New World Syrah for the Fall

Spicy, rich and complex, these wines are winners


Syrah is one of the perfect wines with which to welcome autumn. It can certainly be a full-bodied wine, but since it's not quite as assertive as Cabernet based wines, and packs less of an alcoholic punch than many Zinfandels and Chateauneuf du Papes, I find it a perfect fit for fall. Its naturally smoky, meaty aromas are balanced by crisp black raspberry and boysenberry fruit, recalling the flavors and aromas of the season. Structurally, Syrah comes equipped with zesty acids and fine tannins making it a wine that is equally enjoyable at the dining table, or on it's own. 

In the past many "New World" producers tried to tame Syrah. Most have now come to the conclusion that there are simply too many who enjoy the peppery, gamy, nuanced flavors of Syrah to continue to ignore them. While the Syrah produced in warmer climates, frequently equated with this "New World" style, are fundamentally different from their cooler climate counterparts, with a soft nature and more pronounced fruit, it is no less compelling a style. Syrah is going through an identity crisis of sorts, and you the drinker are the beneficiary. Get out there and sample what the world has to offer before everyone rediscovers Syrah, and prices climb back to where they should be: equal to some of the finest wines of the world.

What to expect: Syrah

One of the few grapes to truly be a global success, Syrah (aka Shiraz) combines a meaty core of ripe berry fruit with tones that range from herbal to peppery, in a package that tends to the medium bodied end of the spectrum pairing good acidity and moderate tannins. With age the wines can gain lovely leathery and black olive notes that makes them a great match for savory and gamy dishes.

Great Syrah starts with Great Fruit and both of these Wines are the epitome of their style.

2006 Rudi Schultz Syrah Stellenbosch South Africa
On the nose this is amazingly complex, with classic scents and a great grilled beef note. Rich in the mouth with a chocolatey edge to the black raspberry and loganberry fruit, and fine, balanced acidity with an extra layer of wood tannin that quickly makes itself known on the palate.

2004 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley
On the nose this is a bowl of berries, fresh and sweet, yet neither confected, nor roasted, and with just a faint backdrop of oaky spice adding some contrast. In the mouth there is a smoky, sweet, bacon fat quality that hovers over the fresh black raspberry fruit.

Additional wines reviewed for this article.

2008 Black Swan Shiraz South Eastern Australia  13.5% - This smells rather light with a nice jammy blackberry tone and sweet cinnamon sugar top notes with a suggestion of dark flowers.  This is quite acidic in the mouth, searingly so with a chemical quality to the acid that is off putting. The nice fruit is hiding behind the acid and its accompanying raw pine resin, cleaning solution tones.  The finish still shows some of this balsamic resin, but with a nice red currant fruit tone as well.  This is modestly spicy and the chemical tone does blow off but the acid is just out of whack. 82pts

2006 Columbia Crest Syrah Grand Estates - Nice dark fruits on the nose have a roasted edge and are framed with vanilla, roast coffee and spicy oak notes. On entry this is full and darkly fruited but the sweetness of the fruit quickly fades leaving the mid-palate exposed to an onslaught of spicy oak and wood tannins. The finish has decent length and nice freshness but not enough to redeem this. 82pts

2007 Excelsior Shiraz South Africa 14.5% - Fruity on the nose with a spicy, fudgy character to the roasted plum fruit. A nice dose of oak seems to be playing in the background with vanilla and warm mulling spice tones.  A bit lean with some nice mineral detail up front then turning a touch meaty on the mid-palate with a moderate amount of dark, plum and prune toned fruits, even dates. A rather dark wine with those notes carrying through on the finish.  The acidity seems a bit unintegrated across the palate and on to the short finish. Screwcap  83pts

2005 McDowell Valley Vineyards William Roan Shiraz  - This has a huge black pepper note on the nose backed up by some American oak tones and all wrapped in a ball of jammy blackberry fruit. It’s rich on the palate but on the soft side with plenty of tannins adding definition to the jammy raspberry mid-palate. This is uncomplicated and easy drinking in a fruit forward style that has a bit of spice and woody tannin on the modest finish. 86pts

2009 Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz 12.5% - Fresh, spicy and fun on the nose with plenty of black pepper flecked, jammy, smoky strawberry fruit.  Fairly sweet but for many people this is just what they’ve been waiting for. It’s intensely fruity but not that large scaled with good structure. The jammy wild berry fruit tones linger on the finish.  This is simple and simple a whole let of fun! 87pts

2008 DMZ Shiraz South Africa 13.5% - Almost smells like it’s got a bit of Pinotage in there with it’s smoky, rubber tones but  that may simply be some reductive funk as it begins blows off with air. Revealing tons of cracked pepper with some subtle soil and herbal tones adding detail to the tight, floral black fruits. A bit of a small nose but well balanced and complete. Really tight on entry with nice tannins and balanced acid but this is just a baby. There are nice black raspberry notes and that floral, forest floor from the nose is quite pronounced in the mouth but this feels and tastes closed. Clean and crisp on the finish. This seems to have all the pieces in place to emerge as a very well balanced Shiraz in 6-12 months but for now let it rest.  87pts

