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Global Syrah Masters: the results

It’s far from the most modish grape on the planet, but the Syrahs our judges tasted blind impressed more than their trendier rivals, says Patrick Schmitt MW.

main-imageThey say you shouldn’t equate money with class, and, it seems, in drinks at least, fashion with quality. OK, so trendy grapes such as Pinot Noir produce some of the greatest wines in the world, but in our Global Masters series, the least popular varieties do seem to attract the greatest proportion of top-ranking results.

In whites, that’s Riesling, a grape that is renowned for its unfashionable status, and yet, in last year’s Riesling Masters, out of around 120 samples, as many as 24 entries picked up a Gold and six gained the top accolade of Master, which is given only to those wines scoring 96 points or above. Compare that with our Sauvignon Blanc Masters, judged in the same year, and there were only 14 Golds awarded and just a single Master, from a larger set of samples. Yet few would doubt the following for this grape, which is still growing worldwide in both vineyard area and sales.

In reds, this contrast continues. It is Syrah that is both the least modish grape in our Global Masters line-up and also the best-performing. In 2015, the competition saw 21 wines receive a Gold, and three a Master. In 2016, the numbers were even better, with 24 gaining a Gold and as many as five a Master.

VINTNERS PERSEVERING

Judge’s comment:
Sally Easton MW

judgesally“I was impressed with the number of good wines coming out of Chile. You kind of expect Australia to do well, and perhaps they did less well than they might have hoped, but good Chilean Syrah/Shiraz feature steadily across the price ranges. The absolute star under £20 turned out to be from Wakefield, who we know do good kit, so that was probably just as well!

“What I didn’t particularly like were wines that were either a caricature of the grape variety or showed so little varietal definition as to sully the cultivar’s good repute. The bottom line for me was that the Rhône wine highlighted how far new world Syrahs are away from truly great quality and classic expression of the grape variety. Most of the sub-£30 ones in ‘my’ flights lacked the ethereal elegance, sweet floral perfume, textural invisibility of tannin frame and lingering length of the top-notch Rhône example.”

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What makes Syrah unfashionable is not the focus of this report, but, as this year’s and last year’s results show, it certainly is not due to poor quality products. Rather, the grape’s slightly uncool state may be the reason why there is so much good wine made from it: the lesser-quality examples have been weeded out of production, with vintners only persevering with the variety in places where it naturally does well.

In contrast, Pinot Noir, which this year attracted 21 Golds and two Masters, but from a greater sample set, showed less uniform quality, with some wonderful wines, but also some disappointing entries. It was felt by the judges that this may be a result of its popularity – such has been the growth in demand for the grape over the past 10 years, some producers have been planting it in unsuitable places, and it is a famously fussy variety.

So, Syrah seems to be found mainly in environments that suit it, and it likes dry, warm “Mediterranean” climates and rocky hillsides, particularly those containing granite. Hence its qualitative peak in the northern Rhône, above all the granite soils of the Hermitage hill, but also its suitability for the granite-based soils of mountainous areas of Switzerland and Chile, for example.

However, it is Australia that has become Syrah’s most notable home outside France, with the low-fertile sands, schists and clays of the Barossa proving a notably high-quality source of Syrah, above all when harvested from the low-yielding ancient vines in this area. Today, Syrah – or Shiraz as it is most commonly called Down Under – is the country’s biggest grape in terms of vineyard area.

Furthermore, out of all the entries in this year’s Syrah Masters, it was Australia that took home the highest number of Gold medals and Masters, although it should be stated that the samples in the tasting were almost entirely from non- European sources, with just one from Hermitage – which proved useful for benchmarking the high-priced great wines of the New World.

NO COMPROMISES

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.

The best wines were awarded medals which ranged from Bronze through to Gold, as well as Master, the ultimate accolade, given only to exceptional wines in the tasting.

The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers on 6 July at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London. This report only features the medal winners.

For more detail on the top-scoring wines, including tasting notes, see thedrinksbusiness.com

What is notable about Syrah is not only that it has truly global representation – there are few wine producing corners of the world without it – but also its ability to create something varietally distinct and palatable at all price points, from the cheapest quaffable red to the very finest wines on the planet. This is unlike Pinot Noir, which does not respond well to the viticultural compromises required to make inexpensive reds, in particular, high yields. In fact, for those looking for balanced, berry-scented reds sub £10, there are few varieties better than Syrah, particularly when blended with Grenache.

