brett and Syrah often go together, but it was only detectable in a couple of the wines at a low level and contributed to the complexity,” he said. “Some of the wines approached the softness and silkiness of Pinot,” Moss added.

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Syrah Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. This report features only the medal-winners

“There were a lot of well-balanced wines in the pack – you don’t need a slab of wildebeest to drink them.” Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines was also pleasantly surprised by the approachability and balance of the wines. “The Australian Shirazes showed more restraint and were far less extracted than I was expecting,” he said.

“The aromatic profile was uplifting and more balanced than I thought – they weren’t blockbusters. People should think again about Syrah. It’s a misunderstood variety. It’s easy to drink on its own and should be on more people’s radars.

“The wines are surprisingly approachable, versatile, have a lot of flavour and are never too tannic. Syrah doesn’t have to be a blend to be a great wine; it’s more of a textural wine, savoury and earthy.” For wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW, the overall quality of the wines on offer was higher than he experienced at The Drinks Business Cabernet Sauvignon Masters earlier this year. “I gave more medals at this tasting than ever as the standard was pretty high,” he said. “There were a lot of Silver and Gold medals.

Syrah is a friendly and more of a forgiving style of wine than Cabernet. When great, Cabernet is magnificent, but the overall quality was higher at this tasting. There weren’t many astringent examples. “Syrah is capable of such extremes – it can have perfumed Pinot elegance or the same structure, density, tannin and acidity levels as Cabernet. For everyday drinking wines, Syrah is like Malbec – a quaffer.

“Most of the reds made today, even at the premium level, are designed to be drunk young and Syrah, with its intense fruit, deep colour, compatibility with oak and rounded, supple tannins, is friendly and approachable young,” he said, admitting like Griffiths, to favouring the style of Syrah from the northern Rhône.


“The thing I love about young Syrah is the pure aromatics. When wines from the Côte-Rôtie really shine they are floral, elegant, graceful and refined,” he said. As for which countries impressed the most, the judges were all pleasantly surprised by the Syrahs from Switzerland, while most were delighted to discover more elegance and restraint from Australia than they were anticipating.

“I was expecting to taste Barossa Shirazes that you could stand a spoon in but there has been a positive stylistic shift towards more elegant wines with a focus on perfume and less use of American oak. There weren’t many wines with that old-school, coconut-style of oak.

“There were a few wines where the alcohol was on the high side but generally they were under control,” noted Pedley. “There’s a great diversity now of Shiraz styles from Australia – the ones from Western Australia tend to be more refined.” The South African Syrahs were another surprise, with Pedley finding “no burnt notes in the wines” as can be the case with reds from the country.

There seemed to be a lack of consistency in the Chilean Syrahs, with the most refined examples coming from the Leyda Valley and the worst falling into the “stewed and jammy” bracket. One of the day’s disappointments was the failure of New Zealand Syrah to wow the judges, with many finding the wines from Hawkes Bay a bit green and short on the finish.

But while the results were overwhelmingly positive, the truth remains that Syrah is a hard sell at the top end as it continues to be blighted by associations with cheap Australian Shiraz, particularly in the US. “There is Syrah planted in California’s Santa Rita Hills that is better quality than the Pinot Noir there but it doesn’t sell for some reason, which is sad,” said Moss. “It’s hard to get people to pay more for premium Syrah but as a variety it is capable of the very highest quality.”

The judges (left to right): Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association; Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines; Michael Palij MW of Winetraders; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor of the drinks business; Lucy Shaw, managing editor of the drinks business; Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor; Adrian Garforth MW of Blackrock Wines; Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Robert MacCulloch MW of Domaine Direct; and wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW

Please click through for the results; page one for unoaked Syrah and Syrah blends, pages two and three for oaked Syrah and pages four and five for oaked Syrah blends.

Rosé 100% Syrah – unoaked

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
Siam Winery Monsoon Valley Shiraz 2014 Bronze Thailand

100% Syrah – unoaked

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
Limestone Coast Wines The Hidden Sea Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Brunel Père et Fils Crozes-Hermitage Brunel de la Gardine 2012 Bronze France
Paul Jaboulet Aîné Syrah Secret de Famille 2013 Bronze France

Syrah blend (min 50%) – unoaked

Under £10
Château Les Amoureuses Les Amoureuses VDP Coteaux de l’Ardèche Syrah 2012 Silver France
Viña Maipo Shiraz 2014 Bronze Chile
Viña Maipo Classic Series Shiraz 2014 Bronze Chile
Moulin de Gassac Moulin de Gassac Sol de Landoc 2014 Bronze France
Quinta de Maipo Mi Pueblo 2014 Bronze Chile

