Monday, September 28, 2009

A Syrah By Any Other Name...

This one is for Eliot and Bill.

Some of the most powerful, manly, forceful wines in the world today are made from the Syrah grape. "But wait...I thought some of them were made of Shiraz.." you might ask. They are. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, just with different names. There is a story that the grape was originally grown in the Middle East, near the town of Shiraz. It then moved to the Greeks and Romans, who eventually planted it in Southern France. Nice story, but if it were true, it's more likely that the grapes in Frace would be called Shiraz. However, in this area they are called Syrah. The truth is, we don't really know why the grapes have two different names. We do know that they taste good, though! I once had an interesting conversation with a Spanish winemaker on whether to market his wine as Shiraz or Syrah. Several of us agreed that, if he wanted to sell more bottles, call it Shiraz. If he wanted it to be seen as higher quality, call it Syrah. That's honestly how the American public views the two names right now.
In France, especially in the Northern part of the Rhone region, syrah produces wines that are gutsy, earthy, with tobacco and tar notes. I especially adore the ones from Cote Rotie (where it is often blended with viognier), and Hermitage. In the Southern Rhone, it is often blended into Chateauneuf-du-Pape (a whole other blog post for another day). There are dozens of producers to look for- if you want to play it safe, ask for Guigal. If you are feeling crazy, just go to the store, and ask for anything from the 2007 Rhones, you will likely be impressed. These wines can cost anywhere from $10 to $1000.
In Australia, a bulk of the Syrah is known as Shiraz. Although I despise the brand, Yellow Tail has done wonders for bringing this varietal to the forefront of America's attention. The wines from Australia tend to be a bit jammier, much more fruit forward, and can have flavors that range from bubble-gum to dark, rich, cassis and plum. Again, wines from here can range from $4 to $1000. I suggest staying away from anything with a cute little critter on the front. Try the Shirazes from Yalumba, Ben Glaetzer, Jim Barry, and Killikanoon.
South Africa has come onto the scene with a few Shirazes. Some of them are pretty good (if you can find it, try the wines from Graham Beck), but some of them have a very strong tar note to them that people often find off-putting.
Now we come to America. Although there are some wonderful Syrahs coming from Washington, focus on the ones from California. There have been a number of "Rhone Rangers" whom have made wines from typically Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc) but grow them in California. These wines are mysterious, brooding, paint your teeth dark, eat with steak, John Wayne types of wines. Less expensive options are Morgan, HdV, and Neyers. The higher end stuff with the 99 point ratings you will either have to have a friend on their website, or get lucky at an online auction. However, try a bottle of Sine Que Non, and it will be worth it.
Finally, there is starting to be some quality juice coming out of South America. I think I have suggested it before, but try the Luca Laborde Double Select- it's delicious!
One quick note about Petite Syrah- Although it produces similar wines, this is actually a different varietal than Syrah. It is most likely the same as Durif (a cross of Peloursin and Syrah from France). These wines can be big, but not quite as expressive as regular syrah. For less than $15, Bogle actually makes a decent one.

That should give you enough to try for the next day or so. Until tomorrow, Cheers!

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