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Syrah or Shiraz? I’ll have a glass thank you very much

Every now and then I organise a tasting for fellow wine representatives in the Johannesburg trade. We are always crossing paths but never have the opportunity to do what we like most… and drink wine! All in good measure of course.

There is only one rule, each person needs to bring a bottle, but being the sort of bunch we are, one quickly becomes two and the whole exercise becomes a lot more fun. The theme this time round is Syrah/Shiraz. All the wines are tasted blind and then a discussion follows when we chat through each wine, concluding by selecting our top 3 individually, then comparing to see which wines overall showed better on that evening.  A fun exercise and a great opportunity for us to catch up.


Cote Rotie

So, staying with the winter theme it seems fitting to chat about Syrah or Shiraz as it’s known in the new world, in its many guises.

This dark skinned grape has its origins firmly planted in the Northern Rhone. Its fame most definitely coming from the wines of Hermitage situated in and around the small town of Tain l’Hermitage. The wines of this town are the most profound, powerful, balanced examples found and takes long ageing to tame these beasts. Another famous appellation for Syrah is Côte-Rôtie and like Hermitage, its origin is Roman.  Côte-Rôtie or directly translated, ‘the Roasted slope’, refers to the steep granite (schist further North) south-east facing slope of more than 60% gradient in places. With this sort of geography, vineyard work is hard graft and labour intensive. This small appellation defined by nature and thus hands-on approach to grape growing, pushes the price up considerably. Wines produced mostly from ‘Serine’ (an old Syrah clone) deliver a punch; dark in colour, full bodied, structured  and with time, will develop wonderful perfumed aromas of roses, liquorish, smoky bacon, pepper and a wee dose of graphite for good measure.

Syrah screams colour, flavour and tannin structure. When grown in cooler climates like the Northern Rhone the flavour profiles lean toward notes of black pepper, olive and savoury spice in addition to the trademark dark fruits, smoky bacon and leather usually present. In warmer, new world climates, a sweeter, riper style emerges with cherry and raspberry being dominant. There are of course exceptions. The tannin structures vary too, with wines from Hermitage and Côte Rôtie possessing  tighter, leaner tannins resulting in ‘grippy’ wines guaranteed to stain your palate…..right up my street at least! In warmer regions, the tannins are riper and supple, making the wines approachable in their youth and alcohols too edge higher.

We are a nation that love to braai, so these wines work exceptionally well with grilled meats as the smoky flavours mirror the smoky, meaty notes present in the wine. The tannins present in this varietal can match the charry, barbecue nuances from the flame grill. Bold dark fruit aromas and herby, tobacco notes marry with the likes of venison stews…..dishes with generous black pepper and pungent herbs benefit from this union.


Back to the tasting……In total twelve wines were sampled by ten of us, an exciting line-up from most of SA’s wine regions encompassing a diverse range of flavour profiles, plus a couple from the Rhone Valley in France, which Great Domaines contributed. Below are the wines tasted by ten of us, in no particular order:

2009 Syrah ‘Three Pines’, Stark Condé, Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch @ R 200

2009 Syrah, Strandveld Vineyards, Elim @ R 150

2010 Shiraz, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch @ R 85

2007 Shiraz ‘Reserve’, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch @ R 180

2010 Syrah, Lammershoek, Swartland @ R 105

2011 Shiraz, Oak Valley, Elgin @ R 130

2011 Shiraz, Babylonstoren, Simonsberg, Paarl @ R 120

2009 Shiraz, Thelema, Helshoogte pass, Stellenbosch @ R 130

2011 Côtes du Rhone, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France @ R 170

2010 Côte Rôtie, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France @ R 490

1994 Shiraz, Rust en Vrede, Stellenbosch

2010 Syrah, Almenkerk, Elgin @ R 190

And our top 3 were:


2010 Côte Rôtie, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France



2011 Shiraz, Babylonstoren, Simonsberg, Paarl

2011 Côtes du Rhone, Chateau Saint Cosme, Rhone Valley, France


2007 Shiraz ‘Reserve’, Vergelegen, Stellenbosch

2009 Syrah, Strandveld Vineyards, Elim

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Syrah or Shiraz? I'll have a glass thank you very much, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating


Avatar of Guy Harcourt-Wood
Guy Harcourt-Wood (have 3 posts in total)
Guy Harcourt-Wood has always had a fascination with wine but it was only once he arrived in London in 1999 that his vinous career truly began. After working for various catering companies and trying his hand at photography, he happened one day to walk past Chez Bruce, on the Wandsworth Common and for some reason he felt drawn to the place. And this is where Guy’s life changed completely, as his great journey into wine began. Fortunately, as it transpired, his table service skills weren't up to much and Chez Bruce almost gave him the boot. But the incumbent sommelier needed an assistant, and thus a career in wine was born. After two and a half years at Chez Bruce Guy left with a great practical knowledge of fine wine and a WSET Advanced Certificate, for which he studied while in London. He went on to work at Michelin-starred Establishments of Nobu, Pied-a-Terre, Theo Randall and The Ledbury. Guy left the service industry another 7 years richer in valuable wine, food pairing and service knowledge, having worked with extensive wine lists from all regions of the world. Numerous wine trips to Europe served to deepen his insight into some of the finest wine producing countries in the world. Returning to the Cape in 2008, Guy began consulting to the trade and private clients, as well as hosting fine wine tasting events. Ultimately his love, and his nose for the greatest Burgundy, Barolo and other such fine things led him to the Great Domaines team, where he forms an integral part of this passionate team.