100% Syrah – oaked

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
Under £10
Kavaklidere Saraplari Egeo Syrah 2012 Silver Turkey
Nepenthe Wines Nepenthe Altitude Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Domaines Paul Mas La Forge Estate Syrah 2013 Silver France
Grupo Mezzacorona Feudo Arancio Syrah 2013 Bronze Italy
Trivento Bodegas y Vinedos Trivento Reserva 2013 Bronze Argentina
Viña Siegel Special Reserve Syrah 2013 Bronze Chile
Siam Winery Monsoon Valley Shiraz 2013 Bronze Thailand
Sister’s Run Epiphany Shiraz 2013 Gold Australia
Wakefield/Taylor Wines Wakefield/Taylors Shiraz 2014 Gold Australia
Cloof Wine Estate The Very Sexy Shiraz 2013 Gold South Africa
Viña Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2012 Gold Chile
Mr Riggs Piebald Syrah 2013 Gold Australia
Viña Undurraga Sibaris Syrah 2012 Silver Chile
Quinta de Maipo Vitral 2014 Silver Chile
Kavaklidere Saraplari Pendore Syrah 2012 Silver Turkey
Stellenzicht Stellenzicht Golden Triangle Shiraz 2011 Silver South Africa
Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2013 Silver South Africa
Cloof Wine Estate The Very Sexy Shiraz 2012 Silver South Africa
Zonnebloem Limited Edition Shiraz 2012 Silver South Africa
Viña Valdivieso Single Valley Lot Reserva Syrah 2013 Silver Chile
Viña Casa Silva Doña Dominga Gran Reserva Syrah 2014 Silver Chile
Viña Montgras Antu 2013 Silver Chile
Aresti Chile Winery Trisquel Syrah 2012 Silver Chile
Cloof Wine Estate Cloof Shiraz 2012 Silver South Africa
Sileni Estates The Peak Syrah 2014 Silver New Zealand
Rhebokskloof Private Cellar Vineyard Selection Shiraz 2012 Silver South Africa
Viña Casa Silva Gran Terroir Syrah 2014 Silver Chile
Château Kamnik Ten Barrels Syrah 2011 Silver Macedonia
Viña Valdivieso Single Vineyard Syrah 2011 Silver Chile
Viña Casablanca Nimbus Syrah 2012 Silver Chile
Viña Valdivieso Single Vineyard Syrah 2014 Silver Chile
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Marea Syrah 2012 Silver Chile
Lomond Syrah 2013 Bronze South Africa
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Gran Reserva Syrah 2014 Bronze Chile
Viña Quintay Quintay Grand Reserve Syrah 2013 Bronze Chile
Reyneke Syrah 2013 Bronze South Africa
Sileni Estates Sileni Cellar Selection Syrah 2014 Bronze New Zealand

