Like This, Try That: Syrah Edition - IMBOLDN
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Syrah originated in France, but this dark-skinned varietal has logged some miles since it left the motherland. You can now find Syrah in Washington State, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, California, Italy, Spain, Australia, and beyond, though you may well see it marketed as Shiraz (an Australian invention that is now used by a number of non-Australian producers, too). No matter what you call it, this grape is delicious both on its own and as part of a blend.

Back in it’s native France, Syrah is a Northern Rhone superstar. In fact, it’s the only red grape legally allowed in bottles from the AOC appellations of Hermitage and Cote Rotie. As for taste, Syrah in its purest form is an inky swirl of dark fruit, earth, spice, floral notes, pepper, anise, and mushrooms. Some people get whiffs of truffle, and it’s common to get both smoke and cured meat on those nose and palate. New World – “Shiraz” – versions tend to be more fruit forward while Old World Syrah brings the funk, but that’s not always the case.

If you’re already a lover of big, juicy Northern Rhone Syrah, you may be looking for an affordable alternative, and we’ve taken care of that below, but this list is also a great entry point for new Syrah drinkers who may want to taste their way around the world. And really, who wouldn’t?

Delas Hermitage ‘Les Bessards’, 2013

If you’re curious what top-level Rhone is all about, this is where you should start. The Delas Frères winery dates back more than 160 years, and that kind of history comes with a hefty reputation. Delas wines are known for their intensity and value – in other words, lots of bang for your buck, even if it costs more than a few bucks to play.

This particular bottle has racked up a barrel worth of acclaim. One taste and you’ll see why. If wine can be sexy, this is practically a centerfold. The perfume is almost as intoxicating as a pheromone spray: fresh floral notes flick past juicy dark berries, cherries, pepper, and salty-savory olive. The wine is big, bold, and full-bodied, with a dense, fleshy chew that reveals undercurrents of espresso and tobacco.

Drink it by the fire, surrounded by first-editions (or just Netflix and chill in style).

Local: M. Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage ‘Les Varonniers’, 2013

Okay, so $88 isn’t exactly cheap, but if you’d like a “sometimes wine” that packs a significant impact on your palate (and your guests) without causing irreparable damage to your wallet, this is an excellent pick.

Chapoutier is a Rhone Valley legend. The family is like local royalty; they’ve had vineyards in Rhone for centuries, and they’ve combined that history with innovate techniques that have helped push biodynamic winemaking into the modern age. Add to that a portfolio that includes the most 90+ rated wines in all of Rhone and you’ve got something truly special.

Critic Robert Parker describes Les Varonniers as “brilliant”, and it is. In the glass, the color of the wine graduates from deep rub to an intense purple, and the flavor has just as much depth. Expect layers of crazy juicy red and black fruit, licorice pepper, ash, and sweet vanilla. There’s also a fleck of granite that provides an intriguing juxtaposition to the wine’s jammier qualities. Scrumptious.

A Little Far Flung: d’Arenberg ‘The Little Venice’ Single Vineyard Shiraz, 2010

Yeah, we know, another pricey pick, but Australian Shiraz at its best is simply mindblowing, and this truly is one of the best. The d’Arenberg estate is about 100 years old, but things are far from stale. The winery focuses on being different, on honoring tradition while still creating wines full of personality and that speak to both the magic of old vines and the character of the people behind the scenes.

Currants, plums, blueberries, cassis, pepper, brown sugar, vanilla, clay, mocha, olive, forest floor, truffles, limestone, baking spice – the list reads like a chef’s nightmare, but somehow these ingredients work together to create a sensory masterpiece. The finish is firm and lengthy but the initial sensation of ripe, juicy fruit is never lost.

The Little Venice is a wine that deserves a special place in your collection. You can enjoy its wild side now or cellar it until 2030 (or beyond) for a very important date – or a celebration for one. You choose.

Out There: Dunham Cellars Syrah, 2012

It’s a long way from Rhone to Washington, but Syrah has made the trek and it’s alive and well in its new locale. Dunham is a powerhouse in Washington and has been since it launched in 1995. They source their grapes from the state’s best growers and pay tons of attention to terroir – so basically it’s the French approach on American soil.

Except a much more jammy, fruit-forward version of Syrah. The plum and blueberry in this wine is pronounced and “juicy” has never been a more apt descriptor. Think warm, homemade jam sampled right from the pot. There’s even a hint of vanilla and orange zest, but lest you start thinking this is a little too sweet for your sophisticated palate, rest assured that there’s a bit of charcoal lurking in the depths to keep things grounded.

Like most great Syrah, this wine will age beautifully over the next few years, gaining even more finesse and balance along the way.