It was also a relief to see fewer Syrahbased wines with “reduced” aromas of egg or burnt rubber compared to last year’s tasting (it is a grape particularly prone to the production of hydrogen sulphide during fermentation), while it was pleasing to witness a restrained approach to winemaking generally. As one judge in the Syrah Masters, Annette Scarf MW, commented: “Even at the entry level, the wines were really good, and, at all levels there wasn’t over-extraction, there wasn’t too much oak, and, with a few exceptions, the alcohol levels were under control, suggesting that even in warmer places people are picking early and creating enjoyable wines with freshness.”

In fact, rather than hot and jammy wines, it was observed that there was a touch of greenness in some samples, which, while far from unpleasant, was a sign, according to another judge, Miles Corish MW, that bunches are not receiving enough light exposure early on in the growing season, which means it is a trait that can be easily removed through altering the canopy management. Corish explained: “If you expose the grapes to light earlier, then you shouldn’t get any greenness, and the berries will be less susceptible to sun burn later on in the season.”

As for the wines that performed the best in the day’s tasting, it was interesting to see inexpensive samples from Sicily providing an appealing if relatively simple taste of Syrah, without any oak influence. After all, it was once believed that this Italian island was the source of the grape in Europe, with the variety thought to take its name from the historic Sicilian city of Syracuse.

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But these wines, which came from the excellent Settesoli cooperative, earned Silvers, and, under £10, just one winery gained a Gold, and that was the oakinfluenced Syrah from Berton Vineyard in Padthaway, Australia, highlighting the country’s expertise with the grape even at lower prices.

Between £10 and £15, and it was Australia again that took a Gold, although so too did Portugal (in the blends category), another country gaining good results with Syrah, particularly where there is granite/ schist mountainous terrain, such as the Alentejo’s Serra de São Mamede, and the Douro.

Moving up a price band to £15-£20, and again, Australia triumphed, with Gemtree and Taylors gaining Golds, alongside Washington State, with Ste. Michelle receiving a high score for its Syrah from the Colombia Valley, representing a ripe but restrained take on the grape from the United States.

Our first Masters were awarded in the next price band (£20-£30), proving that Syrah can produce truly fine and exciting wines at relatively affordable prices. One of these top awards went to Bird in Hand, a producer of first-rate Chardonnay and Cabernet from the Adelaide Hills, and, as this tasting proved, Syrah too; a credit to the skills of the brand’s winemaker, Kym Milne MW.

SWITZERLAND

Judge’s comment:
Jonathan Pedley MW

judgejonathan“Overall it was a strong line up. Lots of Bronzes, plenty of Silvers and a smattering of Golds. From a commercial point of view, perhaps the standout result was at the sub-£10 price point, where there were several really good wines including a Gold. This does show that Syrah is capable of delivering successful wines across the price spectrum (in contrast to say Pinot Noir).

“There were only a handful of poor wines. Reduction was less of a problem than I recall it was at the equivalent tasting last year. Only a couple of wines showed excessive oak influence: a massive improvement on what would have been the case ten years ago. A few wines were a tad on the hot side, but in most cases there was enough fruit to carry the alcohol. A couple of wines had worrying levels of VA.

“Stylistically the elegant, pure fruit (and sometimes floral) iteration of Syrah seems to have triumphed over the massively jammy and oaky version … Not surprisingly Australia seemed to do well. The Chilean wines were a bit of a mixed bag and South Africa struggled.”

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But the other Master went to New Zealand, where Syrah specialist Elephant Hill showed why Hawke’s Bay is fast gaining a reputation for the grape, made in a more northern-Rhône-like manner, with moderate alcohols and a prominent, appealing white pepper spice.

Among the Golds in this band were some interesting results, including a firstrate sample from Switzerland’s Jean-René Germanier, a ringer for top quality Côte- Rotie, and a delicious Syrah from Saronsberg in the little-known region of Tulbagh, an excellent spot in South Africa for the grape.

