Wine lovers are not known for their enthusiasm at 8:30am, but Patrick Comiskey and Doug Frost got a theatre full of people laughing and excited about Syrah on a Friday morning. Trust me, it wasn’t the iced coffee and pastries in the lobby that did it! Geology and geography can be interesting and enlightening, even in the morning, when it comes to the World of Syrah.

World of Syrah Kick-off

World of Syrah Kick-off

Patrick Comiskey started The World of Syrah The Kick-off by acknowledging Duane Wollmuth, who started Celebrate Walla Walla five years ago. Duane passed shortly after last years Celebrate Walla Walla. Then, Patrick began singing the praises of wild and funky Syrah. He made no secret of his love for Syrah on the wild side.  Patrick strongly believes that Syrah that is weird, is Syrah that succeeds, giving Cayuse as a prime example. He makes the important distinction that:

The Syrah taste needs to be weird NOT the marketing, especially marketing that masks sweet Syrah.  Some wine makers get confused about that which further confuses the consumer.

What makes Syrah ‘Weird’?

Vineyard in The Rocks District Walla Walla Valley AVA

Vineyard in The Rocks District

Terroir is often the most influential factor when it comes to weirdness to Syrah. Rocks showed their terroir expression in Cayuse Syrah wines.

Syrah is often called an enigma.  Ed says it is like opening a Cracker Jack box, you never know what toy (or type of Syrah) you will find. Part of what makes Syrah such an enigma is that it can be grown in so many different places, giving it very different characteristics. To a certain extent, Syrah is grown almost everywhere wine grapes are grown. The World of Syrah is truly the world!

Doug Frost says cooler climates create a more interesting Syrah. Block to block in these areas can vary enough to interest in a single bottle of Syrah.

World of Syrah

North Rhone Map

Northern Rhone

Doug Frost started with the region of the world most associated with Syrah; the Northern Rhone region of France. Grapes  are grown here on very steep slopes to maximize sun exposure. The steep slopes are painstakingly hand managed. They are too steep for any equipment to transverse. Despite what many may think, it is NOT hot in the Northern Rhone. It is the

“sun reflecting off the river and onto the steep slopes that roasts the grapes into ripeness”.

Another important element to the wine growing region of Northern Rhone is the Mistral wind. The Mistral is a cold, dry north or northwestern wind that blows down the Rhone Valley. The forceful Mistral blows from 41-115 miles per hour and “can drive you mad” per Frost.  As a result of the Mistral, the air is very clear in the Northern Rhone. This helps the sun concentrate its rays for ripening in cooler temperatures.

Doug Frost states Northern Rhone a relative mono culture of Syrah in terms of red wines. In terms of whites, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are the main grapes.

In Cote Rotie, the farthest north section, is considered one of the best hills on the planet to grow Syrah so almost only Syrah is grown there. Syrah wines from Cotie Rotie can only have a maximum of 20% Viognier blended in.

St Joseph is the largest appellation in Northern Rhone. It has the most variation in geology and climate resulting in Syrah diversity as well.

Hermitage is only one hill. Hermitage fruit is considered to make the manliest of manly Syrah wines. Only a handful of producer’s make wines from Hermitage.

Southern Rhone

Unlike Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone has a hot Mediterranean climate. In general, grapes grown in warmer climates are blended and this is true in Southern Rhone. Here Grenache is considered the star grape and Syrah is the blender along with Mouvedre.

Syrah Grown as Primary Grape

  • Northern Rhone
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Washington
  • Other lesser known North American Regions for wine:
    • Colorado Four Corners
    • Arizona
    • Texas
    • Mexico – Doug insists Adobe Guadalupe Syrah is delicious!

Syrah Grown as Blending Grape

  • Southern Rhone
  • Argentina has 32,000 acres of Syrah but it has to be rigorously farmed
  • California – originally grown as primary grape but now blended to get rid of the juice. Patrick, an expert on California wines, believes that all California Syrahs all taste the same, another reason that they need to be blended
  • Chile also blends Syrah with Carmenere, their main wine variety
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Portugal

To be continued:

Part 2 of The World of Syrah Kick-off at Celebrate Walla Walla coming soon!

Celebrate Walla Walla: The World of Syrah 2017 

Celebrate Walla Walla celebrates Syrah success

Vintage Pour Proves Walla Walla Wines Age Well

World of Syrah Kick-off at Celebrate Walla Walla

… more coming soon