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The origin of the Syrah grape variety

To begin with a touch of mystery, it would be nice to be able to tell one of the legends that circulated until about twenty years ago about the origin of Syrah.

One could narrate that it came from faraway Shiraz, a Persian city now located in Iran. Or that its name comes from Syracuse, where it allegedly landed from Egypt thanks to the Romans. Or again, transported by the Phocians to their colony Massalia (Marseille) and then who knows how transferred to the Rhone Valley.

It’s too bad that, in the last year of the last century, science has come to disprove all these theories and give a perhaps less exotic explanation: in 1999, DNA analyses conducted by the University of California Davis and the National Institute of Agronomy in Montpellier showed that it is a cross between Dureza-an ancient vine from Ardèche related to Pinot Noir-and Mondeuse Blanche-a vine from Savoy related to Viognier.

And the meeting between the two would most likely have taken place along the banks of the Rhône River, there where Syrah is still one of the most cultivated vines and where it yields some of its best products.


Syrah is an international grape variety, today the sixth most cultivated in the world with 190,000 hectares under vine. The largest grower is France with 64,000 hectares, followed by Australia – a country where it was imported in 1832-with 40,000 hectares. In total there are thirty-one countries where this grape variety can be found, including South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, California, Italy and even the Canton of Valais. In Italy it is mainly grown in Sicily, where the climate ensures optimal phenolic ripening, and in Tuscany, especially in the Cortona area, where the clay- and marl-rich soil and the thermal influence of Lake Trasimeno create ideal growing conditions.

Syrah or Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape variety. Trivializing, one can say that Syrah is the French name while Shiraz is the name that has been used in Australia since the late 1980s, after the previous name Hermitage was abolished due to its homonymy with the French AOC.

Delving deeper into the matter, it seems that the two names have become representative of the different winemaking styles of the two countries: in France, in the Rhone Valley, the cool climate makes for lighter, finer wines while in Australia the warmer climate gives softer, full-bodied wines. Following this distinction, some producers in other countries have chosen one name over the other to indicate their style. However, a fixed rule does not exist.

Agronomic notes

Although Syrah is among the most widely grown in the world, it is a fairly delicate vine, sensitive to water stress and ferric chlorosis. It needs many hours of sunlight and tends to have average ripeness. Optimal growing conditions include fine, well-drained soils that are protected from wind and have good exposure but are guaranteed to avoid excessive heat. The best soils for Syrah are schistose and granitic soils, where its tendency to overproduce (and consequent deterioration in quality) is reduced, but it also grows well on clay-siliceous soils.

Ampelographic characteristics

The Syrah vine has dull green, medium to large, pentagonal and pentalobed or trilobed leaves. Clusters are medium, cylindrical, compact or spreading, sometimes winged.

The intensely bluish-black berries are medium to small, ovoid, with a pruinose, loosely textured skin. A distinguishing feature are the long branches that are often tied or cut short to prevent wind damage to the plant.

Syrah – Wines

It is not easy to indicate universal characteristics for all wines made from Syrah because, as always, climate, soils and viticultural techniques influence the evolution of its grapes, generating very different results.

Generally, the aromas are floral (violet), fruity (black and red fruits: blueberry, raspberry, blackberry), and spicy (black pepper, anise, licorice). With aging these aromas can give way to more complex ones (coffee, chocolate, tobacco, goudron and caramel).

Red wines made from Syrah are recognizable by their deep, intense color with pronounced violet hues in youth, evolving to garnet with aging. Usually robust, full-bodied and endowed with an important taste-olfactory persistence, they have little acidity and a good tannic structure that makes them suitable for aging (especially in cooler areas).

Syrah is quite versatile and lends itself to vinification on its own but also in blends with other grape varieties and can also be used for the production of rosé wines, pleasantly fruity and with good finesse.


The marked differences in wines made with Syrah, opens the door to countless pairings and it is always a good idea to make an assessment of the individual wine before deciding on a menu. In general, it goes well with red meats, game and grilled meats. Its smoothness also makes it suitable for aged cheeses and, thanks to its structure and aromaticity, it can stand up to strong, spicy flavors.

P.S. If throughout this article you have been wondering whether it is called “la Syrah” or “the Syrah“, suffice it to know that in French it is a feminine name. The explanation of why is a mystery …

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Pinot Nero


Pinot Noir is an international red grape variety that is vinified not only in red but also in white for the production of classic method sparkling wines. Delicate and rather demanding, it has much less adaptability than other international grape varieties but, where it finds the optimal conditions for its growth, it is capable of producing some of the best wines in the world.