Argentina also proved it is capable of crafting top-quality Syrah, with Mendoza’s Pascual Toso getting a Gold, along with Valdivieso in Chile’s Limarí Valley, a place to look out for when it comes to good Syrah (and also Chardonnay). Meanwhile, McGuigan Wines made sure Australia was well represented among the Golds in this price band, picking up two top medals for its Shorlist and Handmade labels.

The same producer also featured when the wines got more expensive, with its Tempus Two brand gaining a Gold in the £30-£50 category, along with two further wines, showing not only that Australia has expertise with Syrah, but that McGuigan is a go-to source of wines from this grape, whether it’s using fruit from Langhorn, Barossa or the Hunter Valley.

Jacob’s Creek, with two Golds in this price band, further reinforced Australia’s reputation for Syrah, while displaying the brand’s own strong winemaking credentials.

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EXCITING FIND

But among the Aussie wines in this price band was a notably different sample, both in terms of source and style. Indeed, it was an entry that represented a really exciting find for the judges.

Hailing from the Maremma coast’s Sustinet IGT, a Syrah from Conti di San Bonifacio showed a typically Italianate, slightly sour finish and dense tannic texture, along with pristine red and black berry fruit and cedar aromas, proving that it is not just Bordeaux varieties that perform brilliantly in this area of Tuscany – and also that Italy can produce great Syrah.

Over £50, and we awarded a series of Golds to Wakefield/Taylors for two different vintages of the wonderful St Andrews Shiraz, a show-stopper from the Clare Valley.

But we also gave out a clutch of Masters for magical wines. These included Kym Milne’s top expression, the Nest Egg label, along with the incredible example from Château Tanunda, using Syrah from vines over 100 years old.

Finally, towards the end of the judging, we tasted a truly benchmark wine from the world of Syrah: Michel Chapoutier’s Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage.

Importantly, it showed how it is possible to achieve complexity and persistence with Syrah, but without huge concentration.

After the day’s tasting was over and the producers had been revealed, it was satisfying for the judges to see they had correctly identified greatness: the competition winners had featured some of the world’s top Syrah producers.

And, importantly, it also ensured that new sources of brilliance had been identified, alongside some of the toughest benchmarks in Syrah.

The judges (l-r)

thejudgesPatrick Schmitt MW, Miles Corish MW, Ivy Ng, Annette Scarf MW, Roberto Della Pietra, Clément Robert MS, Sally Easton MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, Sebastian Payne MW, David Round MW

