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Syrah on the march

Published:  23 July, 2008

Plantings of Syrah are on the rise in New Zealand - at the expense of established varieties like Cabernet and Merlot.
The figures were discussed at a seminar titled New Zealand Syrah: New World Fruit, Old World Structure' at the annual trade tasting in London. Pinot Noir is in top spot by a country mile, but Syrah is gaining ground, albeit from a small base, with plantings up 418% since 1998. By 2007, there should be around 265 hectares (ha) of Syrah planted. Merlot is on the wane, plantings having peaked three years ago, while Cabernet has remained static at around the 1,500ha mark.

Steve Smith MW of Craggy Range Winery, who chaired the seminar, said that he was now grubbing up his Merlot vines and replacing them with Syrah. He pointed out that Syrah is:

more accommodating of climate than Cabernet or Merlot;

a vigorous variety that brings high yields when young; and

not particularly disease-prone.

Smith said: Syrah is harvested in New Zealand in April, when it is cool and sunny. The coolness means you keep the aromatics - whereas in countries like Chile, South Africa and Australia, Syrah is harvested when it's still quite warm.'

Sommelier Ronan Sayburn MS said Syrah is a grape that expresses a sense of place well, as in the soft, jammy, rounded' wines in California, and rich, dark, dense' wines in Australia.

Asked why some producers use the word Shiraz, Smith said: The Australians would call it Syrah if they could pronounce it! "It's Shi-raz, mate!"'