Syrah has always been one of my favorite grapes. Grown in France's Northern Rhône Valley, it makes an august, powerful wine tasting of black plums, licorice, spice and black pepper, with a powerful opulence that improves when aged 10 years or more.
Grown in warm, sunny Australia, where they call it shiraz (even though it's the same grape) it can be jammy and soft, tasting of strawberries and cinnamon, and can be drunk the day you buy it.
It has a kind and forgiving nature. More than any other grape, to me, it forgives being grown in the wrong place, made under less than perfect conditions. Try that with, say, pinot noir and the resulting wine would be undrinkable.
All of which means that, if you have to buy a really cheap wine in these hard times, buy a syrah. It'll probably still be OK.
Because of all this, syrah is grown nearly everywhere -- France, California, Washington, Chile, Australia, South Africa, even Switzerland.
Syrah also, as they say in preschool, plays well with others. Winemakers blend it with
cabernet sauvignon, grenache, mourvedre, malbec, zinfandel, sometimes even with a touch of
viognier, which is a white grape.
With its rich, ripe flavors, syrah goes well with barbecue, grilled meats, slow-cooked
brisket, wild game, aged hard cheeses. In a perfect world, I would hunt down a wild boar,
stud it with garlic, roast it on a spit and serve it with a plate of potatoes cooked in
the coals and a glass of syrah. As things are, I could have a cheeseburger.
• 2006 Crozes-Hermitage Nouvelère, by Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet, AOC
Crozes-Hermitage: ripe and full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of toasted oak,
blackberries and earth; $40.
• 2006 Kendall-Jackson Estates Grown Syrah, Vintner's Reserve, Calif. (87 percent
syrah, 9 percent zinfanfel, 4 percent grenache): spicy black cherries and licorice,
opulent and ripe; $12.
• 2006 Emiliana Coyam, Los Robles Estate, Rapel Valley, Colchagua, Chile (34 percent
syrah, 31 percent merlot, 17 percent carmenère, 12 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent
malbec, 3 percent mourvèdre): blackberries, sandalwood and vanilla, rich and ripe and
• 2006 Goat Rock Syrah, Taz Vineyards, Santa Barbara County, Calif.: rich and ripe,
with blackberry and black pepper flavors; $28.
• 2007 Pillar Box Red, Henry's Drive Vignerons, Padthaway, Australia (65 percent
shiraz, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot): black cherries and dark
chocolate, round, ripe tannins; $12.
• 2005 Wilson Winery Syrah, Dorothy's Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: aromas and flavors of
oak, blackberries and spice, ripe tannins; $28.
• 2006 Novy Syrah, Sonoma County: black cherries and black coffee, rich and ripe; $19.
• 2006 Rosemount Diamond Estate Shiraz, Australia: black plums and mocha, soft and