Syrah: best BC Iconic Reds
When Alex Nichol planted the Okanagan’s first Syrah in 1990 on the Naramata Bench, it is probable that his peers thought he was daft.
A generation later, the variety has established itself as one of best red varieties for B.C. wine, especially when grown in the South Okanagan or the Similkameen Valley.
About 530 acres of Syrah are grown. The production in 2018 totalled 2,034 tons, or five percent of the total wine grape crop. Numerous wineries now make Syrah (a few call it Shiraz).
Recently, former wine store owner Simon Wosk teamed up with Norman Wood, who runs the Sutton Place Wine Merchant, to stage a tasting competition of 19 B.C. Syrahs.
At the now-closed Sip Wines in Richmond, Simon and the late John Levine began sponsored tastings in 2008 of Meritage wines, under the banner, BC Iconic Reds. In recent years, that annual tasting has been continued at the Sutton Place hotel.
This year, Simon and Norman expanded the BC Iconic Reds concept to a tasting of Syrah. About 60 wine enthusiasts attended to assess the wines in a blind tasting. Their votes produced a ranking of the top six wines.
The other wines in the competition are listed alphabetically here. My notes suggest all 19 wines had considerable merit. It is clear that Syrah has found a home in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.
Here are the results of the tasting. Some of the vintages are sold out but most are available from the wineries and from Sutton Place Wine Merchant.
1. Sunrock Vineyards Shiraz 2015 ($34). My notes: Big and ripe, this wine begins with generous aromas of plum, fig and black cherry mingled with black pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of dark fruits, vanilla and oak. Note that the current vintage of this is 2016.
2. BC Wine Studio Siren’s Call Syrah 2015 ($35). Winery notes: Sourced from Vineyards near Cawston, BC, and Osoyoos, BC, this wine was aged 17 months in 100% new American oak barrels, and boasts elegance, finesse and classic varietal characteristics of pepper and spice. It is clean, rich and full of dark red fruit.
3. Road 13 Syrah 2016 ($43.48). Winery notes: This classic Northern Rhone style Syrah delivers richness, elegance, balance, and freshness with an impressively long finish.
4. Painted Rock Syrah 2016 ($39.99). Winery notes:Aromas of ripe red fruit and florals jump out of the glass with raspberries, cherries, blackberries, and rose water. Rounded and rich on the palate with ripe, silky tannins with further flavours of cracked pepper, vanilla and toasted coconut. Lingering pepper and baking spices on the finish.
5. Laughing Stock Syrah 2016 ($36.99). Winery notes: 100% estate grown on our Perfect Hedge vineyard in Osoyoos, the style is inspired by Cote Rotie in Northern Rhone, blending 95% Syrah with 5% Viognier. This classic technique gives the nose a floral lift and softens the pepper note ever so slightly.
6. Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2015 ($34.99). My notes: The wine begins with aromas of cherry and fig mingled with spice and herbal notes. On the palate, the wine is rich with savoury flavours of dark fruit.
Black Hills Syrah 2016 ($39.99). Winery notes: This vintage of Syrah is elegant, offering notes of blackberry, blueberry, and black & white pepper on the nose with hints of cocoa and eucalyptus lingering in the background. Soft, supple tannins dominate the palate with rich black fruit carrying through for a mouth-watering finish.
Bonamici Reserve Syrah 2016 ($45). My notes: This is a bold wine with aromas of plum, fig and vanilla. There is ripe dark fruit on the juicy palate.
Church & State Syrah 2016 ($39.90). Winery notes:This bright and vibrant wine is a rising star in our books, and will only show more personality with additional time in the bottle. Already, it is showing great character through its inky purple colour. Expect a bouquet of flavour on the nose including; dried fruits, subtle spice, leather and cedar. The velvety tannins are well balanced, finishing with a good amount of length.
Gold Hill Syrah 2013 ($34.99). My notes: The winery begins with aromas of dark fruits mingled with pepper. On the palate, bold oak supports flavours of fig and cherry.
Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2016 ($28.95). Winery notes: Our Syrah is crafted in the traditional Rhône style with a dose of Viognier added for enhancing aromatics and flavours. This vintage has deep aromas of ripe raspberry, blueberry, white pepper an violet. An elegant palate follows with ripe fruit flavours of blackberry and blueberry, followed by earthy notes along with pepper, anise and smoked meat.
Hillside Syrah 2016 ($28). Winery notes: Crafted from grapes grown in our Hidden Valley vineyard our 2016 Syrah opens with black raspberry and notes of clove and espresso which interweave with black current and a touch of cardamom on the palate. Elegant fine-grained tannins lead into a powerful juicy finish.
Kettle Valley Stern Syrah 2015 ($38). Winery notes:The grapes for this wine come primarily from the Stern vineyard in Naramata. The vineyard was farmed at two tons to the acre resulting in very concentrated flavours. The grapes were hand picked on September 18, 2015 at approximately 25.4 brix. The wine has gone through a full malolactic fermentation and was aged in French oak for 20 months before being bottled. Total production: 45 cases.
Le Vieux Pin Cuvée Violette Syrah 2017 ($30.99). Winery notes: Cuvée Violette, as the name suggests, displays the perfumed and floral side of this noble grape variety. The palate is silky smooth thanks to a gentle co-ferment with just under 1% Viognier. The focus is on the feminine and graceful qualities of Syrah coming to the foreground. In the cellar we kid around and call this wine a Syrah for Pinot Noir lovers. Crunchy bramble fruit and purple flowers mingle with pepper and spice. Red bramble fruits burst on the nose and on the palate.
Phantom Creek Syrah 2016 ($75). Winery notes:Phantom Creek Vineyard has played a pivotal role in establishing Syrah as one of the Okanagan’s signature grape varieties. With only 1.2 acres planted, we produced a meagre four barrels of Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah in 2016. This wine captures the variety’s floral and savoury signature with the desert sage of the South Okanagan.
Poplar Grove Syrah 2015 ($30.35). My notes: There are appealing floral notes on the aroma. The palate swaggers with flavours of plum, fig and cherry mingled with a hint of pepper.
The Hatch Black Swift The Long Road Syrah 2015($49.99). Winery notes: All de-stemmed after gentle sorting at the winery, this wine was fermented slowly at 25 degrees Celsius to fully maximize extraction of the abundantly ripe fruit. After fermentation was complete, the wine was finished in a mix of new and older French oak (50/50) for 16 months. This vintage has an incredible mixture of concentration and elegance. Despite the intensity at this stage, the wine remains beautifully smooth and pleasant to drink at this point, but shows enough stuffing to it that indicates it will have a long and complex life ahead.
Thornhaven Syrah 2015 ($30). Winery notes:Platinum National Award Winner 2018 – blackberry, cherry, vanilla and cloves. medium-bodied.
Winemaker’s CUT Syrah 2017 ($34). The aroma begins with notes of smoked deli meats which are echoed on the palate. This is a robust, gamy red with hints of pepper on the finish.
We are honoured that Mr Schreiner, a fine gentleman and true supporter of Canada's wines, allows use to use his articles.
By John Schreiner
reprinted with permission