The origin of Pinot Noir is very ancient. It is speculated that it was cultivated in Burgundy as early as two thousand years ago and that when the Romans invaded Gaul, the grape variety was already present in the area. In the first century AD, the agronomy writer Columella described in his “De Rustica” a vine that could be identified as Pinot Noir.

However, in the absence of further evidence, its existence in Burgundy in Roman times could not be proven with certainty until now. However, genetic studies conducted by the INRA in Montpellier have revealed that Pinot Noir is the ancestor of several grape varieties including Syrah, Chardonnay and Gamay, which would confirm its preexistence to these and its ancient origin.

During the Middle Ages, the continuity in the cultivation of Pinot Noir in Burgundy was ensured by the work of Circestine and Benedictine monks who used it to produce wine for mass and, over the centuries, it achieved such good fortune that, in 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Philip II went so far as to ban the cultivation of Gamay in favor of Pinot Noir. Just from the 14th century the vine began to be called Pynos and then Pinot, a name probably derived from “pine cone” and referring to the elongated and compact conformation of its cluster.


Although Pinot Noir is not an easy grape variety to grow, it has managed to spread to most wine-growing regions of the world. In its land of origin, France, it occupies 32,000 hectares and, in addition to Burgundy, is found in Champagne, where it is vinified in white, and in Alsace. The area of greatest production and also the most popular is undoubtedly the Côte d’Or.

In Germany, where it is known as Spätburgunder, it is the most widely cultivated red grape variety with 11,700 hectares under cultivation.

In Italy it has found its ideal conditions in the northern regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Oltrepò Pavese and Franciacorta, where it is mainly vinified in white for the production of sparkling wines.

In the United States, Pinot Noir had a real boom in 2004 thanks to the film Sideways: in fact, in the film, one of the two main characters is passionate about Pinot Noir and talks about it on several occasions. Currently, the greatest spread has been in Oregon, but it is in California, and especially on the Central Coast where the ocean helps keep the vineyard cool at night, that the best Pinot Noir wines are made.

In Australia, where the climate was thought to be too hot for Pinot Noir, it has surprisingly been discovered that in the Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley regions excellent results can be achieved.

In New Zealand it has found its ideal climate in the cooler regions (Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury, and Central Otago), and although the first commercial productions are relatively recent, some wines are also finding a good response in the overseas market.

Pinot Noir is also quite widespread in Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Spain.


Pinot Noir is a delicate vine that needs a lot of care: the compactness of the bunch and the thin skin favor the proliferation of diseases and rot; in addition, it sprouts early and is therefore particularly susceptible to spring frosts. To achieve good results it needs a temperate climate because excessive cold does not allow full ripening and, conversely, heat tends to overripen the grapes, which lose their fruity notes and freshness.

The vine prefers calcareous soils while clay soils, retaining moisture, can favor millerandage and run-off during the flowering period.

Ampelographic notes

The appearance of Pinot Noir is quite varied: there are many biotypes of it that differ in leaf shape and bunch size and shape. The most common biotype in Burgundy has a medium, round, three-lobed dark green leaf. The cluster is small, compact, cylindrical in shape and winged. The berry is medium-small with a thin, pruinose black-purple skin and juicy, uncolored flesh with a simple flavor.

The wine – Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has an incredible ability to absorb the character of the terroir and to return it powerfully in the wines: for this reason, its expressions can be manifold. The grape variety is used for the production of both red and white wines, particularly classic method sparkling wines.

Red wines, mainly made from Pinot Noir vinified in purity, can be consumed young but in some cases can also prove to be quite long-lived. Typical characteristics of these wines are low coloration, due to the reduced amount of anthocyanins in the grapes, and transparency. The color is bright ruby red in younger wines and veers toward garnet or even orange hues with aging.

On the nose, Pinot Noir offers remarkable aromatic complexity with fruity hints of cherry, currant, raspberry, strawberry and floral hints of violets, to which scents of underbrush, mushrooms, leather and hides are added as it matures. In cooler areas, herbaceous or vegetal notes such as tomato leaf or mint can also be perceived. Aging in wood can give spicy and toasted aromas although it is necessary to avoid these covering the delicate varietal aromas of Pinot Noir, excluding the use of new or heavily toasted barrels and reducing the wine’s stay in wood.

On the palate, Pinot Noir is usually characterized by low tannins, high alcohol warmth and good acidity that is always present but of varying intensity depending on the area where the wine is made. In sparkling wines, Pinot Noir helps to intensify the color, giving brilliant golden yellow hues, and to impart structure and a delicate aromatic note of red fruit.