2005 Bridlewood Syrah Santa Ynez Valley 14.5% - Sweetly oaky with cedar pencil shaving notes emerging quickly from the glass over deep notes of pink peppercorn, flowers, honey, chamomile, green olive, black cherry and dried strawberry tones.  Nice feel in the mouth with a bright core of red berry fruit and integrated oak notes providing back up. This is wonderfully varietally correct with a bit of tannin sticking out but other wise very well balanced and easy to enjoy.  There are nice notes of herb and bitter cocoa adding complexity on the back end and leading to a particularly cocoa tinged finish. 88pts

2005 Shoestring Syrah Santa Ynez Valley  15.6% - Deep, sweet and immediately accessible, this shows plenty of jammy, spicy fruit with a floral, perfumed topnote that has well integrated notes of French oak.  This is big and juicy with a surprising brightness to the flavors and texture. Spicy, floral and vanilla tones frame the sweet red berry fruit son the palate.  The tannins are very soft and integrated though they give a touch of gab on the finish which has a lingering pomegranate tone.  This is big, yet balanced, if a touch simple but with good purity of fruit. 88pts

2006 Carlisle Syrah Sonoma County 15.1% - Deep, jammy, vanilla, smoky, peppery jerky, spicy boysenberry fruit, really white peppery and dried meaty with a hint of milk chocolate.  Packed with fruit, fairly seamless in the mouth with a wonderful intensity and purity to the dark berry fruit tones. The tannins and acid are there but it’s frankly hard to judge either since they are so well integrated and balanced. The fruit is dark, rich and surprisingly fresh. The tannin and red cherry fruit tones slowly ooze out, and a nice vanillin top note emerges in the glass.  The finish is long and laced with minerals, olive brine and tar. This needs a bit more time, say another 2 years but it verging on excellent already 89pts

2007 Lionheart Wines Dry Creek Valley Syrah 15.0% - Intensely Chocolaty on the nose with a spicy, tropical fruit/ orange peel tone and perfumed, brambly, juniper scented blackberry fruit. A bit chunky and even chewy in the mouth but with refreshingly raw tannins and nicely balanced acidity. The wine is a touch drying at this stage but is well balanced with a blackberry candy note on the mid-palate that contrasts with bitter chocolate, espresso and slightly medicinal notes lurking in the fruit.  This feels a bit better than it tastes at this point but it can certainly improve with some age. 89pts

2004 Chateau Felice Estate Syrah – A really intense nose that combines an assertive oak presence with layers of intensely animal and floral aromas. In the mouth this is big and rich and very mouth filling. It feels a little bit constructed and murky but has good acid and fine, balanced tannins supporting intense fruit streaked with notes of vanilla, pepper, bacon fat and a teriyaki/jerky tone that lingers on the moderately long finish. This has great Syrah typicity in a bold, brash style. 90pts

2006 Broc Cellars Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah Bennet Valley 14.9% - polished and shiny on the nose with vanilla, oak, spice, cracked pepper, star anise, dried juniper and a ball of sweet, ripe, spicy red and black fruits.  This is downright silky with a fine balance of sweetness from both the fruit and wood and counteracting acidity. This is black fruited, dark yet agile on the palate with a wonderful clarity even if the wine is a touch simple.. Sinewy and muscular with lovely purity if a bit too oaky on the backend. Give this 2-3 years for all the oak to integrate but this is already one gorgeous mouthful of syrah. Finish could be longer. 90pts

2007 Carlisle Russian River Valley Syrah 14.1% - This is a heady glass of Syrah bursting with herbed green olive and soil tinged notes of ripe blackberry and boysenberry fruit,. There’s a streak of powdered cocoa on the nose and some deeply embedded licorice but the main theme is purely ripe fruit.  Open and slightly less dense on the palate than the nose might imply. This is young but really fresh with crisp tannins and enough acid to keep it flowing across the palate. It picks up some vanilla on the back end but the fruit melds seamlessly with the oak and evolves into a slightly meaty, toasty, black pepper tinged finale with a touch of mineral tension that adds length and freshness and super fine tannins..  This screams out for a grilled steak, not too fat, not to intense.  90pts

2005 Maycas del Limari Syrah 13.5% - Very floral on the nose with a precise core of lightly smoky raspberry fruit backed up with a touch of buttery oak, wild blueberries and herbs. In the mouth the tannins here are super-fine giving the wine a lovely density. The flavors are sharp with notes of wild raspberry, wild cherry and tobacco. This retains an elegant feel with lovely purity and finishes with herb and peppery spice tones on the moderately long finish.  91pts

2005 Edmunds St John Parmalee Hill Syrah – The nose is a touch disjointed with rocky tones and a rubbery edge to the big, earthy blackberry and game fruit tones with lovely smoky overtones. In the mouth his has pure mineral toned, bitter cocoa tinged blackberry fruit that unfurls over the palate.  Still an infant this is rich yet simple but with such a nice earthy long finish, full of plummy fruit accented with suggestions of coffee and gravel. This still needs time in the cellar. 92pts

