The results in full from the Syrah Masters 2018

We reveal the results in full from this year’s Global Syrah Masters, which saw great names and regions rewarded, as well as some less-familiar areas that are turning out remarkable wines from this wonderful, if somewhat unfashionable grape.

Sampling Syrah: Keith Isaac MW and Jonathan Pedley MW (right)

If one were to draw up a list of the most sought-after, saleable grape varieties in the world right now, I’m saddened to say that Syrah probably wouldn’t feature. Other so-called Mediterranean varieties such as Grenache and Tempranillo seem to elicit more excitement among wine lovers, although all of the above lag Pinot Noir for the ultimate in premium image and general popularity, with Cabernet not far behind.

So why isn’t Syrah more sexy? Based on another major tasting within our Global Masters series for noble grapes, the quality of wine made from Syrah today is not the problem. In fact, of all the red grapes we consider in a raft of annual wine competitions, Syrah consistently yields the most number of Gold medals, and above: we had no fewer than 8 Masters from this year’s tasting. This is remarkable considering the calibre of our judges and the high scores necessary across the board to achieve such a result.

So, if Syrah is the source of delicious wines, surely this grape should be in vogue? Of course, but there are issues around its image, not helped by the fact wines made from the variety are generally labelled Syrah if they are from Europe, and most commonly Shiraz when they are from outside, especially from Australia. This may be yielding some confusion for consumers, and, while there are broad stylistic implications associated with each name, they don’t always hold true. Generally, Shiraz denotes a richer riper style of red from the grape, with Syrah used for something lighter and more floral. But, as our extensive tastings have shown, there are plenty of concentrated wines labelled Syrah, and some of the new styles of Shiraz from Australia, particularly where whole bunches go into the fermenters, can be surprisingly delicate, even Pinot-esque.

Then there’s the grape’s lack of lustre as a producer of fine wine. This is, of course, misplaced: for some, the greatest red wine in the world is made from Syrah: La Chapelle in Hermitage. However, this historic home of the grape, the northern Rhône, produces wines sold according to appellation, eschewing varietal labelling, meaning that some of the world’s best expressions of Syrah don’t actually overtly promote the grape.

Meanwhile, the upmarket image for the grape in the US especially has been damaged by the success of inexpensive Australian Shiraz, particularly sold under the brand Yellow Tail. Or so I’m told. And in this market particularly, where fashion is so important to sales – and wine is almost entirely merchandised by variety – one major player in the market commented that if the wine says Syrah on the label, it doesn’t move, but if you take it off, it can become a best-seller. The implication being that people actually love the taste of Syrah, just not the image.

But while commerciality is key in the wine industry, our Global Masters tastings seek to identify the sources of quality – by place and producer. Now, while the base level may be unusually high for Syrah, there are of course areas where the results are much better than others, and, as this year’s results show, some of these come as no surprise (Barossa, Hermitage), others are a revelation (Turkey, Greece, Switzerland…). So, whatever the source, let’s consider the standouts.

Now, while there were plenty of pleasing reds sub £10, the first Gold medal winners were seen once we had surpassed that key price point. As is so often the case with wine, the price-quality sweet spot comes above £12, and, if I was to choose a price band where you can maximise the amount of wine you can get for your buck, it would probably be beyond £12 and below £19 for Syrah. But even at £15 or lower, we saw some brilliant wines, notably from Washington State’s Ste Michelle, as well as the Barossa (Graham Norton, Andrew Peace, Wakefield/Taylors), Colchagua (MontGras) and Florina in Greece, where it seems that Syrah reaches delicious completion when blended with a touch of this nation’s native Xinomavro at the country’s Alpha Estate.

Over £15 but still below £20, and the number of Golds increased dramatically, with Argentina (Trivento, MP Wines) this time featuring, as well as Turkey (Kavaklidere), and New Zealand (Church Road). Among the blends, we also had our first Master, which was impressive at this still relatively low price, with Kalleske’s Moppa Shiraz benefitting from a touch of Petit Verdot and Viognier, giving some added structure and aromatics respectively to this intense, juicy and soft Barossa Shiraz.