100% Syrah – oaked

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
McGuigan Wines Shortlist Shiraz 2013 Gold Australia
Wakefield/Taylor Wines Reserve Parcel Clare Valley Shiraz 2013 Gold Australia
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Shortlist Shiraz 2012 Gold Australia
Wakefield/Taylor Wines Jaraman Shiraz 2013 Gold Australia
Alto Shiraz 2012 Gold South Africa
Mission Estate Mission Jewelstone Syrah 2013 Gold New Zealand
Garcés Silva Family Vineyard Amayna Syrah 2013 Gold Chile
Growers Wine Group Barossa Valley Possum Creek Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Viña Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Syrah 2014 Silver Chile
Viña Los Boldos CLB Grand reserve Syrah 2013 Silver Chile
Viña Undurraga TH Syrah 2011 Silver Chile
Heirloom Vineyards Eden Valley Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Gemtree Wines Uncut 2013 Silver Australia
Heirloom Vineyards Red Queen of the Eden Valley 2013 Silver Australia
Heirloom Vineyards Lioness of McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Larry Cherubino Wines The Yard Acacia Shiraz 2014 Silver Australia
Larry Cherubino Wines The Yard Justin Shiraz 2014 Silver Australia
Viña Montgras Montgras Limited 2012 Silver Chile
Lomond Lomond Conebush Syrah 2013 Silver South Africa
Finca Las Moras Gran Syrah 2012 Silver Argentina
Lomond Cat’s Tail Syrah – Single Vineyard 2012 Silver South Africa
Heirloom Vineyards Barossa Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Jean René Germanier Syrah du Valais 2013 Silver Suisse
Jackson Family Wines Kendall Kackson Vintner’s Reserva Syrah 2013 Silver USA
Flagstone Winery Flagstone Dark Horse Shiraz 2011 Bronze South Africa
Heirloom Vineyards McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013 Bronze Australia
Château Les Amoureuses Côtes du Rhône La Barbare 2014 Bronze
Larry Cherubino Wines The Yard Riversdale Shiraz 2014 2014 Bronze Australia
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Gate Block Shiraz 2013 Bronze Australia
Viña Casa Silva Casa Silva Cool Coast Syrah 2012 Bronze Chile
McGuigan Handmade Shiraz 2012 Gold Australia
Wakefield/Taylor wines St Andrews Shiraz 2012 Gold Australia
Gemtree Wines Ernest Allan 2013 Silver Australia
Larry Cherubino Wines Cherubino Laissez Faire Syrah 2013 Silver Australia
Bremerton Vintners Bremerton Old Adam Shiraz 2012 Silver Australia
McGuigan McGuigan Handmade Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Stellenzicht Stellenzicht Plum Pudding Hill Syrah 2010 Silver South Africa
Bodegas y Vinedos Pascual Toso Alta Syrah 2013 Silver Argentina
De Bortoli Wines Yarra Valley Single Vineyard Section A8 Syrah 2012 Silver Australia
Larry Cherubino Wines Frankland River Shiraz 2014 Silver Australia
Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah 2013 Bronze New Zealand
Rhebokskloof Private Cellar Black Marble Hill Syrah 2011 Gold South Africa
Montes Wines Montes Folly 2011 Gold Chile
Sileni Estates Exceptional Vintage Syrah 2013 Gold New Zealand
Giesen Wines Marlboro’ Syrah Single Vineyard Selection Clayvin 2012 Gold New Zealand
Jean René Germanier Cayas Syrah du Valais 2011 Gold Suisse
Sister’s Run Calvary Hill Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
Gemtree Wines Obsidian 2012 Silver Australia
Caruso & Minini Delia Nivolelli Syrah Riserva 2010 Silver Italy
Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards DW Syrah 2013 Bronze South Africa
Over £50
Delas Hermitage Rouge Domaine des Tourettes 2012 Master France
Casella Family Brands Casella 1919 Brands 2007 Master Australia
Songlines Estates Songlines Shiraz 2005 Gold Australia
M Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2011 Gold France
Craggy Range Le Sol 2013 Silver New Zealand
Wakefield/Taylor Wines The Pioneer Shiraz 2012 Silver Australia

Syrah blend (min 50%) – oaked

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
Under £10
Casella Family Brands Beyond Horizons Shiraz 2013 Gold Australia
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Reserva Syrah 2014 Gold Chile
Kavaklidere Saraplari Vinart Kalecik Karasi – Syrah 2014 Bronze Turkey
Bottle Green Andrew Peace Red Signature Shiraz 2014 Bronze Australia
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Syrah 2014 Bronze Chile
Lanchester wine cellar Silver Creek Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2013 Bronze Australia
Casa del Valle Hacienda Casa del Valle Syrah 2012 Bronze Spain
Vistamar Vistamar Sepia Reserva Syrah 2011 Bronze Chile
Cloof Wine Estate Syrah Viognier 2013 Silver South Africa
Barton & Guestier Héritage NV Bronze France
De Bortoli Wines Windy Peak Heath Cote Shiraz 2014 Bronze Australia
Viña Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limari 2013 Silver Chile
Monte da Ravasqueira Monte da Ravasqueira Syrah Viognier 2012 Silver Portugal
Voyager Estate Voyager Estate 2012 Shiraz 2012 Silver Australia
De Bortoli Wines Yarra Valley Estate Grown Shiraz 2013 Silver Australia
La Motte Wine Estate La Motte Syrah 2012 Bronze South Africa
Cono sur Winery 20 Barrels Syrah 2012 Bronze Chile

Oaked Blend (min 50% Syrah) – £20-£30

Company Wine Vintage Medal Country
Reyneke Reserve Trading 2010 Gold South Africa
Harel Vineyards Syrah 2011 Silver Israel
La Motte Wine Estate Pierneef Syrah Viognier 2013 Silver South Africa
Quinta de Maipo Limited Edition 2011 Silver Chile
Château la Verrerie Grand Deffand 2012 Silver France
Blue Pyrenees Estate Ridchardson Reserve Shiraz 2012 Master Australia
Casella Family Brands Casella Limited Release Shiraz 2010 Gold Australia
Black Stallion Estate Winery Limited Release Napa Valley Syrah 2012 Gold USA
Arrowood Syrah Russian River Valley Saralee’s vineyard 2012 Bronze USA

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