Syrah - Has Its Time Come?

Top quality Syrah has claimed recognition, at last!


Syrah has been a perennial dark horse in the US market for much of the last two decades. It’s a grape that always seems to be on the verge of greatness, even exploding on the scene in the late 1990s under the Shiraz moniker and with a thick Aussie accent, but as we all know, Aussie Shiraz is so very 1990, and Syrah struggles to find a following because consumers don’t know what to expect, or do they?
The truth remains that Syrah tends to be produced in a range of styles that might be a bit broader than many other wines. It’s a grape that seems more sensitive to variations in climate and terroir than some of our mainstays, but that should be a good thing, an advantage, not the distinct disadvantage its made out to be. 
In truth, I believe that Syrah has suffered in part from an identity crisis as well as guilt by association. Much of this was probably created by people like me, in the media, telling you why people didn’t buy or like Syrah as opposed to created by consumers who just did not buy Syrah. Well the times have changed, and along with those changes, a new appreciation for Syrah is on the way. Let’s take a look at the recent developments.

Syrah is now better understood by producers.
The effect of terroir on Syrah is now better understood.
The Australians have rediscovered restraint when it comes to Syrah.
The French have abandoned restraint when it comes to Syrah.
The first two are relatively self-explanatory, over time winemakers and growers make mistakes in planting and production and if they are competent, they learn from those mistakes. Unlike with baking, wine mistakes tend to have fairly long horizons, so you can screw something up and not know it for sure for a year or three. Screwing things up in the vineyard can take even longer, four years for fruit, a few years to figure out you’d be better off planting another variety, rinse, lather, repeat.

Syrah grape image via Shutterstock

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Top Syrah Between $10-35

Yellow Tail Shiraz the Reserve Casella Estate (2009)
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Jacob's Creek Reserve Shiraz (2008)
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Deakin Estate Shiraz Australia (2010)
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Wyndham Bin 555 Shiraz Syrah/Shiraz (2008)
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Washington Hills Syrah (2011)
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Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Syrah (2010)
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Three Coins Syrah (2009)
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Earthworks Shiraz Barossa Valley (2010)
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Cave de Tain Syrah Esprit de Granit Saint Joseph (2010)
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Caligiore Syrah Reserve (2010)
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Niner Wine Estates Syrah Paso Robles (2008)
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Trione Vineyards Russian River Syrah (2008)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Interesting article...You could actually substitute the variety Pinot Noir each and every place Syrah or Shiraz is listed, yet the variety remains as popular as ever. It is just plain wrong to think that Syrah really lost its way...there are of course those who got lost and those that never found the variety to begin with. Great Syrah has ALWAYS been around and it will ALWAYS be around. I wish peeps stopping penning articles about it and just drank more of it... :)

    Jan 29, 2013 at 6:50 PM

  • Snooth User: Terence Pang
    Hand of Snooth
    1067620 48,664

    Nice article GDP. But what I take from this article is that the great divide between the American opinion of Australian shiraz, and what we actually drink here is as wide as ever. Apart from the Yalumba, which I wouldn't have included as it contains Viognier, I wouldn't recommend any of the other Australian wines in that line-up on any given day.

    I'm guessing that their price is a major consideration for inclusion in this lineup. Given the current strength of the Australian dollar, is it realistic to expect cheap Australian wines? I think that price bracket needs to be shifted upwards to the $20-30 mark, closer to decent French wines.

    Brand Australia really suffers from the export of poor to below average wines, and the continual production of these by corporations is a travesty to the winemaking industry. However, it does provide grape growers some semblance of an income. A tricky issue to attempt to resolve.

    Jan 29, 2013 at 7:30 PM

  • Snooth User: SM
    1097030 218

    An interesting article GDP about the continuing evolving story of Syrah/Shiraz.As you said and others mentioned it is an under rated and under appreciated cultivar/varietal.

    Its true that Aussie Shiraz especially in the Barossa Valley truly did lose their way and now Aussie wine has an identity crisis because of this. I do believe they are pulling themselves up out of this slump, but they will have to continue to work hard to re-brand and re-position themselves with this cultivar.

    For myself I have been having better experiences with South African Shiraz, as it seems to be more balanced, have more finesse and more elegance than its Aussie counterparts. Right now I'm not sure if that is due to terroir considerations or the wine makers or both; but they seem to strike the right balance between power and strength and finesse and quality.