Between £20 and £30, we had no fewer than 14 Golds and one Master, showing the potential for Syrah to perform at the entry-point price-wise of the fine wine market. Noteworthy in this band was the excellence of a Syrah from California, hailing from the Yorkville Highlands AVA, based in the southern Mendocino County, and produced by Copain – a winery within the Jackson family portfolio. Coming close in quality, however, were some more rarified Syrahs from names already mentioned (such as Wakefield/Taylors, Alpha Estate) as well as new ones to the Gold standard (representing Australia’s Barossa were: Jacob’s Creek, St Hugo, Langmeil, Tempus Two; Argentina’s Uco Valley: Trapiche, Salentein; South Africa’s Tulbagh: Saronsberg, and New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay: Craggy Range).

And, coincidentally, between £30 and £50, we had the same tally at the top-end, with 14 Golds and one Master. Regarding the latter, the judges were seriously impressed by the Ebenezer Shiraz from Barossa, and produced in tiny quantities by Hayes Family Wines. The tables show the other lovely wines in this category, but we were pleased to see after the tasting was concluded that great wines from Barossa; the Valais (Switzerland’s Domaines Chevaliers) and Marlborough (New Zealand’s Giesen) had been rubbing shoulders quality-wise with Hermitage (Romain Duvernay).

Once we were over £50, however, we couldn’t help but award a clutch of Masters, with the Barossa’s Savitas and Levantine Hill wowing the judges, as did the Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne from Chapoutier, and the Hickinbotham Brooks Road Shiraz from McLaren Vale – all celebrated wines attracting glorious scores. But there was another region among the Masters, and that was a wine from a relatively new area for top-end Syrah (if becoming famous for great reds from Sangiovese and Merlot) – the Maremma in Toscana. Hailing from Conti di San Bonifacio Sustinet, this turned out to be just on the entry-point of this price band, retailing for £50, making it all the more appealing among these illustrious labels.

Although that was the only Master for Italian Syrah, there were also two Golds in this price category awarded to this country – a delicious sample from Lazio, produced by the Famiglia Cotarella, as well as one from Cortona, made by Fabrizio Dionisio in Toscana.

We were also thrilled to see strong performances from famous names in Syrah such as Mission Estate (New Zealand) and Château Tanunda, Bird in Hand, Langmeil, Henschke, Gatt and Schild Estate (Australia).

In all, the tasting had rewarded the renowned along with the less familiar, as it was talent, not repute, that the Syrah Masters sought to reward through its blind-tasting format.

Please see below for the list of medallists from the Global Syrah Masters 2018.

For more information on this competition, or any of the Global Masters, please contact Sophie Raichura on:
+44 (0)20 7803 2454 / +852 3488 1008, or sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

The judges (left to right): Roberto della Pietra, Tobias Gorn, Jonathan Pedley MW, Keith Isaac MW, Patrick Schmitt MW, Jonny Gibson

Organic Masters 2018: the results in full

We reveal all the medallists from the UK’s only blind tasting for certified organic wines, with some surprising results, including top scores for fizz from Surrey and Champagne aged in the sea, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc blend from Mallorca, plus a stunner from the Minervois.

The Organic Masters 2018 was judged by a panel comprising MWs and one MS at Opera Tavern in London. The judges were (left to right): Sam Caporn MW; Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Susan McCraith MW; Alistair Cooper MW; Beverly Tabbron MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, Clement Robert MS

It’s safe to say that every wine region in the world has at least one producer who employs certified organic viticultural practices – a statement that this year’s Organic Masters certainly lends weight to. With medal-winning samples from a vast array of places, from Surrey in south-east England to the Spanish island of Mallorca, we found greatness in areas little-known for top-end wines, let alone organic vineyard management. Such results also proved that even challenging climates, such as those in the UK and Champagne, can produce class-leading wines using this restrictive approach.

Not only that, but organics spans all price bands, with plenty of entries this year sub-£10, and a handful over £50 too, highlighting that this form of viticulture can be employed to produce wines at the commercial end of the pricing scale, as well as in the territory of fine wine.

