Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: New World – Syrah & Grenache

Drinks: Wines

Some very good wines here, with our tasters generally favouring those from the cooler climates and the mid-price points over expensive blockbusters

There’s a school of thought that Syrah is the grape varietal that is most interesting to the New World’s winemakers at the moment. Cabernet is boring, Pinot’s a pain in the arse, but Syrah gives them the chance to make something different, punter-friendly and (relatively) easy.

And on the evidence of the wines submitted here, the New World should persevere, because the tasters were pretty impressed for the most part. And since every country bar Argentina got a Syrah on the Shortlist, it augurs well for the progress that’s being made with the grape all round the New World.

Although only two wines made the Gold List, this was more the result of tough judging than any inherent problems with the category. A few of the mid-priced wines, in particular, can consider themselves unlucky.

In fact, one of the reasons that the sommeliers were generally pretty positive about the Syrah flights was that many of the wines were not overtly New World in style. The wineries had made a real effort to capture some of the slightly cooler-climate spicy Rhône character rather than go for the full-on Aussie blockbuster. Indeed, nothing from McLaren Vale or the Barossa even made it onto the Shortlist, which was a surprise, and spoke volumes about what the on-trade wants from its Syrah. 

‘These definitely were towards the cooler end of the spectrum, which is good in food terms,’ said Peter McCombie MW. ‘You get acidity and not-too-high tannins.’

In fact, the only real weakness of this flight was at the upper end, where the sommeliers voiced their by now familiar criticism that the wines were ‘trying too hard’. In other words, high extraction, big concentration and lots of oak rather than spectacular innate character. There was a feeling, though, that this would come with time and a bit more vine age.

‘ I didn’t think these wines were all from the New World – and if they were, then that’s good!’ said team leader and wine consultant Mike Palij MW.

I found some quite meaty, savoury Old World styles of wine, with good generosity and nice purity.’ Ivan Dixon, Harvey Nichols

I think there was great strength here, even though we marked some of them out. We had to be tough because the standard was high.’ Michael Moore, Michael Moore Restaurant


Hawkes Bay Syrah 2007, Tinpot Hut, Marlborough, New Zealand
£9.62 @ Liberty Wines

Still quite tight at its heart, but some attractive aromatic, violet characters as well as the smoky bacon, eucalyptus, herb and coffee bean. Dense, chewy and rather youthful, but undeniably serious and very good.

1865 Single Vineyard Syrah Cachapoal Valley 2006, Vina San Pedro, Cachapoal Valley, Chile
£14.80 @ Les Grands Chais De France

Quite oaky still, with a pot-pourri note rather dominating the fruit at the moment, but with time the hesitant liquorice, blackcurrant and pepper notes will show more strongly and this will really blossom. ‘It’s already intense and very long,’ mused Andrew Catchpole.


Zoetendal Wines Shiraz 2007, Zoetendal Wines, Elim, South Africa
£6.99 @ Waverley TBS

Pretty and perfumed, a more feminine style than most of its peers, with violet, pepper, blueberry and liquorice aromas. ‘Stylish and value for money,’ said Ivan Dixon.

Vidal Syrah 2007, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
£7.44 @ Hatch Mansfield

Purple, rounded, soft and easy-drinking with lovely ripe fruit and wafts of spearmint and riding tack. Cool, and peppery, it will be better still with food. ‘Shin of beef,’ concluded Roger Jones.

Tabali Reserva Especial Shiraz 2007, Limari Valley, Chile
£8.10 @ Boutinot Ltd

Polished new oak adds a coffee character to the plum-jam flavours of the fruit. Some peppery tarriness comes through on the palate. ‘Juicy and intense, with violets, pepper and ripe tannins,’ said Dario Buonavoglia.

Morgan Cotes Du Crow’s Grenache/Syrah 2006, Monterey County, California, USA
£10.50 @ Bibendum Wine Ltd

Rustic and bretty, there’s more than a nod to old-style Rhône here. ‘Earthy, evolved and quite elegant,’ said Stephen Nisbet.

T.H. Syrah 2006, Undurraga, Maipo, Chile
£10.99 @ De Bortoli (UK) Ltd

Plenty of oak in here still – a bit young – but it’s a complex wine that’s still developing and is well worth a look. ‘Hugely drinkable,’ approved Michael Palij MW.

Esk Valley Black Label Syrah 2006, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
£11.99 @ Hatch Mansfield

Another Old World-style Syrah, big on the twist of the pepper mill, and maybe needing a little more time. ‘Thyme, herbs and liquorice,’ said Laurene Amiet.

Casa Marin Syrah 2006, Casa Marin, San Antonio Valley, Chile
£12.72 @ Boutinot Ltd

Perfumed cassis, tobacco and white pepper nose with a slight funky edginess to it. Velvety and sexy, but with a surprising freshness to it as well, this ticked a lot of boxes for our tasters.

Editorial feature from the Sommelier Wine Awards 2009.

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