Vin de France & Grape Varieties


Encyclopedia of French Grape Varieties

{ Red Wine } { Rosé Wine }

Red Rosé

This grape variety originates from the geographical area between Valence, Lyon and Dauphiné. According to published genetic analyses, it is a crossbreed of Mondeuse Blanche, a variety from Savoy, and Dureza Noir, an ancient variety from Ardèche, to the north of Valence. It is thus not from the region of Shiraz, in Iran, which lends its name to some Australian wines.

Syrah's typical varietal aromas of violet, blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant are well known. Nonetheless, many other flavors can be distinguished in these wines, such as black olive pâté, smoky and peppery notes, and lovely aromatic hints of peat and graphite. With age, wines made with Syrah also take on gamier notes, as well as leather and truffle.

Wines produced
Syrah can be used to obtain red wines with a good degree of alcohol and moderate acidity that can age for many years thanks to their prominent tannins. Its wines are often of extremely high quality. Their color is generally intense, dense and dark with a hint of bluishness. They stand out thanks to their aromatic complexity and the subtlety of their tannins, which are strong yet silky. Syrah is thus a grape variety that can keep for many years, and ageing it in oak barrels rounds out its tannins and enriches it aromatic potential. Syrah N can also be used to make very fruity, intriguing rosé wines.

Areas planted
Syrah is an extremely versatile grape variety. It is nonetheless found in rather warm climates with relatively low humidity, which thus excludes the cool oceanic climates of northwestern and southwestern France. It is found throughout southern France and Mediterranean perimeter, from the Pyrenees to Nice, as well as in Corsica. Syrah is also grown in smaller quantities in some vineyards of the eastern edge of southwestern France, not far from Toulouse, where the continental influence is stronger. Production of Syrah has increased continuously and spectacularly in France – by far the world’s leading producer – soaring from 1,600 hectares in 1958 to more than 67,500 in 2006.

Budding and ripening
Syrah is a late variety that buds 7 days after Chasselas, the benchmark. Syrah ripens two and a half weeks after Chasselas, making it a Period II grape variety.

Syrah is a grape variety that has low fertility but good vigor. Its best yields are obtained at less than 40 hectoliters per hectare and it is difficult to obtain more in Mediterranean regions and areas that are generally infertile with poor soils. Syrah grows long branches that are fragile in the springtime winds, which are common in the Mediterranean area. It should thus be planted in areas that are protected from the wind. The limit the risks, it should be carefully trained if pruned long (with a cordon). Short pruning (head pruning) is enough in most cases, particularly in southern regions. The optimum harvesting period is quite short.

Preferred soils
Syrah is susceptible to chlorosis, and is thus poorly adapted to soils with high active limestone content. In this case, blending with the 110 R rootstock must be avoided. More generally, this variety fares better in rocky, shallow, well-drained soils. Granite or schist soils mixed with clay, which are more acidic, suit it perfectly. These soils lend wines made from Syrah a mineral quality that is highly sought after by enthusiasts. It seems that soils with a high proportion of schist lead to more robust, tannic wines, with a greater potential for ageing, whereas sandy, granitic soils provide wines that are more delicate and flavorful.

Ideal Climate
This variety ripens quickly, which is illustrated by a relatively short period between véraison (the French term for the point at which grapes change color) and ripeness. Climates that can help extend this phase essential to its metabolism, with cooler nights at the end of summer, favor the harvest of highly concentrated grapes that promise great wines. On the whole, Syrah fares best in climates that have moderately warm and sunny summers with more continental characteristics. It should thus be grown further from the Mediterranean littoral.

Susceptibility to disease and pests
Syrah is quite susceptible to mites and to gray mold, especially at the end of the ripening period. It presents a specific risk of vine stock exhaustion, characterized by reddening of the leaves accompanied by cracks at grafting points, which can in the long term cause the vine stocks to die. The causes of this exhaustion remain unknown and, to date, no pathogens have been isolated. Nonetheless, various Syrah clones have displayed extremely different behaviors.

Syrah is used only to produce wine.

Distinctive features
To recognize Syrah, we can look at the tips of its young shoots, which are densely covered in flat-lying hairs. We can also recognize the variety by its young leaves, which are green. New shoots have a ribbed surface with long, green internodes. Syrah's adult leaves have five lobes and an open petiolar sinus whose base sometimes borders the petiolar point. Syrah's lateral sinuses are open, with short to medium-length teeth that have convex sides. There is no anthocyanic pigmentation of the veins, and the blade leaf sometimes has a waffle-like texture. On the underside of the leaves, there is a sparse to moderately dense cover of flat-lying hairs. Syrah's berries are small and oblong, and its bunches are small to medium in size.

Clones marketed
The sixteen approved Syrah clones (specifically namede Syrah N) are numbers 73, 99, 100, 174, 300, 301, 381, 382, 383, 470, 471, 524, 525, 585, 747 and 877. A conservatory of more than 600 clones was planted in 1995 in Drôme. An additional conservatory with some fifty clones was set up in Rhône in 2002.

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