Oaked 100% Syrah

Company Product Name Country Region Vintage Medal
Under £10
Berton Vineyard Winemakers Reserve Black Shiraz Australia Padthaway 2015 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Wakefield/Taylors Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2015 Silver
Mr Riggs The Ring In‘ Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
De Bortoli Wines Deen Vat 8 Shiraz Australia Riverina 2014 Silver
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Reserva Syrah Chile Colchagua 2015 Silver
Les Vins Skalli Fortant de France Terroir de Collines Syrah France Languedoc 2015 Silver
Mr Riggs The Truant Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
De Bortoli Wines Windy Peak Heathcote Shiraz Australia Heathcote 2014 Silver
Mr Riggs The Delinquent Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
Siam Winery Monsoon Valley Shiraz Thailand Hua Hin Hills 2014 Silver
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Winemaker Reserva Syrah Chile Curico 2013 Bronze
Trivento Trivento Reserve Shiraz Argentina Tupungato, Mendoza 2015 Bronze
Viña Carta Vieja Aves del Sur Reserva Syrah Chile Loncomilla Valley 2015 Bronze
Nepenthe Wines Nepenthe Altitude Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2014 Bronze
Siam Winery Monsoon Valley Shiraz Rose Thailand Hua Hin Hills 2015 Bronze
Viña Maycas del Limarí Sumaq Syrah Chile Limarí 2014 Bronze
Sacred Hill Vineyards Sacred Hill Reserve Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2015 Bronze
£10-£15
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Special Release Parcel Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2014 Gold
Viña Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah Chile Maipo Valley 2013 Silver
Viña Valdivieso Single Valley Lot Syrah Chile Colchagua 2013 Silver
Flagstone Dark Horse South Africa Western Cape 2013 Silver
Viña Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah Chile Maule Valley 2014 Silver
Casas del Toqui Gran Reserva Syrah Chile Cachapoal Valley 2012 Silver
Sileni Estates Sileni Estate Selection “The Peak” Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2013 Silver
Zonte’s Footstep Chocolate Factory Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
Viña Undurraga T.H. Syrah Limarí Chile Limarí 2013 Silver
Zonte’s Footstep Baron Von Nemesis Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2015 Bronze
Bird in Hand Two in the Bush Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2014 Bronze
Mr Riggs The Gaffer Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Bronze
Sileni Estates Sileni Cellar Selection Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2014 Bronze
Viña Undurraga Sibaris Syrah Chile Cachapoal Valley 2013 Bronze
Viña Undurraga T.H. Syrah Leyda Chile Leyda Valley 2012 Bronze
Viña Morandé Morandé Gran Reserva Syrah Chile Maule Valley 2012 Bronze
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Eighty Acres Shiraz Australia South-Australia 2015 Bronze
Viña Undurraga T.H. Syrah Maipo Chile Maipo Valley 2012 Bronze
Les Vins Skalli Caves Saint Pierre – Saint Joseph France Rhône Valley 2015 Bronze
Viña Carta Vieja Kidia Reserva Syrah Chile Loncomilla Valley 2015 Bronze
Katnook Estate Katnook Founder’s Block Estate Australia Coonawarra 2014 Bronze
£15-£20
Gemtree Wines Ernest Allan Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Reserve Parcel Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2015 Gold
Jackson Family Wines Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2015 Silver
Zonte’s Footstep Hills Are Alive Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2015 Silver
Viña Valdivieso Single Vineyard Syrah Chile Aconcagua 2011 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Reserve Parcel Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2014 Silver
Viña Arboleda Arboleda Syrah Chile Aconcagua 2014 Silver
Mr Riggs Piebald Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
Thorn Clarke Wines William Randell Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2012 Silver
Jackson Family Wines Cambria Estate – Tepusquet Vineyard Syrah USA Santa Maria Valley 2013 Bronze
Growers Wine Group Barossa Valley Possum Creek Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2013 Bronze
Thorn Clarke Wines Terra Barossa Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2015 Bronze
Elephant Hill Elephant Hill Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2014 Bronze
Hacienda Zorita Natural Reserve Syrah Spain Castilla y Léon 2011 Bronze
£20-£30
Bird in Hand Bird in Hand Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2014 Master
Elephant Hill Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2013 Master
Jean-René Germanier Cayas de Syrah du Valais Switzerland Valais 2013 Gold
Saronsberg Saronsberg Shiraz South Africa Tulbagh 2013 Gold
Pascual Toso Pascual Toso Alta Syrah Argentina Barrancas, Maipu, Mendoza 2014 Gold
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Shortlist Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2006 Gold
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Handmade Shiraz Australia Laghorne Creek 2012 Gold
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Eclat Syrah Limarí Chile Limarí 2011 Gold
Craggy Range Syrah, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2014 Silver
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Handmade Shiraz Australia Langhorne Creek 2014 Silver
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Jaraman Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2014 Silver
Wirra Wirra Vineyards Woodhenge Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
Mr Riggs Scarce Earth Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Silver
St Hugo Wines St Hugo Barossa Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2013 Silver
Tar & Roses The Rose Australia Heathcote 2013 Silver
Saronsberg Saronsberg Shiraz South Africa Tulbagh 2014 Silver
Cape Mentelle Shiraz Single Vineyard Trinders Australia Margaret River 2015 Silver
Gemtree Wines Uncut Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Silver
M.P Wines Pyros Barrel Selected Syrah Argentina Valle de Pedernal, San Juan 2014 Silver
Mr Riggs McLaren Vale Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Silver
Jackson Family Wines Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Silver
Mission Estate Winery Jewelstone Syrah New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2014 Silver
Jean-René Germanier Cayas de Syrah du Valais Switzerland Valais 2012 Silver
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Gate Block Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2014 Bronze
RedHeads Studio Dogs of the Barossa Australia Barossa Valley 2013 Bronze
Oldenburg Vineyards Shiraz South Africa Stellenbosch 2013 Bronze
Cape Mentelle Cape Mentelle Shiraz Australia Margaret River 2015 Bronze
£30-£50
Jacob’s Creek Jacob’s Creek Centenary Hills Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2012 Gold
Jacob’s Creek Jacob’s Creek Centenary Hills Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2014 Gold
Tempus Two Pewter Uno Shiraz Australia Hunter Valley 2014 Gold
Conti di San Bonifacio Sustinet Italy Toscana 2011 Gold
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Handmade Shiraz Australia Laghorne Creek 2007 Gold
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Farms Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2011 Gold
Montes Montes Folly Chile Colchagua 2012 Silver
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Handmade Shiraz Australia Laghorne Creek 2008 Silver
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Farms Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2013 Silver
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Farms Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2012 Silver
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Farms Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2006 Silver
Rhebokskloof Rhebokskloof Black Marble Hill South Africa Paarl 2012 Silver
Levantine Hill Estate Levantine Hill Estate Syrah Australia Yarra Valley 2013 Silver
Murdoch James Estate Winery Murdoch James Blue Rock Syrah New Zealand Martinborough 2014 Bronze
Gemtree Wines Obsidian Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2014 Bronze
McGuigan Wines McGuigan Personal Reserve Shiraz Australia Hunter Valley 2014 Bronze
Frescobaldi Ammiraglia Italy Tuscany 2012 Bronze
Over £50
Bird in Hand Nest Egg Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2012 Master
Château Tanunda The Château 100 year Old Vines Australia Barossa Valley 2014 Master
M. Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage France Northern Rhone 2012 Master
Bird in Hand MAC Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2012 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors St Andrews Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2014 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors St Andrews Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2013 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors The Pioneer Shiraz Australia Clare Valley 2013 Gold
St Hugo Wines St Hugo Vetus Purum Barossa Shiraz Australia Barossa Valley 2010 Silver
Bird in Hand Nest Egg Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2014 Silver
Serafino Wines Serafino Terremoto Syrah Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Silver
Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Gimblett Gravels New Zealand Hawke’s Bay 2014 Silver
Bird in Hand Nest Egg Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2013 Silver
Bird in Hand MAC Shiraz Australia Adelaide Hills 2013 Silver
Jackson Family Wines Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard Brooks Road Shiraz Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Bronze