Importantly, the tasting proved that being organic, or more accurately, using organically-grown grapes, is a decision that need not be detrimental to quality. Although the choice to eschew synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides does generally leave one more vulnerable to yield losses, it should not negatively affect the style of the resulting wine. In fact, particularly where organic practices are combined with life-enhancing soil management, such an approach should heighten the wine quality, and, as some producers will insist, bring a more accurate reflection of site specifics, or terroir.

Although it is certainly possible to find drawbacks in the organic approach, any ambitious, quality-minded producer should be doing everything possible to augment soil health – after all, it is this substrate that is a great domaine’s most valuable asset.

So with that in mind, who were the star producers that managed to be both certified organic and a source of greatness? In the sparkling category, it was notable how many organic Proseccos we saw in this year’s tasting, and their consistent level of quality, with no fewer than eight Silver medals awarded across a range of price points. We also had a lovely good-value Cava from J. Garcia Carrión, along with a pleasant organic Lambrusco from Cantine Riunite, and, like last year, a brilliant fizz from Oxney, in England’s East Sussex.

But for the very top of the pile, just two Golds were awarded in the sparkling wine sector. One, as one might expect, went to a Champagne – and the biodynamic Leclerc Briant brand, resurrected in 2012 by American investors, and curated by respected sparkling winemaker Hervé Jestin. Although their range of Champagnes are excellent, it was the new cuvée Abyss that gain a top score, a blend that has been aged at the bottom of the sea. The other Gold was more of a shock, awarded to a pink fizz from England. This refreshing, pretty, strawberry-scented sparkling hailed from the organic and biodynamic Albury Vineyard of the Surrey Hills, and the judges felt it was a real find.

As for the still wines, it was exciting to see some good quality and great value organic wines from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, along with some well-known brands, such as Marqués de Cáceres and Quinta de Maipo, as well as longstanding Australian organic-only wine producer, Angove.

It wasn’t until the wines moved beyond the £10 mark that our first Golds were awarded, with, in whites, a wonderful and original sample from Mallorca, comprising Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Prensal Blanc, made by Oliver Moragues. Within the £10-15 category in reds, we saw Golds awarded to wines from areas well-suited to organic viticulture, such as the Languedoc, Sicily, Jumilla and South Africa’s Tulbagh region – the latter from Waverley Hills.

Moving beyond £15, but staying below £20, it was thrilling to unearth a wonderful organic dry Riesling from the Nahe, and, among the reds, a magnificent balanced, gently peppery Syrah from the Minervois, made without the addition of sulphites by biodynamic specialist of southern France, Château Maris. Despite its relative affordability, the judges awarded this latter sample the ultimate accolade, a Master.

At the higher end, over £20, the judges were wowed by a rosé from Domaine la Goujonne in Provence, and a Shiraz from Gemtree Wines in the McLaren Vale.

But our only other Master of the day’s tasting went to a further Syrah and another wine from Château Maris – this time the producer’s top drop, called Dynamic. Such a sample proved not only the quality of this brand, but also the potential of biodynamically-farmed vines in the cru of Minervois La Livinière – the Languedoc’s most celebrated place for Syrah.

In short, the day’s tasting drew attention to the wide range of places where organic viticulture is practised to glorious effect, whatever the wine style. Being organic may not be a guarantee of quality, but it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a farming decision to the detriment of vinous excellence. And this year’s Organic Masters proved that decisively.

Over the following pages are the results in full, followed by details about the competition and comments from the judges. 

Asian Syrah Masters 2017: the results

Syrah, the noble grape variety that has expanded from its home base in the Rhône Valley to inspire ‘Rhône rangers’ in California and feverish followers in South Australia, came under close scrutiny at our Asian Syrah Masters competition.

A cherry-picked panel of judges blind-tasted and assessed a wide array of Syrah samples at Hip Cellar on 29 August. From left to right: Francesca Martin, founder and director of BEE Drinks Global; Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong; Jude Mullins, international development director of the WSET; Darius Allyn, Master Sommelier; Amanda Longworth, head of Marketing & Wine Services, Berry Bros & Rudd, Hong Kong; Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker; Ying-Hsien Tan MW, executive director of Taberna Wine Academy Pte Ltd; Jennie Mack, co-founder of AWSEC and Natalie Wang, online editor of the drinks business Hong Kong (observing).