2005 Ojai Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 14.5% - funky sweaty leather, intense, earthy, savory escargot, some raw coconutty wood here, boysenberry juice, lots of forest floor. Great complexity with only a subtle fruitiness.  Very finely focused in the mouth with lots of soft tannins and finely integrated acids supporting soft, almost grapy, slightly peppery black raspberry fruit. This is rather agile on the palate for such a big wine. This has a slightly raw feel to it and will definitely benefit from another 2-4 years in the bottle.  There’s a very attractive herbal note on the back end that contrasts nicely against fruit and the finish is a mélange of apple, pomegranate and boysenberry fruits that are fresh, pure and long with a hint of that sweet/sour jolly ranch character. 93pts

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: shanj1
    213183 1

    Check out Zaca Mesa 2005 Syrah. Excellent. Around $20.

    Nov 03, 2009 at 2:55 PM

  • Snooth User: senomoto
    211333 2

    Syrah from "around the globe"? Where are the wines from the Northern Rhone? This is the home for peppery, gamy and nuanced Syrah from such storied regions as Cornas, Cote Rotie, and Hermitage. Discover true bargains from Crozes-Hermitage with wines ranging between $20-$35.

    Nov 03, 2009 at 3:54 PM

  • ...and locally the Napa Valley produces a fine Syrah...taste the Cakebread Syrah...heavenly...

    Nov 03, 2009 at 6:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Senomoto, I had a 1998 La Rosine from Ogier which I chose to use with last Friday's food and wine pairing email. I just did not have any current vintage French Syrah on hand to include in our tasting. But I did feel guilty enough about that to treat myself to the La Rosine!

    Nov 03, 2009 at 6:26 PM

  • Check out Jade Mountain Syrah 2005...Excellent Wine.

    I did not have much likings to Syrah earlier, but this changed my mind.

    Also another one that I just tried was the Edna Valley Syrah 2006. Decent enough...

    Both of these are in the sub $20 range.

    Nov 03, 2009 at 7:37 PM

  • Snooth User: aukang
    201841 1

    how about more expensive Syrahs/Shiraz such as Clarendon Hills Astralis? I understand the 2005 and 2006 vintages are great?

    Nov 03, 2009 at 9:30 PM

  • Snooth User: senomoto
    211333 2

    Gregory, a couple Crozes-Hermitage I've enjoyed lately have been the 2007 Laurent Combier and 2007 Gilles Robin Cuvee Papillon. One of my friends also recently popped an '89 Thierry Allemand Cornas that was unbelievably fabulous.

    Nov 03, 2009 at 10:07 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Senomoto, when I read the 'from around the globe' header I tend to think that the focus is going to be more on New World wines than on syrah's traditional home back in the Rhone. The forum has focused a bit of attention on syrah and other Rhone wines in the past. I also think Greg was going for bottles at the lower end of the price spectrum, but thanks to the work of Parker and others, those from the northern Rhone don't fall in that category as much as they used to.

    Here are a few past threads that might be of interest.
    (including a review of Zaca Mesa)
    --more on the southern Rhone, but still somewhat pertinent:
    --and even further afield with white Rhones:

    After doing a quick and dirty search, Greg, it does appear that coverage of Hermitages, Cote Roties and the like has been spottier than perhaps is desirable, and it might not be a bad idea to spend some time focusing on the North Rhone sometime relatively soon! The 2007s are so gorgeous that the vintage can always be an excuse for the coverage...

    Nov 04, 2009 at 7:34 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Here's another thread I just found on (mostly) Australian shiraz:

    Hmmm, a separate issue, but when I queried the wine search box with 'Rhone syrah', all I got was one wine!

    Nov 04, 2009 at 7:54 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    My bad on the Rhone syrah search. Had it on the default 'Japan' without realizing it'd been reset. When I choose 'all countries' I get thousands of results....

    Nov 04, 2009 at 8:06 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I would love to do a tasting featuring the wines of Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas and St. Joseph. Unfortunately I don't have any lying around the office.

    I will see what I can do but expect, as hard as it may sound, that it might be easier for me to pull off a Vertical tasting, of Chave, Jamet, or Ogier, rather than a horizontal of recent release wines!

    Senomoto, you drink well! Allemand is one of the worlds true masters, in his case of Syrah. His wines are usually breath-taking!

    Nov 04, 2009 at 8:56 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Toss in Jaboulet and Chapoutier and maybe even Guigal, for differing types of balance, and why not go for it? ;-)

    Nov 04, 2009 at 3:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    It's a start! Mostly likely for next year though.

    Nov 09, 2009 at 8:41 PM

  • Snooth User: PSUBob
    44065 1

    Check out Waters winery from Walla Walla Washington. Forgotten Hills is the best syrah they have and it is reasonably priced under $30. It is one of the best syrahs I have had in a long time. The wine maker is Jamie Brown he is also working with another winemaker and they have created wines of substance. Substance wines has a really good syrah from Walla Walla for under $15.

    Sep 05, 2010 at 7:36 PM

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