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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Syrah Grape

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About Syrah

(Synonyms: Antourenein noir, Balsamina, Candive, Entournerein, Hermitage, Hignin noir, Marsanne noir, Schiras, Shiraz, Sirac, Syra, Syrac, Serine, Sereine)

Background

Syrah grapes Map showing the Rhone Valley.

Syrah is a red-wine grape originating in the Rhone Valley region of France. It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page)—arguably one of the top three (with Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon). The wine remains the mainstay of Rhone reds, but is also cultivated with great success in a great many other areas, most notably Australia (as "Shiraz"), California, Washington State (where it is arguably the signature red grape), and Chile.

Syrah is readily recognizeable once encountered. While its style varies somewhat from region to region, depending on climate, it is always at least medium-bodied, and more often quite full-bodied, with strong fruit, definite tannins, and the characteristic "flannel" quality of Rhone reds. Also often mentioned is a "smoky" taste element (and, not infrequently, bacon, of all things). In general, the warmer the climate where the grapes are grown, the fuller the and more strongly flavored the wine (Australian Shiraz represents this especially full character).

Syrah wines, broadly speaking, tend to be more variable in styling than is the case for many other "noble" red grapes. Some wine writers express the major perceived distinction as "Syrah vs Shiraz", while many others express it in relation to its home in the Rhone region as "cool-climate vs warm-climate" wines. The "northern" or "cool-climate" or "Syrah" types are seen as somewhat leaner, smokier and less fruit-forward, and tannic enough to benefit from significant aging (though drinkable young); the "southenr" or "warm-climate" or "Shiraz" wines are heavier-bodied, more fruit-forward, and more aimed at immediate consumption. Either way, one thing most seem to agree on is that Syrah/Shiraz benefits even more than most from getting a good airing before serving, so open it well in advance and decant (or otherwise aerate) it.

Syrah also appears in blends, especially from the southern parts of the Rhone region, where it is partnered with Grenache; northern Rhone Syrah-based wines are rarely if ever blended (save that, occasionally and curiously, a wee tad of white-wine Viognier might be added). Rhone reds are among the most prestigious in the world, and include such names as Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

For various reasons, Syrah has not been a big seller in the U.S.—which means that there are bargains (at least in a relative sense) to be had. Not a few wine writers (see some of the remarks below) feel that this disinclination arose from the glut of Australian Shiraz that washed into America some years back; there was (and is), to be sure, some tremendously good stuff in there, but there was also a lot of overblown, and over-priced, super-jammy "fruit bomb" stuff of little or no character or distinction, giving the varietal an association with plonk. (That sort of problem has infested other varietals, too, from Riesling—"No American will pay over $6 for a bottle of Riesling" as a winemaker once complained to us—to Merlot.)

Factoid: In the U.S., awareness of Rhone wines was materially raised by the activities of a few dedicated winemakers who informally called themselves the "Rhone Rangers".


Some Descriptions of Syrah Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The style and flavor profile of wines made from Syrah is influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown with moderate climates (such as the northern Rhone Valley and parts of the Walla Walla AVA in Washington State) tending to produce medium to full-bodied wines with medium-plus to high levels of tannins and flavors of blackberry, mint and black pepper notes. In hot climates (such as the Barossa Valley of Australia), Syrah is more consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of liquorice, anise and earthy leather. In many regions the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allows the wines produced from the grape to have favorable aging potential. . . Aroma characters can range from violets to berries (usually dark as opposed to red), chocolate, espresso and black pepper. No one aroma can be called "typical" though blackberry and pepper are often noticed. With time in the bottle these "primary" notes are moderated and then supplemented with earthy or savory "tertiary" notes such as leather and truffle. "Secondary" flavor and aroma notes are those associated with several things, generally winemakers' practices (such as oak barrel and yeast treatment). . . "Syrah"-labelled wines are sometimes thought to be more similar to classic Northern Rhône reds; presumably more elegant, tannic, smoke-flavoured and restrained with respect to their fruit component. "Shiraz"-labelled wines, on the other hand, would then be more similar to archetypical Australian or other New World examples; presumably made from riper berries, more fruit-driven, higher in alcohol, less obviously tannic, peppery rather than smokey, usually more easily approached when young, and possibly slightly sweetish in impression. It must however be realized that this rule of thumb is unevenly applied. . . Due to their concentrated flavours and high tannin content, many premium Syrah wines are at their best after some considerable bottle aging. In exceptional cases, this may be 15 years or longer."

  • Wine Folly

    "Syrah is responsible for some of the darkest full-bodied red wines in the world. It has dark fruit flavors from sweet blueberry to savory black olive. When you taste Syrah you’ll be greeted with a punch of flavor that tapers off and then has a spicy peppery note in the aftertaste. Because of its front-loaded style, Syrah is often blended with grapes that add more mid-palate, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, to help make the wine taste more complete. Traditionally in France, Syrah is blended with light-bodied Grenache and even richer Mourvedre to create the classic Côtes du Rhône blend. Old World Syrahs from Italy and France tend to have more acidity and earthy-herbaceous aromas. New World-styled Syrah wines from Australia, The U.S. and South America usually have more fruit-driven characteristics with lots of spice."

