You say syrah, I say serine
I was re-reading Andrew Jefford’s The New France ahead of a Cape Wine Academy lecture when I came across a sub-chapter headed ‘Rhône Flak’, his device for highlighting the challenges facing producers in the various regions he addresses on a chapter-by-chapter basis.
In ‘Rhône Flak’, Jefford refers to a variety closely related to syrah called ‘serine’ and writes that many winemakers in the Côte Rôtie appellation of the northen Rhône believe that it – not syrah – is the greatest vine material, with its small elongated berries (syrah berries are rounder) and naturally low (at least half that of syrah) yields. It, not syrah, is responsible for the complexity, expression, finesse and smoke of great Côte Rôtie.
in Côte Rôtie
Unfortunately, the ‘flak’ bit, serine plantings are declining at an alarming rate and account for less than 20% of the northern Rhône appellation’s vineyards. Apparently, the vines are diseased and only last 30 years, and so the nurserymen don’t grow replacement stock. (As an aside, I read an ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij piece – granted written in 2007 – that rootstock blocks break even in Year 5 which seems to suggest that there is an income to be made. Perhaps the nurserymen want serine vines to die at a faster pace; perhaps they don’t want to invest in cleaning up the plants and establishing a nursery?)
Anyway, this bit of ‘flak’ interested me, because I have never – to my knowledge – tasted serine. Iron Hills in New Zealand makes a syrah called Serine, from the Stonecroft clone or MS. There’s also a Domaine de Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux Cuvee Serine, which is 100% syrah. And Bill Nesto MW refers here to an interview with Californian producer Sean Thackery saying that “Serine, like Petite Syrah, was eventually absorbed into what
was known as Petite Syrah. ‘So first we have ‘Petite Syrah’ as real Syrah from Hermitage, then we have Serine from Cote-Rotie, and we have both of them in California by the 187Os. Then we have the mess that Petite Sirah has become, with Durif, Peloursin and whatever else thrown in’.”
I’d really like for serine to be serine, and not syrah, and not petite syrah, and not durif, because I kind of like what René Rougier (from Château Simone in Palette) and Bernard Teillaud (Château Sainte Roseline in the Côtes de Provence) have to say about cabernet sauvignon in Provence when interviewed by Jefford: “Cabernet should be no more than the salt and pepper in reds on Provence” and “the use of cabernet is an intellectually as well as strategically a bad idea. We will always make second rate cabernet by comparison with Bordeaux” ... this despite the fact that cabernet thrives in the region.
L’Ormarins viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, is off to Europe to explore the potential for other varieties – other than those that dominate our vinous landscape in South Africa – for the vineyards she oversees as well as those she’s charged with establishing. Betcha she’s not looking for cabernet, and maybe she’ll bring back a serine.