Given its low tannins, pronounced acidity and high alcohol content, Pinot Noir vinified in red goes well with white meats, game or red meats that are not too succulent, mushrooms, meat-based first courses and even fish such as grilled or barbecued salmon, tuna or swordfish.

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Cabernet Sauvignon


When you consider that it is hardy, vigorous, and capable of yielding rich, complex, and highly structured wines, it can hardly be surprising that Cabernet Sauvignon is so popular. Its great adaptability to different soils and climates has led it to be an international grape variety that is now grown in all the world’s major wine-growing areas.


The belief that Cabernet Sauvignon is an ancient grape variety was disproved in 1996 by studies carried out by the University of Davis (California) on its DNA: the researchers were able to prove that it is the result of a spontaneous cross between a white grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc, and a red grape variety, Cabernet Franc, and speculated that the fortunate meeting took place in the 17th century in Gironde.

Moreover, the earliest written records dating from no earlier than the 18th century also seem to confirm this theory: in these, the grape variety is still mentioned as Petite Vidure, a name that is still used in some parts of the Bordeaux region and probably refers to the hardness of Cabernet Sauvignon (hard vines).


With more than 330,000 hectares under vine, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted wine grape in the world.

In its land of origin, France, it occupies 48,000 hectares and is found mainly in the Bordeaux region, and particularly in the Graves and Médoc, where it is usually blended with Merlot. It is also quite widespread in Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Loire Valley.

In Italy, although it is not among the most widely grown grape varieties, it has found optimal conditions in Tuscany, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino, Emilia-Romagna and Sicily, yielding high quality wines, especially in blends.

In California, Cabernet Sauvignon began to be planted massively since the 1960s, growing to more than 36,000 hectares. Even in Washington State, it has become the most widely planted red variety in recent years.

Cabernet Sauvignon is also widespread in Spain, especially in the Catalan region of Penedès where it is blended with Tempranillo, in South America (Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay), Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In recent years the grape variety has reached China, becoming the third most cultivated in the country.


The great success of Cabernet Sauvignon can be attributed not only to the richness of its grapes capable of yielding exceptional wines, but also to its ease of cultivation and its resistance: first of all, the vine germinates late, which allows protection against spring frosts; moreover, although it ripens late, its berries have a very thick skin that preserves them from mold and rot caused by autumn rains.

It adapts well to many soils but prefers warm, gravelly, well-drained soils and dry, ventilated climates. On soils that are too fertile and moist it tends to lignify poorly and, because of its late ripening, it is not suited to climates that are too cold.

Ampelographic notes

Cabernet Sauvignon leaves are medium-sized, pentagonal and pentalobed. Clusters are medium-small, cylindrical-pyramidal, oblong, averagely compact and with an obvious wing. Its berries are blue-black in color, medium-small, sub-round and with thick, pruinose skin. The flesh is quite fleshy with a slightly herbaceous hint.

The wine – Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are characterized by good acidity and a high amount of tannins, which predisposes to long aging and allows for complex, full-bodied and well-structured wines.

Wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby red with violet, almost blue hues. In youth, varietal aromas are more evident, with notes of black and red fruits such as blueberry, currant, blackberry and floral, particularly violet. An herbaceous hint of green bell pepper – a character inherited from Cabernet Franc – can also often be perceived, becoming more pronounced when yields are too high or poorly ripened.

With aging, the aromas become more complex, retaining the fruity notes but enriching with hints of spice, cedar, moss, tobacco and, in some particularly good areas, graphite.

However, Cabernet Sauvignon is a malleable grape variety that gives wines very different expressions depending on the soil and climate in which it is grown. In the Bordeaux region alone, wines from Cabernet Sauvignon can have very different characters: in the Saint-Estèphe and Pessac-Léognan AOCs a mineral note emerges, in Margaux violet prevails, in Pauillac graphite and in Saint-Julien cedar and cigar.

In Tuscany it is characterized by fruity hints of ripe cherry and blueberry while in Constantia, South Africa, it fades into herbaceous and menthol notes.

It should be noted that Cabernet Sauvignon, because of its acidity and powerful tannicity, tends to be vinified in purity only in warmer countries where the grapes, reaching full ripeness, develop more sugar and softness.

Where the climate is cooler, it is often used in blends with Merlot or other wines, and so the characteristics of the final product, in addition to being influenced by soil, climate and winemaking techniques, will obviously also depend on the composition of the cuvée.