    There is more tension between these two opposing traits in wine from Stellenbosch, Paarl and other regions. I do hope in the future all Syrah producers and regions will find their way, whether its the Rhone producers re-inventing themselves or the Aussies finding the right mix for their wine.


    Solomon Mengeu

    Jan 29, 2013 at 8:18 PM

  • Snooth User: hestamm
    1176940 24

    Actually, I prefer big, bold, over-the-top shiraz. I hope at least some producers keep this genre going. I don't age them; I just drink. Great with pizzas. Subtle & elegant are not wines that I like or drink. And $15 is getting pricey.

    Jan 29, 2013 at 9:00 PM

  • I've had both the Jacob's Creek reserve and Yellow Tail reserve syrah's and in a blind wine tasting I'd bet they'll beat many much higher priced relative to color, aroma, and even finesse. One thing I like about a $ 12 -15 syrah .. it's hard to go wrong. I think if MacDonald's ever started serving wine in their stores, their offer would be a Syrah.

    Jan 29, 2013 at 10:51 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,229

    Tsk tsk, you scratched the surface but completely ignored the great things happening with Syrah right here in California. Copain, Myriad, Bedrock, Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap, Jemrose, Quivet, Donelan, Baker Lane, Westerhold, Shane, Halcon... Damn the list goes on and on. Great things happening with SYRAH right here in the States. Don't neglect whats in our own back yard!

    Jan 29, 2013 at 11:48 PM

  • Snooth User: anage
    1183233 16

    Scratching the surface is ok for a short article and a huge topic like Syrah, but if you compile a list of examples, it's a MUST to include at least two top Syrah from Languedoc in France. In my opinion, the most elegant and constucted-in-perfection Syrah comes from Languedoc!

    Jan 30, 2013 at 2:02 AM

  • Snooth User: maffe
    146867 51

    I agree with "anage" above. It's of course not a coincidence that the Languedoc is the most successful region at the "Syrah du Monde" competition each year. It must be due to the wonderful balance between full and ripe flavours and spicyness/structure that many vineyards accomplish here. It's a shame that it seems to take forever before the rest of world finds out, especially since the wines are so affordable, but I'm convinced that it's just a matter of time before we see a big Languedoc hype.
    I'd love to taste some US Syrahs but they're almost impossible to find here in France.

    Jan 30, 2013 at 7:53 AM

  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    The "bad Press' given to Australian Shiraz in the USA over the past few years has largely been overdone. Firstly there are many great sources of fine Aussie Shiraz apart from the Barossa Valley. It is true that some Aussie Winemakers, Barossa in particular, were making Fruit Bombs - very big and upfront, high in alcohol, possibly to impress Robert Parker who lavished high scores on cult wines like Three Rivers, Amon Ra, Greenock Creek, Duck Muck (Victoria), Rockford Basket Press etc. All of the wines mentioned are top drawer and can be very expensive - all are still going strong by the way. Some of the cheaper offerings mimicked this big fruit cake style which has fallen out of favour. However, many great Aussie Shiraz makers never went down this path and made beautiful restrained, peppery styles which could have come from Cote Rotie. Labels like Mount Langhi Ghiran and Craiglee in Victoria and Clonakilla (ACT),
    have always made wines like this. Perhaps many of these do not make it to the USA?
    Generally speaking Aussie shiraz offers huge variety even at the mid to lower price points and in my opinion (as an avid Aussie collector), the criticism of the style in the USA comes from people who have tried only a small cross-section of what we offer.

    Feb 01, 2013 at 11:04 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 9,148

    Very interesting article. I hope there is a follow-up with a list in the next price bracket.

    Feb 02, 2013 at 5:42 PM

  • If y'all are looking for a delicious cool climate Syrah, Drew in Anderson Valley makes an awesome one. It's definitely not cheap at $40, but it's worth every penny and made me raise my limit on what I'd spend for a bottle.
    On the lower end, we have Big Black Shiraz Benton Vineyard Barossa Valley on our shelves for $6.99(NCA TJ's). I was expecting the big fruit grenade I've had in the past, but this one is earthy, peppery with nice flavor & depth for the price point.
    Good with chips & dips and watching the game on Sunday.

    Feb 03, 2013 at 12:23 AM

  • Snooth User: Isaac42
    98135 33

    Having read the article and looked over the reviews, I have one question: where are the 90 point, $15 wines?

    Feb 13, 2013 at 2:41 PM

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