Friday, May 22, 2015

2 Surprisingly Different Ways to Make Syrah

  1. Type of Grape
  2. Climate
  3. Winemaker Choices
Recently I tasted 2 Syrahs which perfectly illustrate what happens when you take the same grape, grown in the same climate, and apply different winemaking techniques. These 2 Syrahs come from Chile. One is red, and one is rosé. Syrah is an uncommon choice for making rosé. Apart from reading the label, I'm not sure I'd have known that these wines came from the same grape.

These 2 wines were made by the Emiliana Winery in Chile as part of their "Natura" line, which focuses on grapes grown organically and sustainably. (Full disclosure: these wines were sent to me as samples.)

The primary difference between any red and rosé wine is skin contact. The red wine ferments with the grape skins sitting in the juice. The rosé wine has the skins removed from the juice after a few hours. (For more detail about the 3 primary ways to make a rose winé, check out my article on

2013 Natura Syrah

This red is made from 100% Syrah grapes. It has aromas of dark fruits like blueberry and blackberry, vanilla, and leather. 

On the palate, it also tastes of dark fruits, but with some tartness. It has medium body, medium-to-high acid, a good bit of tannin, and a fairly high alcohol content at 14% abv.

This is a nice Syrah, with the characteristics that are expected from the grape. Like many big wines, it benefits from breathing in the glass (or aeration), or could be held back to age for several years.

2014 Natura Rosé

This rosé is made from 85% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Syrah is clearly taking center stage. It has aromas of strawberry, cherry, some minerality, and a hint of lime. There's also a touch of something herbal or vegetal on the nose, which comes from the Cabernet.

On the palate you can taste tart red fruits, with a lot of acidity, and a bit more tannin than I'm used to in a rosé. The level of alcohol was also higher than most rosés at 13.5% abv.

It's fun to see what happens with less skin contact. The higher-than-average levels of tannin and alcohol in this rosé make sense, since Syrah grapes have thick skins and are known for making big, powerful wines. From the red to the rosé the fruit character changes from darker fruits to red fruits, and the minerality and hint of lime were a surprise. 

This kind of comparative tasting reminds us that the juice from red grapes is clear, and could be made into a white wine. Tasting these wines together, we get a hint of what pure Syrah juice might taste like if it were fermented as a white wine, and we get to experience some Syrah flavors that normally don't get to express themselves. 

The best wine tastings teach you something interesting about wine overall. And often the best way to do that is to select wines that all have several characteristics in common, with just one difference, so you can see how that difference impacts the wine. In this case, the grape and climate were the same, but the winemakeing techniques differed.  For more ideas on how to set up comparative tastings like this, check out my article "Building a Better Wine Tasting."

For more about Emiliana, I wrote a longer post a few years ago about some of their other wines. And I can't mention Emiliana without linking to their extremely cool interactive biodynamic/organic vineyard.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sixty-One: An IPA Brewed with Syrah Grape Must

Dogfish Head makes exciting and innovative beer, some of which I've written about before (here, here, and here). Ironically, many of their beers are inspired by ancient recipes. This one involves a combination of beer and wine, so of course I had to try it.

The Dogfish Head web site tells me that the idea for this beer, called Sixty-One, came about when the brewery president ordered a 60 Minute IPA and a glass of his favorite red wine. On a whim he poured a little of the wine into his beer and liked what he tasted.

Sixty-One is a "continuously hopped India Pale Ale brewed with Syrah grape must." It truly does taste like someone poured a little wine in your beer, and if you think that sounds awful, you're in for a pleasant surprise. It's actually delicious.

On the nose we have typical IPA aromas like bitter herbs and citrus, combined with rich, fruity black cherry aromas from the Syrah. On the palate we also have some typical IPA flavors, like grapefruit and hops, but with a rich fruitiness. 

Don't worry - it's not sweet at all! But it is strongly flavored. Due to the wine component, it has additional acid and tannin on top of an already strongly-flavored-and-hopped beer. Dogfish Head was wise in this case to leave the abv at 6.5% rather than increase it, as many craft breweries do with their strongly flavored concoctions. More alcohol would have made Sixty-One tough to drink. As it is, it goes down dangerously easily, despite the strong flavors.

If you're either a wine geek or a beer nerd, this is a must-try. (I promise I wrote that without noticing the pun. But I take full responsibility for leaving there after I noticed.)