Kiwi syrah gets a push

Man O’War’s Dreadnought syrah vineyard (Photo: Bob Cambell MW)

Representatives from 13 wineries and five wine regions visited Auckland bearing bottles of syrah. Calling themselves “We say Syrah” their mission was to increase the profile of a “great, if not yet fully appreciated, New Zealand wine.”

The wines were:

It was a stunning lineup. Not a dud in sight and many outstanding wines. The winemakers explained that NZD $70+ syrah sells well and syrah below NZD $20 “rockets out the door”, but mid-priced wines are a hard sell. It is much easier to sell pinot noir with an NZD $30-40 price tag than equivalently priced syrah.

In 2017 the national vineyard includes 5,653 hectares of pinot noir, making it the second most planted variety after sauvignon blanc. Syrah has just 431 hectares – our seventh most important grape variety. On the other hand, the acreage of syrah has grown significantly faster than pinot noir in the last decade. Syrah has jumped by 55% compared to 21.6% for pinot noir.

Are we in danger of running out of the sort of vineyard land that produces serious syrah? The winemakers present didn’t think so.

Winemakers were divided on whether co-fermenting syrah with a little viognier makes a better wine. Some do it, others don’t. There was general agreement that any mention of viognier should be hidden away on the back label to avoid confusing consumers. Regional and subregional differences in syrah are more significant than the influence that viognier makes to the wine.

I have a lot of faith in simply stacking our best syrah up against benchmark styles from other parts of the world and letting critics and consumers decide whether New Zealand is serious about syrah. They can only reach one conclusion.

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