Wine Culture Magazine

Painted Rock Vineyards on Skaha Bluffs facing Lake Okanagan. Barb Wild photo

Syrah may be B.C.’s best-kept wine secret. Overshadowed by Bordeaux varieties, and only 553 acres planted, Syrah ranks far behind Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in both attention and acreage. Stylistically, old world Syrah’s signature is pepper spice. Here in B.C., white pepper shows its cool climate connection to Cote Rotie or Cornas in the Northern Rhone—Syrah’s origin. Black pepper and chocolate are more common deep in the south Okanagan where heat ripens similar to Shiraz from Australia. With Syrah Day on February 16th, it’s time to expose Syrah as a stylistic chameleon. Whether lean or rich, organic, sustainable or vegan, sparkling to still, with rosé in between, styles of Syrah are plentiful.

Fantastic Syrah Tasting at Nichol Vineyards on Naramata Bench. Barb Wild photo

A day without bubbles is a day without sunshine. Stellar’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz at $27 a bottle is perfectly tempting. If organic is on your list then Summerhill Pyramid Winery, B.C.’s first Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard, has Spadefoot Toad Single Vineyard 100% organic Syrah with grapes from Ron Firman’s vineyard in Oliver. It’s delicious, under the radar and premium priced. If rosé is calling then 2021 Organic Malbec Syrah rosé is a great option. For a more savoury style, check out 2022 Syrah (100%) Rosé from Marichel Vineyards on the Naramata Bench. Two notables on the bench include Nichol Vineyards and Daydreamer Wines. Against all odds, the Nichols first planted Syrah in 1989 sowing 17 rows of ungrafted Syrah on granite bedrock at 1400-1500 feet (426-457 meters) of elevation. Refined and elegant best describes Nichol Syrah. 

Rust Winery on the Golden Mile looking south towards Osoyoos. Barb Wild photo

For a richer style, head south. Painted Rock estate-grown, award-winning Syrah shines on the Skaha Bluffs. Recently released 2020 Syrah provides a glimpse into micro climate, with rich violet and delicate white pepper notes. If blind tasting is your jam, then check out Golden Mile’s Rust Winery. The terroir tasting series features four styles of Syrah contrasting the distinct terroir of Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Okanagan Falls and Golden Mile Bench: prepare to have your mind blown.

Don’t forget Black Sage Bench, where Dick Cleave was called “crazy” for planting Syrah vines on sandy soils. Here, fan favorites Burrowing Owl, and Black Hills Winery thrive making silky, ripe, opulent styles. The Syrah story is incomplete without mentioning award winning Le Vieux Pin and winemaker Severine Pinte. Together they’ve put Syrah on the map with Cuvee Classique (masculine), Cuvee Violette (feminine) and Equinoxe Syrah (signature). If a small family winery is your jam, look to Maverick Estate Winery with its South African roots. Syrah is made true to form – ripe, full bodied with notes of ripe berries, dark chocolate, black pepper – a delight to sip. For Shiraz lovers try Sunrock Vineyards from Oliver for value.

Similkameen Valley from Corcelettes Winery facing west. Barb Wild photo

Perhaps the best kept secret for Syrah is the Similkameen Valley. Whether the breezes that flow along the valley, the swift-moving, winding river or the steep granite rock-faced cliffs that hold heat long after the sun has set, there is magic here. Syrah fruit delivers distinctly mineral, fresh and spicy wines at Clos du Soleil (aromatic), Corcelettes (Northern Rhone), and Orofino (vegan). 

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