  • Tablas Creek

    "Syrah is most closely associated with the Northern Rhône appellations of Hermitage and Côte-Rotie, where it produces wines of phenomenal elegance and longevity. It is tremendously flexible, and can make elegant and restrained wines as well as wines bursting with fruit and oak, in locations as diverse as France, California, South Africa, and Australia. In the 1650s, South Africa was the first country outside France to plant Syrah, but it has never been more than a minor variety there. In Australia, however, where it arrived at the end of the 18th Century, it has become the most widely planted grape in that country. In the northern Rhône, Syrah is typically made as a varietal wine, at times co-fermented or blended with small amounts of Viognier. In the southern Rhône, Syrah is an important blending varietal, and second only to Grenache in acreage. It partners lends to Grenache-based blends darker color, structure, tannin and ageability. . . Wines made from Syrah are intense with a dark purple-black color. The wines taste of blackberry and black raspberry fruit, smoke, tar and black pepper, and have a smooth supple texture. Syrah reflects minerality well, and the chalky character of the tannins provides a wonderful backbone to softer, fruitier varietals such as Grenache and Counoise.

  • About.com

    "Shiraz wines display firm tannins (although they are typically ripe and smooth, not abrasive like younger reds can be), a medium to full body, and the rich round flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, bell pepper, black pepper, clove, licorice, dark chocolate and smoked meat."

  • Rhone Rangers

    "Syrah's characteristic flavors have been described as dark fruits, sometimes smoke, meat (particularly bacon), leather and a white pepper finish. Cooler regions seem to bring out black pepper, green olive and spice aromas while warmer regions have more pronounced raspberry, cherry and earthy notes."

  • Eric Asimov (The New York Times)

    "Certainly, Americans buy Côte-Rôtie when made by Guigal. They’ll even pay hundreds of dollars a bottle. These can be great wines, though perhaps atypical. But I fear that their stylistic legacy — ultra-ripe syrah fruit and lots of new oak flavor, especially when made with grapes from less distinctive sites by less experienced winemakers — results in too many wines of little character. This, I suggest, is why American don’t buy a lot of syrah: Too many of the wines seem generic, a blend of fruit and oak that may be vaguely pleasant but could come from anywhere and be made of any grape."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Syrah wines can display myriad dark-fruit flavors. Varietal Syrah can be quite floral in its youth, developing more peppery and herbaceous notes as it ages. Some examples show tanned leather and smoky scents, while the fruit in these wines tends towards the very dark flavors of blackcurrant and licorice."

  • Katie Kelly Bell (Forbes)

    "Syrah has merit, it has panache, it has style and grace, and it’s the best deal in red wine now. Think wines with spiced black fruits, velvety rims, tannins that purr and a backbone of peppery spice. You can spend $50 on a full-bodied Cabernet today if you want to do that, but why not gamble a bit and spend $30 on a Syrah?"

  • Snooth

    "Syrah is used primarily for producing strong red wines. The world’s 7th most grown grape in 2004, it is used as a varietal just as often as it’s blended. Its high tannin content gives it the ability to influence powerfully flavored, full bodied wines. Syrah wines tend to have an intensely rich, chewy texture with dark violet and black hues. Aromas lean on the spicier side, rather than fruity. Syrah’s smoky attributes and its ability to flourish in a large range of climates gives winemakers the chance to put their artistry into full practice, defining Syrah wines by the terroir and flavors such as black cherry, pepper, and spice."

  • Food and Wine

    "No grape scores higher on the intensity meter than Syrah. It’s the marquee grape of France’s Rhône Valley, where it makes smoky, powerful reds with hints of black pepper. It has also become the signature grape of Australia, where it’s called Shiraz, and typically produces fruitier, less tannic wines marked by sweet blackberry flavors. American Syrahs lean more toward the Australian mold, thanks to California’s similarly moderate weather; there are a few very good, earthy Syrahs coming from South Africa, too."


Some Syrahs to Try

(About this list.)

This list was problematic. As we all know, at under $20 you aren't going to get the best around for any varietal save perhaps a very few. But given that, the choices were many and hard to choose among. Thus, the list here is a tad longer than usual, a full dozen choices. Those choices are scattered around, from the Rhone to Washington and California to Chile to Australia. Have fun choosing.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Cave De Tain Crozes-Hermitage, $10 - $21.
    (France; this is not their more expensive "Les Hauts de Fief" bottling)

    Some quotations and facts:

    In the glass, this 2008 Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage is an intense ruby red, which makes the limited legs of this wine easy to see despite the fact that this 2008 Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage only contains 12.5% abv. Restrained on the nose, this 2008 Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage shows a great level of typicity in its black cherry, bonfire smoke and acerbic spice bouquet. Carried through to the palate, these flavours offer an impressive Northern Rhone expression of the Syrah grape. Vibrantly spicy, the fruit flavours of this 2008 Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage certainly play second fiddle to the anise, pepper and cedar notes that dominate the moderate to long palate. Moderate to high tannin and acidity suggest a reasonable propensity for aging.

