Shiraz or Syrah?

Red Wine 201 continues with what’s arguably the “world’s best red grape”: Shiraz – or Syrah. For many years, the story was that it came from Persia and was named after the city of Shiraz. But myth-busting DNA analysis has revealed that it’s indigenous to France’s northern Rhône where it’s perhaps still at its exotic, spicy best.

In the 19th-century it was part of the Bordeaux-blend because of its weight and perfume, both in the vineyard, and as an improving additive at Latour and Lafite, among others. This shocks us now with our ideas of terroir and authenticity, but clearly Syrah was long thought by insiders to be a wonderful blending variety, as well as being worthy on its own.

Its wide popularity, however, is quite new. In 1984, Australian winemakers were being paid to rip it up. Eighty growers in the Barossa valley of south Australia happily resisted and created the Barossa Valley Estate, now known for its flagship E&E Black Pepper Shiraz. Their E Minor Shiraz 2005 has a smoky nose with blackberry fruit, and a lovely texture with sour cherry in the mouth.

From France’s Languedoc comes a lowly table wine that has been recognized for its value by the world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker. Don’t let that put you off, as the Mas de Avelyans, Syrah Cuvee Prestige 2005, with its cherry brandy and vanilla notes, will make any day seem a little bit better.

Finally, comes one of Francis Ford Coppola’s Californian efforts, Rosso & Bianco Shiraz 2006, which shows that tasting takes time and reflection; after a day of being open, this everyday wine gave off classic Shiraz aromas of violet and preserved cherries.

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