Many industry heavyweights such as Jancis Robinson MW have suggested the red grape has, “two distinct personalities” – the powerful, rich, and concentrated Shiraz from Australia and the fresher and more perfumed Syrah from the Northern Rhône.

Never having being eulogised as an immensely fashionable grape, as Pinot Noir is, or an overtly adaptable variety like Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape has had its fair share of boom and bust.

Outside of France, in the late 1990s, staunch followers in California dubbing themselves ‘Rhône rangers’  pushed up plantings 400 acres in 1992 to 6,800 acres, followed by waves of increased plantings in Australia and Chile. Yet, almost during the same period in the Languedoc, a mysterious vine disease affecting the grape led critics to speak of “Syrah decline”.

But the resilient red variety has never strayed too far from centre stage and has steadily climbed to be one of the world’s six most planted varieties of either colour. As shown in our Asian Syrah Masters, the grape’s consistency and malleability ranging from almost Pinot-like elegance to high-octane powerhouses demonstrate the variety’s enduring appeal.

This probably explains why the Asian Syrah Masters is the best performing red grape variety competition in our Asian Masters series so far. A cherry-picked panel of judges including wine educators, a Master of Wine, a Master Sommelier and top merchants in Hong Kong, handed out five Masters and 15 Gold medals, 21 Silvers and 29 Bronzes after blind-tasting samples from Switzerland, South Africa, Chile, Australia, Italy and France.

Winemaking skills 

Unlike Pinot Noir, where care and attention is essential in crafting a fine wine, Syrah is relatively more forgiving, which is not to say the variety is tolerant of winemaking faults. In fact, if picked too early, the wine can be too astringent and take on unpleasant whiff of burnt rubber; and due to the fact that it is reduction-prone, without sufficient racking and aeration during fermentation, it can reek of rotten eggs or dirty drain.

But given the choices available to winemakers such as whole bunch fermentation, freedom with new or old oak, use of stem and extraction technique, styles of Syrah can vary vastly, making it, “one of the more exciting varieties for winemakers to work with,” commented Francesca Martin, director of BEE Drinks Global and one of the judges for the competition.

Indeed, from the lighter, fresher style in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie, to lesser known examples from the Valais in Switzerland or Washington State in the US, to the upcoming Swartland in South Africa, and eventually to Australia, there are abundant styles that vary enormously with climate and winemaking techniques.

“In terms of the styles I’m coming across from around the world, the finest examples still show these varietal and regional characteristics that make for interesting individuality,” commented Ying-Hsien Tan MW, executive director of Taberna Wine Academy Pte Ltd.

Darius Allyn MS was one of the judges for our Asian Syrah Masters competition

Amanda Longworth, head of Marketing & Wine Services at Berry Bros & Rudd Hong Kong, agreed: “It can have a lot of colour, and also a lot of tannins – so depending on where it’s from, producers may treat it more like Pinot Noir – to gently extract tannins, or treat it more like Merlot with more assertive extraction techniques such a pumping over.”

“I noticed in this tasting that there were more and more wines that have the distinctive notes of whole bunch and carbonic maceration techniques. It’s really obvious to pick out the wines that are really going for a style that reflects those of the classic Cornas or Hermitage,” added Eddie McDougell, the Flying Winemaker.

But the challenge for winemakers when dealing with the grape is not to mask its regional and varietal characters with excessive winemaking techniques, Tan noted.

“There also seems to be a convergence of techniques by winemakers around the world that emphasises depth of colour, rich fruitiness and in some non-European countries a focus on tannic structure that tends to first, anonymise the wines subduing their regional and varietal distinctiveness and second, a tendency to produce wines that seem to be over extracted without such firm, dry tannins. It often feels like one is chewing on a twisted muscle,” he elaborated.

Nonetheless, “It was interesting to acknowledge how Syrah/Shiraz wines can produce various expressions that could appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers. It is quite rare that Syrah/Shiraz wines disappoint,” Jennie Mack, co-founder of AWSEC asserted.  

Syrah Masters 2015: the results

 A move away from high-alcohol blockbusters towards wines of greater restraint was the keynote of this year’s Global Syrah Masters, writes Lucy Shaw.