    I was surprised by the medium garnet color (I thought it would be darker.) The nose was earthy, and contained notes of white pepper and clove. It was smoky on the nose and palate, well-balanced, tangy red fruit finish, a little chewy with food-friendly acidity.

    A fine value in Northern Rhône Syrah, the Tain cooperative’s 2009 Crozes-Hermitage is fairly extracted for a Crozes, with plummy, dark fruit alongside hints of clove, leather and coffee. Turns a bit astringent on the finish. 89 points

    Expressive red and black fruits vying for attention on the nose. The palate is well constructed, all in harmony, the fruit rolling along well throughout. 16.75pts/20 (89 pts/100)

    The biggest producer [in Crozes-Hermitage] is the superbly-run Cave at Tain l'Hermitage, which . . while not the finest and certainly nor the most concentrated red Crozes in 2005, still represents excellent value.

    I wouldn't be the first or last one to say that they almost always make very reliable Crozes-Hermitage red, which is nicely representative of pure tasty fruity spicy Syrah (all their reds are 100% sexy Syrah). . . [This wine:] floral spicy typical young Syrah nose, firm and tangy vs delicious simple fruit.

    He said: Clear purple-red color. Strong dark fruit and earthy aromas. Intense ripe fruit taste that goes into a long dry fruit finish…fruity right to the end. VERY easy drinking, yet quite robust. This is a well balanced Syrah that got better after the dinner with the slightly sweet BBQ sauce. She said: Definitely better after the dinner was finished. This wine started out on the wimpy side without the body and tannins I expected but as we drank the wine we enjoyed the robustness that we are accustomed to expect from a French Syrah. With red berry aroma and flavor the wine was dry and full bodied with firm velvety tannins that persisted into the long finish. I blame the BBQ sauce on the chicken for muddling the fist tastings and would like to try it with a more suitable dinner or forget the dinner entirely. The wine is delicious on its own for sure and I recommend it although it’s not under [their private] bargain price.

    [It] was as expected from Rhone valley Syrah, well structured with characteristic of terroir; it is rich on palate, red fruits, violets, little bit oaky with pleasant rounded tannins, very nice finishing.


  • E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, $13 - $30.
    (France)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Deep ruby. Ripe, deeply smoky aromas of black and blue fruits and candied flowers. Dense, ripe and appealingly sweet in the mouth, but sappy blackberry and violet pastille flavors that show impressive energy. Finishes on a peppery note, with excellent clarity and suave, harmonious tannins.

    However, this vintage of the Guigal Crozes-Hermitage is an excellent quality northern Rhone cooler-climate syrah at a fair price and well worth picking up. The wine has a modern fruity nose and a modern palate with plenty of savory characteristics and umami. There is somewhat of a lack of structure and balance on the finish, but overall this is very drinkable and a good value for the quality. Very Good+

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2011), 92 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (April 2013), 91 points

    The exceptional 2009 Crozes-Hermitage is one of the top wines of the vintage. A complex bouquet of black olives, licorice, ground beef, spring flowers and red and black currants soars from the glass of this 100% Syrah that is aged in 3-year-old barrels as well as larger foudres. With remarkable density, this evolved, approachable, delicious, full-bodied Crozes should drink well for a decade

    Two words: rich and fruity! This affordably priced Syrah from the Northern Rhone is quite yummy. It has beautiful flavors of cooked fruits like blackberries, currants, and plums, plus an earthy note of olives and bramble. I definitely enjoyed the texture of this wine -- nice a smooth without being too heavy, a perfect medium body. This wine spends 18 months in three-year-old French Oak barrels, helping to smooth out the wine without taking away from the fruit. In fact, the fruits linger on the palate just a smidge, and then leave you with a nice touch of licorice and earth. This wine received 92 well deserved points Robert Parker. I concur.

    This is really good, French-style syrah at a not-outrageous price. Crozes-Hermitage, an appellation in the northern Rhône Valley, where syrah reigns supreme, is an inconsistent place, arguably more hit than miss. Guigal, an esteemed large négociant producer, pulled off a winner here. It’s a meaty red, with a soupçon of pastrami (seriously), black currant and classic syrah pepperiness. The tannins pull it in tight. Decant it now or cellar it for up to a decade.

    Intoxicating nose of dark fruit, smoke and cedar. Spicy dark fruit flavors and cedar combine with good acidity and significant, but smooth tannins to produce a very well-balanced wine. This wine has lots of flavor. Flavors and tannins have come together nicely. An example of what can happen with age. It is great on its own and would be a great companion to food. This was the favorite wine of the group.

    With a dark garnet red color and 100 percent syrah, the Crozes-Hermitage has good balance and, nice acidity, and a reasonable alcohol level of 12.5 percent. Having had eighteen months in oak and a few years of bottle age, the tannins are mellow but stand up to a heavy meat such as short ribs. From gravel sites it has a nose of cherries, followed by flavors of raspberries and black cherries, followed by a mid-palate of cumin and black pepper.


  • Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, $18 - $40.
    (France)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Herbaceous, red berries, black pepper, violets and just a dash of something green. Oozing of wet humus. On the palate it’s delicate, never too much and has that 2011 feeling of pure, cool fruit. Again something slightly green which probably relates to the stems in the vinification. The first impression is that the 2011 will not evolve for more than half a decade or so, but then again, this is Alain Graillot. By now we know his wines evolves for much longer than that! It doesn’t possess the concentration as in 2010 but when I think about it; the acidity structure reminds me a lot of previous young vintages I’ve tasted. And the fruit is there. Cool but there. Drink a few now this summer. Save the rest for up to 10 years.

    Lovely intensity with ripe fruit aromas and vegetal notes. Good weight on the palate with complex structure and herbal characters; mineral on the finish.

    The 2011 Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage is 100% Syrah. The wine is opaque black at the core to violet at the rim. On the nose it has aromas of dusty blackberries, dried leather, smoked meat, dried herbs, black olives, with lavender and a hint of sweaty socks and creosote. On the palate it is bone dry, medium bodied, with medium alcohol, medium+ complexity and a medium length finish. This is an unmistakable Northern Rhone Syrah.

    The 2009 Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage is made from old vines and tends towards a more vegetal, leafy mode of expression. It is a fairly muscular, structured wine for Crozes-Hermitage with considerable tannin and good length. Very Good+ to Excellent.

    Though Hermitage is still king of the northern Rhone appellations, the larger, more heterogeneous Crozes-Hermitage is the region's rising star, thanks to topflight winemakers like Alain Graillot... in the space of 17 years Alain Graillot has established a reputation for making his Crozes Hermitage the most sought after of the appellation. In spite of only 20 hectares of vineyards, his wines are sold world wide on an allocation basis only. They are a special favourite with the most prestigious restaurants in France and elsewhere. Alain has a passion for the Syrah grape from which he makes hand crafted wines of great distinction and enormous elegance.

    Alain Graillot year in and year out makes some of the best Crozes-Hermitage. His 2008 is perhaps a bit young, and ’08 as well may be the weakest recent vintage from the northern Rhone. Nonetheless, this is a savory, structured wine that should benefit from decanting.

    Dark red colour with purple. Nose with blackberries, some liquroice, slightly flowery with violets, cloves, some animal notes including meat juices, and something that feels a bit like iron filings. Rather typical Northern Rhône Syrah nose. Medium bodied, dark berries with tart berry notes, good acidity, medium tannins, some tannic bite in the aftertaste. Rather young, but drinks rather well now. 86 points

    This producer, whose wines are common across the northern Rhône, makes a great basic Crozes-Hermitage. Full of smooth wild fruit and spice flavors, this wine has an open-knit texture.


  • Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale Shiraz, $16 - $24.
    (Australia)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A deep inviting ruby colour, the wine smells intensely of dark fruits – berries and plums. There are also aromas of sweet spice and vanilla, which could be down to the aging of the wine in a mixture of French and American oak. I thought I might have caught a whiff of mocha too. The taste is dark cherries and berries, with a really sweet spice and peppery finish. The tannins are velvety smooth, making this full-bodied wine really easy to drink. It’d be fine on it’s own but I’d like to serve it with traditional roast beef. The alcohol level is 14% – but to me this didn’t feel like a massive wine.

    The wine was dark purple, and had a bright, spicy nose that reminded me why I chose a Shiraz to drink in the first place. As I usually do, I tasted a small amount and decanted the rest for about half an hour. My taste buds were immediately greeted with warm spices, cherry and plum flavors. It somewhat skipped the middle part, and finish was as if someone had pushed a button to deliver a quick tang that lingered ever so slightly. After some time opening up, you could begin to isolate its characteristics. It's not the most complex wine I've ever had, but imagine a medium bodied wine with a spicy, cherry flavor followed by a quick rush of acidity with a plum flavor. All those flavors lingered in the tasty, but quick finish. . . Although a Shiraz, the spice resembled a French Chateauneauf de Pape and fruit a Spanish Monastrell.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2008), 90 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (October 2007), 89 points

    ♣ Wine Spectator (October 2007), 89 points

    Opaque purple, it presents aromas of smoke, cedar, tar, grilled bacon, and blueberry. Full-bodied, the wine delivers gobs of youthful ripe fruit flavors modulated by excellent balance and enough structure to carry this wine for 5-7 years in the cellar.

    In true McLaren Vale fashion there's a great dark fruit and spice line through and through this wine that's an extra joy. It's juicy, lip smacking as well as deeply rooted in its deeper flavour and textural spectrums. 94 points

    Youthful purple. Varietally accurate black fruits, licorice, cured meat and cracked pepper on the nose. Sweeter red berry flavors deepen with air, picking up ripe cassis and blueberry flavors, with gentle acidity providing lift. The sweet, silky finish features fine-grained tannins that nicely frame dark berry and cherry flavors. Very easy to drink.

    This is soaked in ripe damsons, plums and chocolate, with beautiful, velvety tannins. 17pts/20 (90 pts/100)

    Firm in texture, with a nice beam of dark berry and cherry flavors at the core, hinting at cinnamon and cedar around the edges. Finishes with persistence.


