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Syrah Filled With Surprises, Tougher To Find

August 29, 2018

Syrah has become harder to find. I’m so old, I remember when syrah was one of the most purchased red wines of the 1990s and people ordered it by name (or by its Australian name, shiraz).

Now, it has become something of an oddity.

When you find a good syrah, you’ll find it spreads across the palate. It seems to have a broader range of flavors than other grape varieties randomly sampled from the shelf. Syrah can be fruity, spicy, savory, smooth or sharp — a chameleon.

Its downfall, some say, is that it often is not fruity, showing a lot of non-fruit character. People love to taste fruit in their wines. It is often earthy, and character of olive and tobacco is pretty standard. Terms such as “olive,” “earth” and “tobacco,” however, don’t sell wine as easily as the cherry character of pinot noir and the blackberry of cabernet.

Of course, Australia continues to make it as “shiraz,” the finest coming from Barossa and the most common tasting like a generic red.

As it sought signature grapes through the years, Washington state for a time latched onto syrah, or concluded it could do a superior job to the shiraz being dumped on American shores.

For a Song 2014 Columbia Valley Syrah probably wasn’t made to age for four or more years, but it tastes great with blackberry, a hint of menthol and anise on the finish. $11. 1/2

Syrah has no tradition in Sicily, but the good winemaking and warm weather works for the grape with roots in the warm Rhone region. Firriato Altavilla della Corte Syrah 2013 from Sicily is a big wine with an earthy, minty nose loaded with eucalyptus and spice with a light, savory finish. Clearance for $7.19.

As an international variety, syrah grows everywhere, including South America, and sometimes you can see where it is less than a perfect match.

Matetic Corralillo 2014 San Antonio Valley Syrah from Chile is rustic and earthy with big flavors with pronounced black pepper on the finish. The wine is a bit green and tight. $15. 1/2

Syrah is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you are going to get.

GRADE: Exceptional , Above average , Good , Below average , Poor .

DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.

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