I threw the phrase into the title of this post, about cool-climate Syrah, but thinking what does that really mean? A good question and one I will try to answer quickly without veering into so much cork-dorkiness that I lose you two seconds past the first paragraph [as if anyone reads that far anyway]. That said, I think it's important and hopefully helpful to draw a line of distinction between these two styles of Syrah. I hope this will be helpful in getting a better idea what you're getting your palate into, before you uncork that next bottle. If you are one of those cork-dorks in audience who knows exactly where I'm going with this, please feel free to skip this little intro into the stylistic differences between warm and cool climate Syrah [Shiraz]. Everyone, please sit back, buckle-up it's time to take a spin in the wine-wagon to grab the 411 on Cool-Climate Syrah, before we jump into the individual reviews.
Some grape varieties work really well in certain climates, like Pinot Noir does quite fabulously in cool climates and Zinfandel craves the warm hot climates and has made itself at home in California. However, Syrah is a different animal altogether and will work wonderfully in either climate, however stylistically with very different results. I wouldn't say one is that much better than the other, they are just different, while being nearly the same if that makes sense [a bit esoteric I know].
When you think of warm-climate Syrah, places like Australia's Barossa Valley [shiraz] should come to mind and here in the US, places like Washington's Red Mountain AVA or even France's Southern Rhone are good examples of warm climate Syrah and the usual suspects [flavor profiles] show up. What you will often find as a rule, are jammy [baked] flavors of blueberry, raspberry and dark-cherry, because many wines produced further inland tend to be bigger, fatter, richer and often times as result higher ABV. It also tends to be a style which many consumers have grown accustom to drinking, thanks to many of the marsupial labeled wines that have shown up on American shores. While you may not recognize the flavors, you can definitely pick-up the fruit forward tendencies of warm climate Syrah, a much riper and sometimes far less finesse, style of wine.
Now on the cooler side of equation, cool-climate Syrahs typically by way of contrast are far more restrained, but not in the case of these Syrahs I encountered from Chile. Rounding up the usual suspects [profiles], you'll find that cool climate Syrah are very aromatic, leaning toward classical floral notes like lavender or violet, smoked meats, leather and tobacco. Common tastes and flavors often include black fruit, cherries, ripe blackberries and plums; white pepper and high-tone spices are all common characteristics. Many would say that overall, it's a far less power and much more elegant style. However, it's a style that takes some getting used to, especially for folks who are not too familiar with tasting wines from the vineyards from the northern Rhone's classic cool climate area the Cote Rotie.
Now that we have a better idea of the two stylistic differences, it's time to jump into the review of the four cool-climate Syrahs from the Wines of Chile tasting, which I thought showed really well and came dressed to impress, however there was one member of this foursome that won't be asked back for a second interview. While the other three have a great chance at landing the job.
1. Tamaya Reserva Syrah 2009: This wine is from the Limari Valley, an interesting blend with Syrah leading the way at 97% and the balance filled with a splash of Viognier. In the glass an deep, dark brooding purple colored core. Floating up from the glass after the first swirl, aromas of lavender, blue berry, leathery, amidst some peppery notes. After the first splash down, I'm treated to some highly polished tannins, pure silk. A flavor burst of licorice, blueberry, cherry, white-pepper, a bit of wet earth and tobacco all combined to give a very generous mouthfeel that I felt was a bit short in the finish, but would make for a wonderful foodie type wine, sure to pair easily with many different types of foods. I gave this wine a score of 89 points and it sells for a SRP of $18, representing very good QPR for a wine of this quality.
2. Loma Larga Syrah 2006: This wine is from Chile's Casablanca Valley, a 100% Syrah which was not fined or filtered, so decanting is highly recommended through a screen. But don't let that bit of sway you one bit from this fantastic example of a cool climate Syrah. It definitely was my favorite, as I gave it a solid 92 point score and highly recommend it to you. In the glass a deeply crimson colored core, deeply staining legs against the glass. After first swirl, blueberry, licorice and meaty aromas combine to perfume the air above the glass preparing you for the coming attractions. The first sip is a head-back wow, you'll find this wine located on the drink now and drink often aisle, nice heft and the tannins are polished, leading to a lengthy finish. Gamey, herbal and earthy complexity help you get your head around the blueberry and black berry fruit that dominates the mid-palate, while the striking acidity keeps the wine in complete balance for the total package. Selling for a SRP of $29, it's great juice for this price point, it really over delivers and came dressed to impress.
3. Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2009: This "Terroir Hunter" wine hails from the Leyda Valley, produced by one of Chile's oldest wineries. In the glass you'll find the core leaning toward purple. On the nose compact ripe blueberry and black-berry fruit, with just a touch of olive aromas leaps from the glass. Really nice mouth-feel, plush and giving, balanced acidity, polished blueberry and black-berry and floral flavors are drawn from the nose, leading to a nicely penetrating finish, with touches of chocolate and expresso rounding out the experience. An extremely well done wine, with plenty to offer for the $25 price of admission. I gave this wine a score of 90 points, highly recommended.
4. 2009 Hacienda Araucano Reserva Syrah: This wine hails from the Lolol Valley and weighs in at 14.5% ABV, a bit heavier than other Syrahs. In the glass a dark purple colored core. A screw-cap closure that yielded an interesting, yet odd nose of a nearly undefinable gaminess and office furniture aromas, amidst some mixed purple fruits and spices. After the first splash down, herbal, spicy Syrah like characters and a bit of funk. The fruit is light and suggests licorice and blackberries, rough-tannins, the spice and heat quickly fades out the flash of fruit, pretty tightly wound, leading to the rough and short finish. I scored this wine 85 points and it sells most places for $15, a bit of a dissappoint after my experience with the other three Syrahs.
Full Disclosure: These wines reviewed above were sent as press samples.
I hope you will take the opportunity to search-out these wines for yourself, give them a swirl, as they are deserving of a place in your cellar and your glass. Many of these wines can be found using wine-searcher and I've heard that all of these wines have nation-wide distribution. I really enjoyed all the wines very much and obviously liked a few more than the others. I hope that info on the stylistic differences of Syrah was helpful, until next time sip long and prosper cheers everyone!