  • Robert Oatley McLaren Vale Shiraz, $17 - $21.
    (Australia)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A $17 shiraz from McLaren Vale has matched the much-hyped new release of Penfolds' Grange, with a price tag of $785, in a tasting with a panel of everyday wine drinkers. The wine, Robert Oatley 2011 Shiraz, scored 36/50 approval points from five tasters who also pointed the latest 2008 Penfolds Grange at the same mark. . . The 2011 Robert Oatley Shiraz and the 2008 Grange both scored 36 points out of a possible 50 from our panel that included a builder, an IT consultant and a travel agent/mum, as well as our wine expert Tony Love.

    Gently spiced raspberry and blackberry aromas, and an earthy, ironstone, regional thread introduce this great-value shiraz. Oak is subtle, giving real refinement to a medium-bodied, easy-textured red.

    Decanter International Wine Challenge (2013): Trophy, Best Australian Rhone Style; Gold Medal; 5*

    It takes only seconds to see the attraction of this wine. A deep, dense red, the gorgeous lifted aromatics of blueberry, apricot, ripe berries, spices and hints of oak make it immediately alluring. Such opulence against a monstrous concentrated number like Grange would no doubt stand out and while the articles in the national media are a marketer’s delight, the Cote Rotie type characteristics would have gone a long way to securing the Rhone gong that would please the winemaking team more. In the mouth it shows mulberry, dark plum, exotic spice and some meatiness. This is an Excellent wine under any rating system, it is imminently approachable but the generosity of fruit, well balanced oak and acid will ensure it will continue to improve in the short term. Is it the equal of Grange? Stylistically it is completely different but I can certainly see many preferring this style – certainly in the short term. A dead set bargain at $16.99 [Australian] anyway you cut it! Rating: Excellent.

    Deep red/purple colour; dense. Very rich, fragrant nose with lots of spice and a trace of pepper; but also a suggestion of stems. Complex and remarkably fragrant for a McLaren Vale wine. Big and sumptuous in the mouth, powerful and solid, very regional. Fruit sweetness. Luscious and fleshy, almost opulent. A ripper of a McLaren Vale shiraz. 93 points

    This wine has just won Decanter magazine’s trophy for best Australian Rhone-style red and I can certainly taste why. While the alcohol level of 14 per cent sounds formidable, it’s not really obvious. The dominant characters are of berries and spices, with quite subtle French oak in a support role. It’s soft, it’s fleshy, it’s a joy to wrap your gums around.

    Deep purple-crimson; both the bouquet and palate have a clarion call of regional character, black fruits, bitter chocolate and spice in a medium- to full-bodied framework; French oak has contributed, but it is the quality of the grapes, and the controlled alcohol that make the wine what it is. 94 points

    My pick of the lot. Loved it. Larry is looking for the fruit definition of McLaren Vale as well as the poise and definition. An extremely warm vintage. Beautifully made, seamless wine. Black fruits, chocolate. Very fine tannins. Has everything in place. Balanced, refined, and sensational value. Don't miss it. 93 points


  • Saviah Cellars "The Jack" Syrah, $14 - $20.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    There’s a big pop of blueberry jam in the nose, followed by blackberry, caramel and chocolate, black pepper, a trail of smoke and Granny Smith apple peel. Silky fruit flavors of blackberry and Marionberry keep working through the finish of smoky chocolate. Food-friendly acidity from the Grenache (10%) and Mourvèdre (10%) gives it balance.

    Deep, dark purplish red. Nice nose with aromas of plum, raspberry, and cinnamon. Juicy red cherry, raspberry, plum, and spice come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium to high tannins, and a very long finish. Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5); QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)

    Wine & Spirits (2010 vintage): 91 points; Double Gold; Best Buy

    ♣ Seattle Wine Awards (2012), Double Gold

    Double Gold winner The Jack Syrah followed and we savored each taste.

    The Syrah has appealing aromas of spicy red fruit, raspberries, plum and sweet herbs. It’s a friendly wine offering a mouthful of juicy fruit flavors that are complemented by silky tannins.

    [This] "Columbia Valley" Syrah actually came from a single vineyard in the Columbia Valley: Stillwater Creek. But wine lovers are not immune to the current economic climate, and so neither is the wine industry. This year [2010], Saviah didn’t find its loyal fans quite as willing to shell out fifty bucks a bottle for their single-vineyard masterpiece. So they relabelled it "The Jack Syrah" and started selling it for fifteen bucks instead. Needless to say, it’s astoundingly good. . . In the glass, it’s a beautiful deep violet, like a luxurious crushed velvet curtain. No, better yet – a King’s robe! You know, the kind lined with white leopard fur, like in the cartoons. On first pour, the nose exudes a symphony of black fruit: bing cherry, blackberry, blueberry, and a bourbony heat. Bit of rose on the back end. . . I then poured another glass. Through my Vinturi brand instant aerator. .  The nose suddenly extended by a half mile or more, tacking on seductive spice notes of saffron, vanilla, and the trademark Syrah aroma: black pepper. I returned to the first "pop and pour" glass for the initial taste. As one might expect from so young a Syrah of such high calibre, it was very tight with high acid. But even at this age, and with no decanting whatsoever, the tannins, while packing a wallop, were streamlined and disciplined. The finish was FANTASTICALLY earthy, with all the dirty Syrah flavors I love so much: gravel, cedar, tobacco, and a sort of damp, mossy, mushroomy flavor that brings to mind nurse logs for me. After aeration, the flavors remained (with the addition of a hint of oaky vanilla), but the texture became much softer and silkier.

