DNA tests unlock mysterious past

Modern DNA testing of grapes has unlocked the mysteries behind many varieties, helping to isolate parent/offspring connections and give greater understanding of their origins.

The indispensable tome Wine Grapes (by Harding, Robinson and Vouillamoz) is a fantastic resource in that regard, detailing that syrah is the offspring of mondeuse blanche and dureza.

There have been many hypotheses as to the origin of syrah (aka shiraz), including the city of Shiraz in modern day Iran, Syracuse in Sicily, the island of Syros in Greece, or the country of Syria itself, but it seems probable that the original crossing may have taken place in the Rhone Alpes in France as the grape was already established in France’s northern Rhone region by the mid to late 1700s.

The Rhone Valley and Australia (under its moniker shiraz) remained the mother lodes for the variety until the mid to late 20th century when a growing international thirst for French grape varieties saw it planted in European countries as diverse as Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal and Romania, while it also became established in South Africa, Chile, Argentina and Mexico to name a few.

New Zealand’s affair with the grape began when Alan Limmer, of Stonecroft Estate in Hawke’s Bay, rescued cuttings from a plot (that was about to be pulled up) at the Te Kauwhata research station, leading to his first commercial release with the 1989 vintage. Te Mata followed with its inaugural release from the 1992 vintage.

According to NZ Wine figures there are now 344ha planted in Hawke’s Bay, with 443ha grown across the country, making it the third-most planted red grape after pinot noir and merlot and more than double that of fourth placegetter cabernet sauvignon.

Waiheke Island is a strong supporter of the variety, and there are pockets in Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Central Otago.

Here are a trio recently tasted that cover price points and regions.



2021 Aces & Arrows Hawke’s Bay syrah 

Price $27 
Rating Excellent 
Lifted perfume, white pepper 
and spice, minerally notes, 
earth, fragrant oak and 
woodsmoke builds, fruit in 
support. Crunchy and juicy 
in the mouth, a gamay-like 
aerial quality, brimming 
with red berryfruits, while 
the tannins build nicely. 
Freshness and energy, 
a cooler feel, elegance 
and refinement. Already 
super drinking.

2021 Riverby Estate Single Vineyard Marlborough syrah

Price $28 
Rating Very good to excellent  
Richly fruited, berry 
compote, dark cherry, 
wood smoke, wisps of 
herbs and spices, with air 
pomegranate. The palate 
leads with ripe red fruits 
backed by tar, licorice 
and smoke, while there’s 
tanginess akin to 
just-ripe plum. Round, 
open and ready to 
enjoy, enlivened by a 
lip-smacking quality on 
the close. 

2021 Trinity Hill Gimblett Estate syrah 

Price $120 
Rating Excellent to outstanding 
A sense of generosity to the 
nose, tilled earth, charcuterie, 
spices, red fruits, refined 
oak scents, almost 
brooding. A deceptively 
big wine echoing the 
characters on the nose, 
rich, ripe yet dry and 
showing its youthful 
side. So much 
ingredient, wrapped in 
powerful tannins, 
undoubtedly serious and 
all about the potential. 
Would love to revisit this 
in the future.