Waiheke has been called the “Island of Wine” for a long time, but find out why it should specifically be called the “Island of Syrah” because of its Syrah’s particularly bold taste that is becoming increasingly popular.
An ideal terroir for Syrah
Waiheke’s terroir is perfect for growing bold-tasting Syrah, making it a drink of choice from this part of the world. The island is only 18 kilometres (11 miles) east of New Zealand’s most populous city, Auckland, but it has its own microclimate that is warmer than the mainland, which means longer, mild seasons and, as a result, longer winegrowing seasons.
As a bonus, the Auckland isthmus provides Waiheke with protection from the cold, wet winds rolling in from the Tasman Sea that often batter the mainland. The surrounding Hauraki Gulf also contributes to the island’s ideal maritime climate for winegrowing as the sea breezes cool the island in the summer.
Furthermore, there is a smaller difference between day and night temperatures on the island compared to other parts of the country where Syrah is grown––and low temperature variation is paramount for winegrowing. Waiheke is also slightly more humid than other popular Syrah-growing regions in New Zealand.
No discussion of the island’s suitability for winegrowing is complete without talking about the heavy clay and volcanic soils that are relatively young and fertile. The structure of the topsoil is hard, which stresses the vines, but is great news for winegrowers. When vines are stressed out, they produce less vegetation and smaller berries, which means a higher concentration of sugars and acids that is important in wine production.
Waiheke’s “bigger and bolder” Syrah
Due to Waiheke’s exceptional terroir for growing grapes, the island’s winegrowers frequently win awards for their Syrah and are particularly praised for having a powerful taste.
Syrah is already a wine famous for its bold tastes, but as usual, Waiheke is a small island that punches above its weight as it makes Syrah that is known for its uniquely gutsy taste. The island’s humidity and lower temperature variation, in particular, have given the Syrah its own distinctive flavour. Waiheke’s soil also plays a role in Syrah’s richness as it forms firm tannins and great structure.
As a result, the taste of Syrah is “bigger and bolder, with polished dark fruits, somewhere between Syrah and Shiraz” compared to Syrah from other parts of New Zealand, according to Tim Atkin, an award-winning wine writer with a Master’s degree in Wine.
Waiheke has long been known for its Bordeaux-style red wines, but Syrah is increasingly becoming all the rage. The Syrah from there is comparable to the wines from northern Rhone because they both have dark berry, peppery and floral notes.
“And when Kiwi winemakers co-ferment their Syrah with a little Viognier, the aromatics and texture of the resulting wine are remarkably like Côte-Rôtie,” according to consumer wine publication The Decanter.
Syrah was the third most grown wine on Waiheke in 2017, and the number of Syrah plantings have only grown as more winegrowers have recognized its value. In the country as a whole, Syrah plantings have almost doubled in the last decade, according to New Zealand Winegrowers, a national organisation for the country’s grape and wine sector.
Just like Waiheke Island itself, Syrah started small, but people are quickly discovering it is bold and full of sophistication and world-class taste.
The serendipity of Waiheke’s Syrah
As if this island with its warm microclimate and breathtaking views of rolling hills and glittering beaches was not already serendipitous enough, it has turned out to an ideal home for making delicious Syrah. What are the chances that such a paradisiacal place should be enjoyed with a particularly robust, home-grown glass of Syrah? What you’ve heard through the grapevine is true: Waiheke’s Syrah is a must-try for any wine lover.