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WHILE THE meaning behind the name Syrah is much disputed, DNA profiling at UC Davis in 1998 found the variety to be the offspring of two obscure grapes from south-east France: Dureza from Ardèche and Mondeuse Blanche from Savoie.

Jancis Robinson MW states in Wine Grapes that this crossing first took place in the RhôneAlpes region, most likely in Isère. Syrah’s style and flavour profile vary dramatically depending on where it’s grown.

In cooler climates the wines are medium to full-bodied with notes of blueberry, blackberry, mint and black pepper. In hotter regions like the Barossa Valley, Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known there) has a jammier character, softer tannins and notes of liquorice, spice, prune and leather. Syrah is a vigorous, mid-ripening variety with small berries and a short window for optimum harvesting. Its tannins are much more gentle than Cabernet Sauvignon and it generally has more weight on the midpalate.

The variety thrives all over the world, from Chile and South Africa to Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. While the grape reaches its apogee in Hermitage and the Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône, Syrah has also found a happy home in Australia – with fine examples hailing from the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and the McLaren Vale – having been introduced to the country by James Busby in 1832.

In our inaugural Syrah Masters competition, 150 wines from 14 different countries, including Israel, Turkey, Thailand and Switzerland, were submitted.

Judging took place on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. Served blind and assessed without prejudice about their country of origin, the wines were arranged according to their price band as well as style, from low-priced to high, and unoaked to oaked, in order to make the competition as fair as possible. Furthermore, the varietal Syrahs were assessed separately from the blends.

At the entry level, judges were looking for deep colour, juicy fruit and full-bodied softness.

At the top end, they were seeking the aromatic, perfumed Côte-Rôtie style. Of the 150 wines that entered, 131 received a medal, making it our most successful Masters competition to date. Among them, 25 wines were awarded Gold meals while a quintet scooped the top accolade of Master, three of which hailed from Australia, one from the Rhône and one from the lesser-known Syrah hub of Switzerland.

The majority of wines to enter were from the New World, though there were a decent number of entries from France. Two-thirds of the wines were made from 100% Syrah, the other third being Syrah-dominant blends.

A positive trend to emerge from the tasting was an evolution in the style of New World Syrah towards elegance and restraint and away from the high-alcohol monsters of the past. “If I could use one word to sum up the wines today it would be ‘restraint’, which is a surprise. I was expecting more blockbusters from the New World,” noted Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor, who admitted to being a sucker for the “peppery, floral character” of the Syrahs from the northern Rhône, but also found the Swiss Syrahs to be a “pleasant surprise”.

Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust was also full of praise for the wines on show. “There was a clear progression through the price points and a greater concentration and depth of fruit. Good judgments were made with the winemaking – there was very little overoaking going on. Brett and Syrah often go together, but it was only detectable in a couple of the wines at a low level and contributed to the complexity,” he said. “Some of the wines approached the softness and silkiness of Pinot,” Moss added.

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.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 9 September at Broadway House in Fulham. This report features only the medal-winners

“There were a lot of well-balanced wines in the pack – you don’t need a slab of wildebeest to drink them.” Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines was also pleasantly surprised by the approachability and balance of the wines. “The Australian Shirazes showed more restraint and were far less extracted than I was expecting,” he said.

“The aromatic profile was uplifting and more balanced than I thought – they weren’t blockbusters. People should think again about Syrah. It’s a misunderstood variety. It’s easy to drink on its own and should be on more people’s radars.

“The wines are surprisingly approachable, versatile, have a lot of flavour and are never too tannic. Syrah doesn’t have to be a blend to be a great wine; it’s more of a textural wine, savoury and earthy.” For wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW, the overall quality of the wines on offer was higher than he experienced at The Drinks Business Cabernet Sauvignon Masters earlier this year. “I gave more medals at this tasting than ever as the standard was pretty high,” he said. “There were a lot of Silver and Gold medals.

Syrah is a friendly and more of a forgiving style of wine than Cabernet. When great, Cabernet is magnificent, but the overall quality was higher at this tasting. There weren’t many astringent examples. “Syrah is capable of such extremes – it can have perfumed Pinot elegance or the same structure, density, tannin and acidity levels as Cabernet. For everyday drinking wines, Syrah is like Malbec – a quaffer.

