The 16th of February is International Syrah Day and at Ken Forrester, Syrah is key to the red wine offerings. This cultivar, also known as Shiraz in other parts of the world, had a mysterious origin story for much of its life and is one of the noble varietals, found in almost every wine region of the world.
For a long time, it was believed that Syrah came from the Iranian town of Shiraz, once the capital of the Persian Empire, and then brought to the Rhône region of France. It took a team of researchers in 1998 to do genomic studies to find the parents to be lesser-known grape varieties Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche from Southeast France. This region is where we find the Rhône wine region, which is famous for single-varietal Syrah in the North and blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre in the South. The North has steep hills and a cooler climate while the south is hot with rolling topography and a cooling influence from the Mistral winds.
Ken Forrester is located in Stellenbosch, close to False Bay and overlooked by the Helderberg. The region so closely resembles Southern Rhône, with its rolling land and summer heat cooled by the oceanic winds, making a Mediterranean micro-climate. This creates an ideal environment to grow quality Syrah that is allowed to gently reach full ripeness that ensures full fruit character with soft tannins and a more elegant style of wine.
Although Syrah and Shiraz are the same cultivars, we see a difference in interpretation depending on the microclimate and style of wine. Syrah is an Old World expression that is more elegant and lighter in body like Rhône Syrah, while Shiraz is a New World expression with more intensity, riper aromas and a fuller body typical of Shiraz from South Africa and Australia.
At Ken Forrester, Syrah and Shiraz expressions are used in three Rhône blends.
Shiraz plays the leading role in the Reserve Range Renegade with a hint of the Grenache’s earthy rusticity and the Shiraz’s noble spice with nutmeg and salty black olive on the finish.
Three Halves, in our Cellar Exclusive range, is led by the earthy Mourvèdre, followed by spicy Shiraz, and lifted by fruity Grenache, making this wine greater than the sum of its parts.
Syrah plays a supporting role, albeit not from the backseat, in the Icon range Gypsy. The Gypsy is led by Grenache with a wild bramble and concentrated red-fruit character, elevated by nutmeg, cinnamon, dark spices, with vanilla scents.
Ken Forrester’s Rhône blends are a perfect example of the depth of character that Syrah and Shiraz bring to a blend and are perfect for raising a glass in celebration of this noble cultivar, especially for International Syrah Day.