The infinite variations of Cabernet Sauvignon make it suitable to accompany numerous dishes. In young wines, the pronounced tannins can be offset by succulent dishes such as barbecued red meats, braised meats and game.

More mature wines, where the tannins have softened, go well with savory dishes, aged or blue cheeses, mushrooms and truffles. In some of its declinations, Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with dark chocolate.

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Cabernet Franc


Cabernet Franc is an international red grape variety from which very great wines can be made. Known mostly in blends with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux blends, it is capable of yielding very elegant and long-lived wines even when vinified alone. Its name indicates what is its most valuable characteristic: a “franc wine” is a wine that has in its bouquet a distinct scent that stands out from all others and makes it immediately recognizable.


Its wide distribution in the Gironde and Loire regions has long led to the assumption that the grape variety originated in France. However, some DNA analyses have shown a parent-child relationship with Morenoa and Hondarrabi Beltza, two vines from the Basque Country: it is therefore very likely that it arrived in southwestern France from Gipuzkoa or Navarre, in the northern Pyrenees, perhaps thanks to pilgrims returning from Santiago del Compostela.

Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley is thought to have landed around 1630 when Cardinal Richelieu sent some vine shoots to Abbot Breton, who was responsible for planting them in Chinon and Bourgueil. Then in 1997 it was discovered, again through DNA testing, that it was from the crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that Cabernet Sauvignon was born.


Cabernet Franc has come to occupy 45,000 hectares of vineyard area worldwide, of which 36,000 are in France. Here, it reaches its highest levels in the Libournais, where it is produced both in the Bordeaux blend and in purity, and in the Loire Valley, where tradition sees its use mainly as a single varietal.

Cabernet Franc is also grown in Italy, although to a lesser extent than previously believed: in fact, it has been discovered that many of the vines grown are actually Carmenère, a grape variety very similar to Cabernet Franc. Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto are the regions with the largest area under vine.

Tuscany, then, has distinguished itself by producing excellent wines made from both pure Cabernet Franc and blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grape variety is also grown in Sicily and Apulia, where it has adapted very well to the warmer climate. Worldwide, Cabernet Franc is found in Canada, California, Washington, Virginia, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Spain.

Cabernet Franc has even reached China, where it is grown between 2,220 and 2,600 meters above sea level on the slopes of the Himalayas.


Cabernet Franc is a vigorous grape variety that adapts well to many soils and climates. It withstands winter frosts and harsh climates well, so much so that it is also used as a base for making Ice Wines, but it also gives excellent results in warmer climates. It performs best in clay-limestone soils but also grows well in sandy and loose soils as long as they are well drained because it is sensitive to water stress.

Medium-late ripening usually occurs a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it is a vigorous vine, its productivity is not high, hovering around 30-40 hl/ha and exceptionally reaching 80 hl/ha in Languedoc. It has good resistance to pests and cryptogams but shows fair susceptibility to botrytis, esca, leafhopper and eutipiosis.

Ampelographic characteristics

The various clones show some homogeneity although production potential can be quite different. The Cabernet Franc leaf is bright light green, medium-sized, pentagonal, three- to five-lobed.

The cluster is medium, cylindrical or conical, fairly compact and sometimes winged. The deep blue tending to black berries are medium to small, spheroidal, with thick, very pruinose skin. The pulp is juicy and has a more or less intense herbaceous flavor.

The wine – Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is used both in blends and in purity, for the production of red, rosé, white and Ice Wines. Red wines vinified in purity have a brilliant ruby red color that tends to garnet with aging. Its aroma is unmistakable, with smoky and bell pepper notes, given by the high amount of pyrazines in its grapes.

If picked unripe, the vegetal bell pepper note may be prevalent making the wine harsh. Harvested when ripe, the herbaceous notes will give way to smoky ones and hints of violet, raspberry, strawberry, ivy leaves and, after aging, licorice, graphite, cocoa, menthol notes.

The taste of Cabernet Franc wine is round, broad and pleasantly fresh. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, it is less rich in tannins and therefore ages more quickly and can be enjoyed in less time.


This red wine made from pure Cabernet Franc can be paired with the entire meal. Because of its herbaceous and smoky notes, it goes well with pasta dishes with meat sauce, game, grilled meats, stews, and roasts. It also goes well with semi-mature and aged cheeses.

Cabernet Franc VS Cabernet Sauvignon

From an ampelographic point of view, the two grape varieties are very similar, but Cabernet Franc buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. It also has fewer tannins-so aging can be faster-and fewer polyphenols and anthocyanins, which is why the color is less intense. On the palate, Cabernet Franc tends to have more herbaceous notes.

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