Unoaked Syrah Blend (min 50%)

Company Product Name Country Region Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Maipo Mi Pueblo Chile Central Valley 2015 Bronze

Oaked Syrah Blend (min 50%)

Company Product Name Country Region Vintage Medal
Under £10
Viña Maipo Vitral Chile Central Valley 2015 Bronze
£10-£15
Monte Da Ravasqueira Monte Da Ravasqueira Syrah Viognier Portugal Alentejo 2013 Gold
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah Columbia Valley USA Columbia Valley 2013 Silver
Zonte’s Footstep Lake Doctor Shiraz Australia Langhorne Creek 2014 Bronze
Montes Montes Alpha Syrah Chile Colchagua 2013 Bronze
Viña Chocalan Gran Reserva Origen Syrah Chile Maipo 2014 Bronze
Viña Perez Cruz Syrah – Limited Edition Chile Maipo 2014 Bronze
£15-£20
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Syrah Columbia Valley USA Columbia Valley 2013 Gold
Berton Vineyards The Bonsai Australia High Eden 2013 Silver
De Bortoli Wines Yarra Valley Estate Grown Shiraz Australia Yarra Valley 2014 Silver
Viña Cono Sur 20 Barrels Chile Limarí 2013 Bronze
Luis Felipe Edwards LFE 900 Single Vineyard Chile Colchagua 2013 Bronze
£20-£30
Zonte’s Footstep Z Force Shiraz Petite Sirah Australia McLaren Vale 2013 Gold
Viña Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limarí Chile Limarí 2013 Gold
Terre à Terre Crayères Vineyards Shiraz Australia Wrattonbully 2014 Silver
Viña Maipo Limited Edition Chile Maipo Valley 2012 Silver
Marrenon Gardarem France Luberon 2012 Silver
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Tenet Wines The Pundit Syrah USA Columbia Valley 2014 Silver
La Motte Wine Estate La Motte Pierneef Syrah Viognier South Africa Western Cape 2014 Bronze
£30-£50
Saronsberg Saronsberg Full Circle South Africa Tulbagh 2014 Bronze
Over £50
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Spring Valley Vineyard Nina Lee Syrah USA Walla Walla Valley 2013 Silver
Viña Maipo Alto Tajamar Chile Maipo 2010 Silver
Jacob’s Creek Jacob’s Creek Johann Shiraz Cabernet Australia Barossa Valley 2012 Silver

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