    Easily approachable and loaded with tea leaf and blueberry. 18/20


  • Terra Blanca "Arch Terrace" Syrah, $14 - $20.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    (Not a lot of press, but a fine wine nonetheless.)

    Style: dry red; dark red color; aromas: blueberry, tobacco, smoked meat and dark cherry; flavors: A core of sweet ripe red and black fruits;; medium body; A core of sweet ripe red and black fruits finish that lingers on the palate.

    ♣ Seattle Wine Awards (2008 vintage), Double Gold

    These two syrahs have been beautifully crafted by winemaker Keith Pilgrim in more of Northern Rhone style and were sourced from his estate vineyards in the Red Mountain Appellation. The Arch Terrace is the leaner of the two, with bright red cherry and huckleberry flavors.

    "beautiful"


  • Purple Star Syrah, $16 - $20.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color, staining the glass. Aromatically appealing with smoke, char, an underlayer of spice, blueberry, and cooked egg. The palate is silky and textured, with thick fruit flavors. An extremely enjoyable wine that is an unusual find at this price point. 100% Syrah.

    Seattle Magazine 2012 "Best Red Wines": Syrah under $20, Winner: Purple Star 2009. Most of the fruit from this 100 percent Syrah, which fills the mouth with lush blackberry and black peppery spice, comes from Olsen Vineyards near Prosser in the Yakima Valley AVA. Five percent Kiona Syrah from Red Mountain brings structure to this lovely wine. . . Fifteen percent of [winery] proceeds goes to the Seattle Children’s Hospital Fund for Uncompensated Care, which gives us another reason to love this wine.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 91 points

    This wine uses 95% Olsen grapes from the Yakima Valley along with a touch of Red Mountain fruit, and it is superb. It opens with aromas of gooey brownies, dark fruit, sizzling bacon and moist earth. On the palate, it reveals hedonistic flavors of plum, blueberry, blackberry jam and roasted meat. It’s a big, dark, brooding wine with a great finish. Alas, it is sold out, but a new vintage is now for sale. Rating: Outstanding!

    Made from fruit that was sourced from Olsen Vineyards, this Syrah’s blackberry, cherry and pepper flavors and fine-grained tannins combine to make a wine with good length and a clean finish. 90 points.

    BBQ boysenberries and bacon fat all over the nose. Rich notes of blackberries and boysenberries hit the front of the palate with a spicy back-round. There is a bright core of fruit that is the backbone of this wine leading into a char-caramel finish. This Syrah sort of smacks you in the palate with attitude and finishes with a smirk. I like the spice and berry notes but missed the bacon-fat on the palate. A lot of folks are going to like this one. (B+)

    Purple Star ’09 Syrah is a wine that over delivers on quality for the price and is always one of our favorites. A true teeth stainer, and so good it’s hard to believe it’s only $16!

    Inky purple with black fruit and pepper flavors this is the top wine coming from Purple Star. Sourced primarily from Olsen Brothers vineyard in the Yakima Valley (with 5% coming from Red Mountain’s Kiona Vineyard), this wine is ripe for drinking now or laying down for a couple more years.


  • Fausse Piste "Garde Manger" Syrah, $17 - $21.
    (Washington State)

    Some quotations and facts:

    For [winemaker Jesse Skiles] that meant a minimalist, back-to-basics approach to making wine. He wanted to dial back the oak and lower the alcohol on his wines by picking earlier. He also wanted to use older approaches to wine making like whole-cluster fermentation and low sulfur additions. His Syrah is a great example of how this approach can work. It’s damn good, it’s food-friendly and light on its feet and it’s under $20. This is not a savory Syrah, but it has a purity of fruit untouched by the use of any new oak in its aging process. There’s some earthiness there in the background and mushroom aromas, but really this is a fruit forward Syrah that just screams ripe plum and cherry. It’s a simple, food-friendly wine that’s nicely balanced, very little alcohol comes through and there’s a good amount of acidity. The Fausse Piste put a big smile on my face.

    Tasted blind. Medium purple color. Aromas of brambly fruit, plums, raspberries and violets. With time, some real meaty aromas came out. On the palate, this wine is full of grippy tannins, pure berry fruit and lots of spices. With time, some more meaty characteristics came out, like sweet barbequed pork or something. Quite delicious. Pure and vibrant cassis and raspberry fruit, along with graphite and earth. Very nice syrah. Long finish. . . 91 points

    2011 Fausse Piste "Garde Manger" syrah from the Columbia Valley..for $20 it's a killer deal. Great fruit and smoked meat flavors, black olives put in an appearance too. Very yummy.

