What’s good for Riesling is good for Syrah

April 6th, 2010

Consumers find comfort in graphic indicators of style.

Consumers find comfort in graphic indicators of style.

Riesling and Syrah have much in common. Not genetically, of course, but in that they both vary widely in styles. Perhaps Syrah producers should take a cue from the International Riesling Foundation, which introduced the Riesling Taste Profile, as a device to “help consumers predict the taste in a particular bottle of Riesling“.

Not too long ago, I was privately asked for ideas on how to improve Syrah’s image (and, thus, sales). It’s painfully difficult to move Syrah these days. The winemaker who sought out my input attributed this to the variety’s stylistic variation. I’m inclined to agree with him. A broad spectrum of choices can lead to confusion and subsequent reluctance on the consumer’s part.

But, variety is the spice of Syrah (even if not all Syrah is spicy). I am not one to argue for any type of sameness. Nevertheless, even in the Central Coast alone, Syrah ranges in style. Not every consumer likes the same style of wine. If producers want to distinguish themselves to consumers, they need to give their wine some meaningful identity.

That is is why I borrowed from the International Riesling Foundation when I suggested that one thing Syrah producers could do to improve consumer confidence is to come up with a simple graphic that would indicate the character of the stuff in the bottle. My concept is prototypical, but it addresses several things:

It offers some general sensory descriptors of the wine in the bottle in terms of aromas/flavors, mouthfeel/weight and structure. I’m not thinking of Whitmanian prose but simple, general descriptors that everyone can understand. This would help the consumer decide if the wine they are considering suits their preferences.

Secondly, it gives some loose and general food pairing suggestion for each style along the spectrum. Many people, no doubt, consume wine alone, as an apéritif or a cocktail. In my conversation with the winemaker who called me, there arose the notion that consumers don’t see Syrah as a food wine as much as they do other wines. I suspect that Syrah may be one wine that has come to be viewed as a solo sipper because, along with other popular red Rhône cultivars, it has developed a reputation as a fruity, cough syrup-like libation. For this reason, it would seem, consumers have trouble seeing its place at the dinner table. When these recommendations are made to clearly follow a linear progression along with the wine style, the consumer may be able to infer where the food they’d like to have fits with the wine, and vice-versa.

Finally, this graphic also offers some education by associating the sensory characteristics of a particular style with some place identity: cool climate, hot climate and two intermediate styles. This may be the most difficult thing to achieve. That is not because it’s some Herculean feat. Simply put, some producers may be resistant to being categorized one way or another. Then there is the uniquely American tendency to, reflexively and in the name of some sacred individualism, oppose anything that puts things and people into categories or creates rules and codifies standards.

Those brands most resistant to this organization and categorization of styles need to accept the fact that, in order to move their product, they need to give it a clear identity. If they can’t move their inventory and blame that on the Aussie Shiraz style, then it seems clear they should move out from under that shadow and stop hitching their wagon to the same old horse.

Education is not the same as awareness. Education yield understanding. Awareness just tells you something exists. In order to create and secure a market share of return customers, Syrah producers need to expose the wine buying public to the basics of the stylistic spectrum of Syrah rather than hope to secure loyal customers on the brad equity of Syrah alone.

But if it’s individualism one prefers (or is afraid of their style being deemed somehow inferior), then I would defer to the recommendation of my friend, Thomas Pellechia: scrap the varietal labeling (regardless of the cépage), give your wine a proprietary name and build the brand around that. No fuss, no muss.

Whether that option is an easier hill to climb, I leave to general discussion.


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2 Responses to “What’s good for Riesling is good for Syrah”

  1. Jeff Miller Says:

    i suspect the 99% of the american wine consumers wouldn’t benefit from any way of trying to calssify syrah, since they wouldn’t pay any attention to it, so the problem might be insoluble

  2. Chelsea Says:

    I am a HUGE fan of Syrah in all its forms. It’s unfortunate that people have no sense of adventure when it comes to trying wines. Finding those gems is half the fun! I love that Syrah/Shiraz can come in so many different forms!