Syrah, a grape variety known for its dark, robust, and spicy wines, has found a new and exceptional home in the vineyards of South Africa. Over the past few decades, South African winemakers have been tirelessly perfecting their craft, transforming Syrah into a varietal of extraordinary quality and character. The journey of South African Syrah has been a remarkable one, driven by a combination of favorable terroir, skilled winemakers, and a commitment to innovation.
In South Africa, the versatility of the Syrah grape is highlighted by the choice of labeling. Syrah and Shiraz are, in fact, the same grape varietal, but the labeling distinction is significant. When the wine hails from cooler regions and showcases a more restrained, elegant character, it is typically labeled as "Syrah," drawing inspiration from the classic Old World style. On the other hand, if the winemaker aims to produce a wine with a bolder, fruit-forward, and powerful New World style akin to Australian Shiraz, they opt for the "Shiraz" label. This nuanced approach to labeling underscores the diversity and adaptability of South African Syrah/Shiraz, allowing wine enthusiasts to explore a wide range of expressions within a single grape varietal.
The South African Terroir Advantage
One of the secrets to the exceptional quality of South African Syrah lies in the diverse and unique terroirs found throughout the country. South Africa's wine regions benefit from a wide range of microclimates, soils, and altitudes, offering winemakers a palette of possibilities. The Western Cape, in particular, boasts ideal conditions for Syrah cultivation. Regions like Stellenbosch, and Swartland, and the Bot River region have gained recognition for producing top-quality Syrah grapes.
The Evolution of South African Syrah
South African winemakers have not only capitalized on their terroir but have also continuously improved their winemaking techniques. They have honed their skills through experimentation and education, embracing both traditional and innovative methods to craft exceptional Syrah wines.
One significant factor contributing to the rise in Syrah's quality is the careful selection of clones. By choosing clones that suit their specific terroirs, winemakers have been able to maximize the expression of the grape's character. This meticulous approach has led to the creation of Syrah wines that showcase a spectrum of flavors, from blackberries and plums to peppery spices and smoky undertones.
A Commitment to Sustainability
Another noteworthy aspect of South African Syrah production is the increasing emphasis on sustainability, biodynamic and organic farming. Many wineries, including renowned names like Porseleinberg and Mullineux in Swartland, have adopted environmentally friendly practices to preserve the essence of their vineyards, ensure the longevity of their grapevines, and create wines that are a true expression of their terroir and soils. Sustainability not only benefits the environment but also enhances the overall quality of the grapes and the wines they produce
Recognition on the Global Stage
South African Syrahs are earning international acclaim, catching the attention of wine enthusiasts and critics around the world. In 2020, British wine critic, Tim Atkin MW, awarded 100 points to the Porseleinberg Syrah, the second wine from South African to earn 100 points from an international critic. The wines' distinct South African character, often described as a harmonious blend of Old World elegance and New World vibrancy, has helped them stand out in the competitive global wine market.
In recent years, South Africa has emerged as a powerhouse for exceptional Syrah wines, showcasing the nation's commitment to quality, innovation, and sustainability. The combination of diverse terroirs, skilled winemakers, and a dedication to producing the best possible wines has elevated South African Syrah to a level of exceptional quality. Whether you're a seasoned wine connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of wine, exploring the rich and diverse Syrah offerings from South Africa is a wine adventure worth embarking upon. More importantly, adding them to your cellar collection will, for sure, reward you in the future.