Syrah, Syrah and More Syrah: Horizontal Tasting from Five Wineries

I was at a dinner a few months ago and was chatting with someone about Finger Lakes wine. We were discussing how much its changed over the last decade, and how its becoming a true wine destination. After gabbing for a few minutes, he said “It’s too bad they don’t make any good red wines, though”. NOT TRUE! The Finger Lakes have exceptional red wines, and are particularly known for their Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux style blends. We’re also seeing the variety of red wine increasing, with new varietals from Europe, like Saperavi, Lemberger, Dornfelder, and more, appearing throughout the wine trails.

In fact, the wine that most recently won the Governor’s Cup for BEST WINE OVERALL in New York State was a 2013 Syrah from Billsboro Winery in the Finger Lakes. Boo-yah.

Syrah in general is becoming more common in this area, and is a secret gem of the Finger Lakes. It doesn’t have the big jammy notes of its Australian counterpart, Shiraz, and doesn’t have the barnyard funk of French Syrah, but stands on its own, with notes of blackberry, dark fruits, pepper, vanilla, spice, and tobacco or smoke.

Billsboro Winery hosted an event focusing on this grape in the Finger Lakes called Let’s Talk Syrah. The event had both vertical and horizontal tastings. Vertical means same vineyard and grape, but different years. Horizontal means same year and grape, but different vineyards. They invited four other wineries and winemakers to attend the event and share their version of Syrah.

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Vinny Aliperti of Billsboro Winery

George Nosis of Atwater Vineyards

Justin Boyette of Hector Wine Company

Seth Thomas of Shalestone Vineyards

Steve DiFranco of Glenora Wine Cellars

Horizontal Tasting of 2013 Syrah

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The first course in our tasting was a horizontal flight of Syrah from the five different wineries, all from 2013. Despite being the same grape, same year, and all being grown within a half mile of each other, the wines had very different characteristics. All had similar notes of blackberry, black cherry and pepper, but to different degrees, and the tannin definitely varied by winery.

The Billsboro Syrah was a little silkier on the palate, and had more notes of tobacco than the others. The Atwater Syrah had less of the peppery notes in the nose, but was spicier on the palate. Hector’s Syrah had an earthier funk than others and was light on the palate. Shalestone had more plum and fruit on the nose, with a more purple color. Both Shalestone and Glenora had a spicy, meaty quality to the nose.

It was fascinating to not only taste the differences between the wines, but hear about how the wine making process also varied. Billsboro was the only one using a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine (15%), and Hector used a touch of Grenache (3%) to aid the flavor of the wine. All of the wineries used French oak, American oak, neutral oak, or a mix of these, except for Billsboro, who uses Hungarian oak to add more spice to the wine.

Vertical Tasting of Syrah from Different Years

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The second round of tasting was a vertical/horizontal that included different years from the wineries.

2009 Billsboro Syrah: This one showed the most change in color, shifting from the purple-red to more of a brick red. The flavors of smoke, pepper, and blackberry were still very present, and unlike the 2013, it only had 6% Cabernet Sauvignon.

2010 Atwater Syrah: The hot weather of this year meant that this wine was a little jammier and more fruit forward than others, and seemed to also be a little higher in alcohol. It still had great pepper on the palate and a great chewy tannin.

2015 Hector Syrah: Like the 2013, this one had that earthy funk, as well as brighter cherry and berry on the palate that comes from a young wine. This will be an interesting one to see how it ages as it has some interesting meaty notes on the palate.

2014 Shalestone Syrah: There is a great pepper and blackberry nose on this one, with leather and spice carrying through to the palate and a big chewy tannin. It also could use some age, but it still delicious to drink now.

2014 Glenora Syrah: This was the only wine that I got notes of olive from- I had heard Syrah could have those notes, but this is the first time I’ve really picked it out. It had a lighter mouthfeel than the others, with more bright berry notes.

Final Notes

Overall, this was a fascinating tasting experience. It is rare that you get to hear from this many wine makers, especially speaking on the same wine. It was great to hear each of their perspectives and approaches to Syrah. My personal favorites were the 2013 Billsboro 2013  (I mean, it won the Governor’s Cup for a reason), the 2010 Atwater, and the 2014 Shalestone, but honestly, they were all tasty. I’d be happy to drink any of them.

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