Lately I’ve been noticing something interesting coming out of wineries in Niagara. It’s something I honestly never thought about, though now that I think about it makes perfect sense. Maybe you’ve noticed it too, in adventures to wineries or wanderings through the LCBO.
They’re making Syrah.
I know. You’re probably thinking, ‘Why is this so surprising? Wine is wine, isn’t it?’ I mean, yes. It is wine. But also, it’s Syrah! One of the most prized French grapes! And a grape that Australia has already taken and completely turned on it’s head! What does Niagara think it’s doing here?
The homeland of Syrah is the Northern Rhone in France. Here’s what we know about Syrah from the Northern Rhone:
- It is by far the most widely planted grape there
- It’s incredibly respected by wine lovers the world over for its full body, intensity and uniquely savoury flavour
- It’s totally normal for Northern Rhone Syrahs to taste and smell like cured meat or even bacon (Weird, I know, but also delicious)
Australian winemakers, on the other hand, are Syrah rebels.
- They took Syrah all the way from its homeland and straight into Australia’s blindingly hot climate
- This made the grapes get super ripe and lovely
- Then, just to drive it home that this ain’t yo mama’s Syrah, they started calling it Shiraz
- These wines are super big, super juicy, and super peppery – totally different from what the folks in the Northern Rhone are doing
So what will Niagara offer to the mix? I trust the good winemakers of my beloved region to know what kinds of grapes will and won’t do well in our often harsh, continental Canadian climate, but I’m still flummoxed and perplexed by the idea of what might make a Niagara Syrah special.
Clearly a taste test is in order.
A quick search on the LCBO website shows that they carry a paltry 7 Niagara Syrahs, so it seems that even though I’ve been noticing lots of examples of this wine pop up they don’t seem to have made it past the winery shop yet. In the end I chose a Syrah from Creekside Estate Winery ($16.15 at the LCBO) as the envoy to help me suss what the freaking deal is with Niagara Syrah.
The colour is a lovely deep, dark ruby. The longer I look at it the longer I want to look at it.
I get a lot of things on the nose! Like, a surprising amount. Let’s do a run down:
- Red fruit (raspberry, cherry, a bit of currant)
- Blackberry and blueberry
- Soft black pepper
- A bit of savouriness, like the cured meat thing I was saying Northern Rhone wines have. Definitely some tangy meatiness going on – yum!
- Some chocolate, hanging out in the background
- Maybe some vanilla too
Whoa. After that much on the nose, what can I expect on the palate?! Turns out it creates a gorgeous throughline, making the whole wine feel complete and whole. I get:
- Lots of that tanginess I smelled, only in addition to the cured meat I also get currant and cranberry
- There’s a softness there too, which might be a sign that the tannins are fine and well-integrated (imagine the difference between a colander and a fine mesh sieve)
- The smoke carries through nicely, along with the red fruit and black pepper
- It’s a really nice, smooth, even wine – nothing is overpowering and every sip makes the wine more and more enjoyable
My guess is it was a conscious choice for Niagara winemakers to call these wines Syrah and not Shiraz. Sure, it’s the same grape, but climate and winemaking techniques really make a difference between blown out ripeness and restrained subtlety. This Niagara Syrah is definitely (and deliciously) the latter.