“Most of the reds made today, even at the premium level, are designed to be drunk young and Syrah, with its intense fruit, deep colour, compatibility with oak and rounded, supple tannins, is friendly and approachable young,” he said, admitting like Griffiths, to favouring the style of Syrah from the northern Rhône.

AROMATIC APPEAL

“The thing I love about young Syrah is the pure aromatics. When wines from the Côte-Rôtie really shine they are floral, elegant, graceful and refined,” he said. As for which countries impressed the most, the judges were all pleasantly surprised by the Syrahs from Switzerland, while most were delighted to discover more elegance and restraint from Australia than they were anticipating.

“I was expecting to taste Barossa Shirazes that you could stand a spoon in but there has been a positive stylistic shift towards more elegant wines with a focus on perfume and less use of American oak. There weren’t many wines with that old-school, coconut-style of oak.

“There were a few wines where the alcohol was on the high side but generally they were under control,” noted Pedley. “There’s a great diversity now of Shiraz styles from Australia – the ones from Western Australia tend to be more refined.” The South African Syrahs were another surprise, with Pedley finding “no burnt notes in the wines” as can be the case with reds from the country.

There seemed to be a lack of consistency in the Chilean Syrahs, with the most refined examples coming from the Leyda Valley and the worst falling into the “stewed and jammy” bracket. One of the day’s disappointments was the failure of New Zealand Syrah to wow the judges, with many finding the wines from Hawkes Bay a bit green and short on the finish.

But while the results were overwhelmingly positive, the truth remains that Syrah is a hard sell at the top end as it continues to be blighted by associations with cheap Australian Shiraz, particularly in the US. “There is Syrah planted in California’s Santa Rita Hills that is better quality than the Pinot Noir there but it doesn’t sell for some reason, which is sad,” said Moss. “It’s hard to get people to pay more for premium Syrah but as a variety it is capable of the very highest quality.”

Left to right: Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association; Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines; Michael Palij MW of Winetraders; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor of the drinks business; Lucy Shaw, managing editor of the drinks business; Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor; Adrian Garforth MW of Blackrock Wines; Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Robert MacCulloch MW of Domaine Direct; and wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW

The judges (left to right): Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association; Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines; Michael Palij MW of Winetraders; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor of the drinks business; Lucy Shaw, managing editor of the drinks business; Alun Griffiths MW, international director for Beijing’s Vats Liquor; Adrian Garforth MW of Blackrock Wines; Anthony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Robert MacCulloch MW of Domaine Direct; and wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW

Please click through for the results; page one for unoaked Syrah and Syrah blends, pages two and three for oaked Syrah and pages four and five for oaked Syrah blends.

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

Syrah Masters 2017: the results in full

While it may be less popular than other red grape varieties, Syrah, or Shiraz, is made by producers who really have a passion for the wine type, as the expressions in our annual Syrah Masters prove. By Patrick Schmitt MW


Of all the major red grapes, Syrah must be the hardest to classify. Not only does if have two names – Syrah and Shiraz – but each reflects a different personality. This is a variety that can produce restrained and delicate wines, or, depending on climate and treatment, something rich and powerful.

In terms of pure quality too, it can display different extremes, yielding something simple and inexpensive, or fine and pricey – indeed, it can make the greatest varietal reds in the world after Pinot. Purely in terms of image, however, Syrah doesn’t have the pulling power of Pinot.

While people may love the wines of the northern Rhône, and crave the complexities of Hermitage, they don’t tend to eulogise about Syrah itself – which is, of course, the base grape of these great French wine regions. As for Shiraz, this is associated with the juicy generosity of Aussie reds, but people forget such ripeness can be reached in other places, from California to Tuscany.

And they also sometimes fail to remember that Syrah can make elegant wines outside of its European heartland of the Rhône, something proven by the increasing number of refreshing examples from New Zealand – particularly Hawke’s Bay – and coastal Chile, above all Leyda and Limarí.

