Syrah Still The Bridesmaid
When Stone’s Ginger Wine sits in the New Zealand Syrah section of the supermarket, there is something sadly amiss.
No matter how much the local and international wine media extol the grape’s Rhone-like wines, the variety sells like lukewarm cakes. The selection of Kiwi Syrah occupies a lonely corner of the wine section next to the fire exit in my local supermarket while Shiraz, predominantly from South Australia, gets its own separate section (did someone forget to mention they’re the same variety?), and occupies more than double the shelf space.
It’s not just a New Zealand problem. In Matt Kramer’s column in the latest Wine Spectator (the one with Brad Pitt on the front cover), he tackles the same issue on American soil.
A decade ago he predicted that Syrah would be “The Next Really Big Red”. I hope he didn’t put any money on it, as it has failed to live up to his expectations.
Similarly, Tim Atkin MW claimed that Syrah could Save the Day in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay in 2007. It hasn’t. Yet. And doesn’t look likely to make inroads any time soon.
The popularity of Pinot Noir in the past decade has been one of the major reasons that Syrah hasn’t made the impact expected on either side of the Pacific.
Kramer argues that “Pinot has proved itself as a surprisingly reliable red, one gratifying in its you-can-please-’em-all berryish goodness. Syrah has proved more variable.”
His words ring true in New Zealand. People buy New Zealand Pinot Noir and know what they’re going to get – juicy plum fruit, low tannins and fresh acidity. Syrah on the other hand…it could be big, oaky and ripe or elegant and spicy and everything in between. What’s more, New Zealand’s proximity to Australia (and the mutually beneficial tax regime) means that crowd pleasing Aussie Shiraz ends up stifling the growth of the Kiwi Syrah sector, and pushing them into the supermarket corner by the fire exit.
Today, Pinot Noir is New Zealand’s second most-planted variety after Sauvignon Blanc, covering 5425 hectares (13,405 acres), up from 3239ha (8003 acres) in 2004. That’s an increase of more than 5000 acres. Meanwhile, Syrah covers just 419 ha (1035 acres) in total – more than double the 2004 figure but still comparatively insignificant.
Similarly, Pinot Noir plantings stand at 41,000 acres in California and 15,000 acres in Oregon. That compares to 19,000 acres of Syrah in California and 3,100 acres in Washington.
Kramer says “Pinot Noir really was the Next Big Red all along” and that’s true in both the U.S. and New Zealand. Unfortunately for Syrah, it has a lot of catching up to do. Lumped in the corner of the wine section with the Stone’s Ginger Wine doesn’t bode well for its future.