    I think that Jesse Skiles is one of the most exciting winemakers in Oregon right now. Although I missed the already-sold out Ce lieu après Syrah this year (my historical favorite from the Fausse Piste line), the Garde Manger was an excellent second choice. Enjoyed with two of my best friends, this was a wine to remember!


  • Qupé Syrah, $14 - $19.
    (California; this is not the more expensive "Bien Nacido" bottling)
         ($18.44 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This dark garnet is a 16 vineyard blend (with the biggest component being Bien Nacido) made mostly from Syrah, with a little Grenache and Mourvedre, and it’s so fresh, it’s not even listed on the Qupé website as of this writing [November, 2006]. It shows animal and tar over big, rich, earthy black plums and berries, and it’s full bodied and well structured, with good length. I’d be hard pressed to name a better value in Syrah from the US than this, and in that regard, Rick told me he has a lasting memory of asking Bob Lindquist why this is so well priced when he could obviously ask more for it. Bob replied, "Because I’d rather you drink two bottles with dinner than one." I can go along with that!

    It is made primarily with grapes from the cooler Edna Valley where Qupé is based, but rounded out with some grapes from the hotter Paso Robles. The base of cooler climate grapes gives the wine a bit more balance and freshness than many sun-baked California Syrahs, but the addition of the Paso Robles provides plenty of the rich, fruity intensity that defines the California style.

    A light, bright, strawberry-scented syrah, this has a fresh, open feel to its red fruit flavor. Bob Lindquist makes some of the most consistently fine syrah in California, and this latest release is classical in its simple lines. Buy a case to enjoy this spring and summer once the cover comes off the grill. 90 points

    This dark ruby colored Syrah opens with a mild black currant bouquet with a hint of new leather. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied and slightly acidic. The flavor profile is a cedar infused black raspberry. The finish is dry, with mild tannins and its friendly fruit flavors linger slightly.

    The 2010 Syrah impresses for its length and textural finesse. This is a medium-bodied, feminine style of Syrah, and while varietal notes never really develop, the wine shows quite a bit of polish and overall harmony for its price point. . . This year I found some of the entry-level wines terrific, especially considering their very fair prices.

    The wine has bright aromas of strawberries and herbs. The clean palate features red fruit, black pepper, and hint of minerals. This is definitely not a rich, jammy Syrah, but instead has more of a light-bodied, elegant character. Simple yet simply good! B+

    Bright violet color. Red berries and cherry on the fragrant, spice-accented nose and palate. Juicy and light on its feet, showing good finishing focus and cut. In an uncomplicated, easygoing style and ready to drink

    In the glass: Medium deep red. On the nose: Poured at room temperature and swirled vigorously, shows soft red berry fruit with a creamy overtone. From the aroma, seems like this will be soft and engaging. On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are in fact much as anticipated. Red berries are blended with a creamy supporting structure. Bright, aromatic, layered. Finish is lengthy, balanced and continues to spit red fruit into your cheeks for a full minute. In summary: Overall, rates an impressive four stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale. No question that this is a best value.

    This Central Coast Syrah was a deep purple at the core with ruby highlights at the rim. The youthful hue was just a passing note but the enticing scent was worth lingering over. I brought my nose to the bulb and discovered scents lifting (medium-plus) of cooked plum, tobacco, sage, cardamom and jerky. The intense aromatics were mouth-watering and continually evolving. When I transitioned to the palate, the first sip showed off the structure, a flexed frame (medium body), with moderate tannin and medium acidity that helped round out the slightly warm finish of Pluots, black cherry, tobacco, beef jerky and dried herbs.


  • Klinker Brick "Farrah" Syrah, $16 - $21.
    (California)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Utterly decadent. With all the rivers of Syrah currently gushing across the borders of Washington state, it seemed a bit kinky to feature one from a somewhat frowned-upon region of California, a state which a lot of “experts” regard as too warm a climate to grow “proper” Syrah. Having never been especially proper, I tasted this and simply dropped my teeth on the floor. Sourced from the “monster-wine” appellation of Lodi, Klinker Brick’s “Farrah” certainly expresses the area’s notorious “fruit bomb-ish” character but then adds a fine-grained layer of acids and firm but supple tannins to create what might best be called an “Uber-Rhone”. This wine is rich and soft and deep and black as the pit of hell and is scaled like a Napa Power Cabernet but shows an totally uncharacteristic grace and balance that makes this, hands down, the finest wine of any type I’ve ever found from rural old Lodi. The palate is broad and emphatic, offering up gobs of blackberry liqueur, plum jam, stewed raspberries, pie crust, sage, pepper, cocoa, espresso, and flowers, with grace notes of spruce and gunpowder. The nose is incense, waffle cone, hot cherries, and cafe au lait and the texture is as sensual and luxurious as any wine I’ve sampled in two years. The very thing that gives this wine its romance and fantastic appeal is the thing that will probably have hide-bound Francophiles forming their pursed pieholes into a prissy little moue of disapproval: it tastes rich and soft and fruity and sexy. For the faux-French hoardes, these things are the Syrah Kiss of Death. More for the rest of us, is my view. This is one of the most fabulous deals in American Syrah in the past ten years. 95 Points.