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, style too, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. The best wines were awarded medals that 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 20 July at Bumpkin in London’s South Kensington

Its many faces, of course, make it interesting to blind taste. Where does it excel, which styles emanate from which areas, and what are the overarching winemaking trends with this grape? All were questions answered by our Syrah Masters 2017. Initially though, one thing that is clear from this year’s competition is the sheer quality of Syrah being produced today. Indeed, there isn’t a Global Masters with better results – it yielded the highest number of Golds and Masters in the series so far.

That may be connected to the complexities of commercialising Syrah. In essence, it is only produced by people who love the grape, and in places where it performs brilliantly, quite simply because, at the moment, it’s not particularly easy to sell.

It should be said that there were wines in this year’s Syrah Masters that failed to gain top medals. Sometimes that was because there was a green pepper and olive character that verged on the bitter, no doubt because the grapes were picked a little too early. At other times it was because of a sulphurous whiff that didn’t clear with swirling – Syrah is a grape that is prone to producing sulphur dioxide either during or after fermentation. And then there were wines with raisined flavours and elevated alcohol levels, examples where it was clear the berries were exposed to excessive sun, or the bunches were harvested too late.

WINES WITH BALANCE
Also, a few wines had seen too much new oak, masking the inherent characters of the variety with barrel-sourced flavours, particularly vanillin. But such negatives were rare. In the main, the judges witnessed wines with balance, albeit in different styles, which in turn were reflective of a range of source areas.

Not only that, but they also enjoyed the characters of sensitively handled Syrah, from its black pepper, black cherry and blackberry flavours, to its firm tannins, intense colour, and bright acidity. As for where Syrah excels, the results confirm what the professionals doubtless expect: the best wines were from the Northern Rhône, the Barossa, and the aforementioned areas of New Zealand and Chile.

The surprises were the quality of wines possible with this grape in parts of South Africa, Italy and Portugal, with a Gold-medal-winning example from the Alentejo.

THE SWEET SPOT
Considering the price bands, Syrah can make good wines at low cost, but it seems there is a sweet spot for this grape at £15-£20, with two Masters achieved at what is a relatively low price for an outstanding wine. Because of the high number of top scoring samples, mentioning all the Gold and Master winners in this article would risk producing little more than a list.

Nevertheless, certain names are worth picking out. In particular Wakefield Wines for their juicy but refreshing range of high-quality wines at price points from around £10 up to almost £50. Also, the skill of Penfolds with Syrah shone in this blind tasting, particularly its St Henri Shiraz, which, without the sweetness of ageing in new oak barriques, provides a pure expression of great Australian Shiraz in all its juicy, spicy and textured glory.

Langmeil too, showed the wonders of Australian Shiraz from the Barossa, as did Château Tanunda, Kalleskie and Yalumba, while Yangarra highlighted the brilliance of the same grape grown in the McLaren Vale, and McGuigan the complexity of Shiraz from the Hunter Valley.

Jacob’s Creek too proved its ability to craft lovely Shiraz at accessible price points when blended across south Australia, particularly this brand’s innovative ‘double barrel’ range, which sees its wines finished in aged whiskey barrels. Beyond Australia, New Zealand wowed with several examples of Hawkes Bay Syrah, particularly from Church Road and Elephant Hill, while South Africa impressed with its examples from Saronsberg in Tulbagh and Cloof in Darling.

More surprising was the great Syrah blend from Monte Da Ravasqueira in the Alentejo and a varietal example from Planeta in Sicily. In short, the Global Syrah Masters highlighted the best places for this grape, the top producers, as well as the quality available in the market. It also showed that the more you pay, the better the wine.

This may sound like an obvious point, but with some grapes in the Global Masters, this isn’t the case. In other words, Syrah is a safe bet at all prices, but a particularly savvy choice for fine wine lovers.

The judges (left-right)
Patrick Schmitt MW, the drinks business; Emma Symington MW, Wine Australia; Patricia Stefanowicz MW, consultant; Clément Robert MS, 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen; Matthieu Longuère MS, Le Cordon Bleu; Ana Sapungiu MW, Oddbins; Tobias Gorn, Boisdale; Beverly Tabbron MW, Hallgarten Druitt; Clive Barlow MW, consultant

Over the following pages are the results in full from this year’s Syrah Masters, along with comments from the judges.

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