Wine Pick Photo Credit: Western Living

$100 Can Buy You 3 Great Bottles of Syrah

For your next dinner party, lay down a C-note to see the dramatic difference in style of this versatile grape.

The Vancouver International Wine Festival is over for another year and yet again my favourite part was not wandering the cavernous tasting room, but sneaking into the side rooms where the seminars take place. It’s here where I can sit down, relax and really ponder some of the great stuff on offer—like 11 ultra-premium syrahs from every corner of the globe. Tasting them all together is such a treat because it shows you how terroir, climate, the use of oak and dozens of other factors can effect how a particular syrah is going to taste and it occurred to me that on a small scale this would be the perfect dinner party trick, paired down in number and price, but still illustrative of the major stylistic interpretations.

A Sexy Syrah: Laughing Stock Syrah 2012 $36

Laughing Stock has built one of the best reputations in the Okanagan with their serious, complex Bordeaux blend, Portfolio. But just like no one knew De Niro could be funny until late into his career (I’m pegging it at Midnight Run), proprietors David and Cynthia Enns are at risk of overshadowing their benchmark wine with one of the most deft and interesting syrahs in the Okanagan. This is the sexy side of syrahs—they follow the Cote Rotie style from the northern Rhone and add a small (under 5% ) amount of the white grape viognier and it creates an intoxicating perfumed nose, very silky and seductive. It lacks the concentration of a top notch Cote Rotie, but it’s also 1/8 the price and is still and very interesting wine on the palate, with orange peel and spice being prominent.

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A Peppery Syrah: Sacred Hill Vineyards Halo Hawke’s Bay Syrah $30

It’s been a long time since I’ve ever nosed a syrah where the peppery character was as prominent as it was in this wine. Its smells like it’s just out of the grinder, but the spice melds into this wines light body exceptionally well. Hawke’s Bay syrah is one of my secret loves (a bottle of Craggy Range’s Le Sol sealed the deal a few years back) and this low-alcohol little number is as deft on its feet as can be. It still has sufficient structure and just the smallest hint of violet but this wine clearly is most comfortable showing it’s spicy side.

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The Blockbuster Syrah: D’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz 2011 $24

To be honest, the Aussie Shirazes at the tasting were all too pricey for this experiment, so I retreat to an old standby that can wave the big bold Aussie style with aplomb (although its pretty restrained version by some Oz standards). This wine is not sexy (although there are some floral notes), and any pepper needs to be sought through a mouthful of fresh fruit but, boy oh boy, if you like ripe, juicy fruit this wine delivers.

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The beauty is there’s no right answer. All of these syrahs are well made and exhibit the balance to prove it—you just have to find which expression speaks to you.

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