    Perhaps my expectations were a little too high, because at first sniff I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong — this is a very tasty wine. But it doesn't remind me of Syrah from the Rhone. And that's my problem, not yours. If you completely ignore all the geeky stuff about climate, terroir, soil, etc., above, and just drink this wine for what it is, you'll probably be very pleased. It has an expressive nose of rich spices — cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla — with a dose of black raspberry. In the mouth it explodes with sweet red and black raspberry (black raspberry brandy, actually), vanilla, and undertones of mild earth and blackberry. The texture is creamy. Tannins are mild to medium, as is the acidity. The finish is mostly vanilla and black raspberry. For me, the Syrah in this wine is overwhelmed by the oak component (it spent 15 months in French oak barrels), making it difficult to match with food. As a “cocktail wine,” though, it's awesome, as it shows many layers of spice and sweet fruit. But understand, I'm overly sensitive to oak — most people like it more than I. If that's your style, you'll like Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (December 2012), 91 points, "Top Value from California"

    ♣ California State Fair Wine Competition (2012): 98 Points; Double Gold; Best Syrah of California

    A big, rich, full-bodied and expressive mix of spicy, beefy flavors, this deeply fruited Syrah flirts with berry jam yet gains depth and sophistication.

    [T]he Klinker Brick Syrah is a killer: starting with its vivid purplish color and luscious nose exuding sweet strawberry, raspberry and cherry bomb fruits; flavors of which dig deep into the palate via bright, zesty, medium-full, well rounded sensations. "Farrah is definitely an American Syrah," says [winemaker] Felten, "heavier than European styles (i.e. reds from France’s Northern Rhône Valley), but lighter than Australian styles (i.e. Shiraz)."

    Deep and dense with ripe cassis, black raspberry and vanilla oak notes; rich and full bodied with lovely balance, tangy acidity and a long luscious finish. 91 points

    A voluptuous Syrah that makes a superb first impression is the 2009 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah for $18. From Lodi, Calif., the Klinker Brick winery may be better known for its big, luscious Zinfandels, but their Farrah Syrah should not go unnoticed. A round, creamier mouth feel introduces surprising favors of vanilla and milk chocolate truffles. Hints of sweet oak and perfumed clove contribute to this wine’s intoxicating appeal.

    We tried two vintages. The ‘08 had a smokiness with flavors of berries and tobacco. The 2007 had settled down a bit and had a smooth mellowness to it. Both are in the French style with a nice balance and finished in oak.


  • Montes Alpha Syrah, $12 - $28.
    (Chile)
         ($23.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The nose is ripe and lively with plenty of florality, black licorice and subtle leather tones. On the palate you can expect some serious fruit - cherry, blackberry and blueberry claim the initial spotlight with well-honed structure, a full body and tangible tannins dominating the evolution.

    The Montes Alpha Syrah is characterized by a deep ruby color. The initial aromas are floral with notes of leather and tobacco. Many people describe it as "earthy." Flavors of fruit come through when tasting, particularly blueberries and cassis. The finish has hints of oak, which is unsurprising given that the Syrah is aged for one year in French oak barrels. The wine is rich and full-bodied, with mature tannins making it easy on the palate. Hints of spice and pepper make this a wine that is a fantastic pairing with tomato sauces or red meats. . . At its price point the Montes Alpha is one of the most sophisticated Syrahs available and one purely Chilean both in grape and in production.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (July 3, 2006), 91 points

    Lovely aromas of black cherry confiture and freshly shaved vanilla bean lead to a ripe, supple palate of cassis, plum and mineral, all shaded deftly with a dash of spicy toast. Shows nice grip too.

    Montes Alpha Syrah pours a dark reddish-purple in the glass. The nose has earthy aromas of blueberry, leather, and spice. Tastes of dark fruit, tart cherries, and tobacco fill the wine’s silky palate. The finish is smooth and spicy with earthy undertones. A rich yet elegant Syrah that drinks well beyond its price point. A-

    A full, spicy and fruity Syrah with an intense colour and a burst in the mouth. Smooth tannins and cool, sexy forest fruit. Maybe a bit mass produced and not too personal, but who cares? This is only around £10-15 (only in a good way, still a great gift!). . . None of the hot jammy characteristics of the Central Valley, but much fresher fruit with notes of tobacco, leather and a whiff of cedar with a nice acidity and a little Syrah smack in the mouth. Great for its price.

    Firm aroma of plum, black pepper, and a touch of bacon fat. Strong tannins with a long, spicy finish.

    Big nose, smoky and spicy, just hinting at the quality to come. Dry in the mouth with nice berry fruit. Elegant and interesting, with a slight blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. .  [T]his Syrah is one that I won't forget soon. In fact, it would be a nice candidate for aging in the years to come. Don't pass this one up. 93 points


For a Splurge

There is plenty of room for "splurge" for top-rank northern-Rhone specimens, but one can have a more modest splurge and still get some rather fine wines. From the Saint-Joseph and Cornas appellations, one could probably not go wrong with any of these:

(With a tip of the hat to Stephen Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar.)


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