Cool Climate Syrah

Spring is definitely more than in the air, it’s arrived. We know this not only because of the fat lambs dashing around the paddocks, nearly butting their mothers into orbit as they tuck in for milk. Not just because of the blossoms, the daffodils, and Smitty’s winter coat falling out in chunks, providing nesting birds with lovely soft palomino horse fur with which to line their nests. We know this because the syrah, sleeping in six barrels in our winery, is not shrinking as much as it did in the heart of winter.

Larry McKenna of Escarpment fame has been helping us with the syrah. We picked just under two tonnes on May 2nd, destemmed and sorted it at Escarpment (over the Te Muna Road from us) and sloshed it into an open vat. On 23 May Larry pressed approximately 1300 litres and towed the tank over to us at Redbank, where we put it in our own barrels. Larry described it as a good cool climate syrah, with high acidity, and “peppery”.

The wine in the barrels is absorbed into the oak, and shrinks somewhat, so at first we topped it up (you don’t want air at the top of the wine) with the left-over syrah. When that ran out, we used 2006 James Pinot Noir (it’s okay, we’re allowed to do that without mongrelising the syrah).

On Saturday we had a guest staying, who is a senior waiter/wine waiter at Peter Gordon’s Dine Restaurant in Auckland’s Federal St Grand Hotel (got a good review in the Cuisine 100 Best New Zealand Restaurants), and we decided to not only top up the syrah, but taste it as well.

That’s when we noticed we didn’t have too much topping up to do. The wine is warming up, and will stabilise or expand even more. We drew off about quarter of a carafe, and brought it over to the house to rest awhile, and tasted it before dinner.

Yewwesh! Crawwerr! It oakey! It raw! Pepper pepper pepper. That’s got a long way to go, I thought.

Mr Carruthers reacted as if someone had just told him his newborn son was ugly. It will improve, he said, in somewhat injured tones.

Well, if a week is a long time in politics, two days is a long time in syrah. I used some of the syrah that night (Saturday) to make Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce*, then put the carafe up on the shelf for future cooking. Last night I used a bit more to make a mustard, crabapple jelly, and red wine sauce to go with our pork rack (superb, by the way, from Scotties, the local butcher). I left the carafe on the bench.

*Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce (for fillet)

1 cup red wine, 1/2 bay leaf, 1 shallot sliced, 1 tblsp olive oil, 1 cup finely chopped lean meat trimmings, 1 cup finely chopped aromatic veges (celery, onion, carrot), 2 cups beef, chicken or vege stock, 20g softened unsalted butter, freshly ground black pepper.

Heat red wine with bay leaf and shallot and reduce to make 3/4 cup, then set aside. Film heavy-based frying pan with oil and sear meat to brown it extremely well. Scatter over veges. The pan should be hot enough so that the pieces brown rather than stew, and not so hot that they burn. Pour over a third of the stock and stir to release any piece of meat or vegetable that has stuck. The liquid should bubble up furiously and almost evaporate in a minute. While there is still a little liquid, add half remaining stock. This time it should settle to a simmer and there will be the beginnings of a sauce in the pan. Stir again so nothing sticks. After 1-2 minutes add remaining stock and reduced red wine. The liquid should be a reddish brown and start to smell very pleasant. Adjust heat and simmer 5-10 minutes until reduced a little. Strain into saucepan, pressing on contents. Taste. The sauce will taste of wine but should be more complex. Return to rinsed-out pan and boil hard to increase intensity and mature flavours, then drop in butter while still boiling. This will give your sauce ‘eyes’ or shine. Taste for pepper. No need for salt.

About an hour later, half-way through dinner, I noticed the carafe was on the table and empty! Did you drink that? I asked Colin. Yes, he said, surprised I’d asked. That was the syrah, what was it like?

Well, after I’d sloshed it into the cooking, he only had a little left to taste, but he declared it was lovely. He realised it wasn’t pinot noir; thought, this is different, but gee it’s good, and quaffed it.

I wish I’d paid more attention to what was being consumed. I’ll have to wait until our next tasting to give my own verdict, but we think our vineyard might be making a very good, elegant, sophisticated, berryish, peppery, not-too-hot cool climate syrah. Meanwhile, this is what we tasted Saturday night:



One thought on “Cool Climate Syrah

  1. A comment about the “peppery-ness” of the shiraz: While I was involved with grapegrowing I noticed a simiar tendency in a block of malbec. It was planted close to a developing windbreak – high and thick enough to block the wind and higher than the canopy, but not yet fully mature. It was a sloping block and the windbreak began about half way up the hill. The block rows ran East-West. As you progressed up the slope, tasting the fruit, the peppery-ness increased. The obvious differences in the vines was that the unprotected ones were struggling, their canopies not so dense or large. The ones behind the windbreak were monsters by comparison – no big surprise there – though the vines were planted at the same time. The windbreak was a mediterranean type of pine, the name escapes me just now, very thick close foliage. There was grass growing in the final rows before the windbreak, so if any resins from the windbreak trees were being absorbed by the vines, the grass wasn’t noticing. These vines were 3 years old. There were two more blocks of malbec on the vineyard that did not show excessive pepper. They were exposed North-South rows, on a much steeper hill. There was nothing obviously different to the eye about the fruit on these two blocks, except of course the taste. They were managed in the same way.
    We didn’t grow shiraz at all, but another local yard did. Their rows were North-South, the block totally enclosed by tall windbreak since they were on an exposed headland. It recieved direct sun most of the day. The shiraz planted near the western most break did not have any pepper.
    Sure, grapegrowing and winemaking is loaded with possiblities and chances to influence the final wine. Location is everything. I mention these observations to perhaps trigger some reasoning of your own as to why yours has excess “pepper”, if you want to remove it in later vintages.

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