Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along Report: Syrah

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We had quite the journey through multiple regions that produce Syrah (or Shiraz), and even at a lineup of a dozen bottles, we still haven't covered nearly every region that makes this red wine. But with everything we learned last week, we sized up a slew of bottles of Syrah/Shiraz from the following regions:

  • France: Crozes-Hermitage AOC and Cotes du Rhône
  • Australia: McLaren Vale and Barossa
  • USA: Washington State
  • South America: Chile and Argentina
  • Israel

Which bottles were winners, and which could we do without? Read on to see how everything fared.

New World Favorites

Our tasting group really enjoyed the New World options we tasted, and given that the most expensive bottle was around $20, these seem like great options to restock for future dinners, gifts, or Saturday nights.

Two of our winners hailed from the McLaren Vale region of Australia—the Mitolo Jester Shiraz 2009 ($17) and the Kangarilla Road Shiraz 2008 ($17). The Mitolo Jester was one of the drier wines we tried, with spicy black pepper notes and healthy tannins. The initial burst of acidity came through almost as a tingly sensation and then mellowed out to allow for a long finish. This wine was well balanced and the bright acidity made this wine work particularly well with the grilled skirt steak we were sinking our teeth into.

The other Australian fave, the Kangarilla Road Shiraz, was a much sweeter option, with fruitiness like plum jam coming to the forefront. This core of sweet ripe fruit was wrapped in an almost savory complexity, and the wine offered a long and tasty finish.

Moving from Australia to South America, the MontGras Ninquen Antu Syrah Colchagua Valley 2008 ($20) from Chile was an option that our tasters kept trying to get seconds (and thirds) of. This wine had an enticing smell of sweet honey balanced by rich spicy notes. And this came through in the flavor too—sweet cherry and dark fruit flavors with the pleasant complexity of baking spices on the finish. This wine is well suited as a standalone option, and at $20 a pop, most had no qualms about reaching for this bottle again.

Last but definitely not least, the Substance Columbia Valley Syrah 2009 ($17) from Washington State was another favorite of the group. The caramelized or candied nut aroma translated to a sweetness like chocolate fondue once in the mouth. But this sweet start quickly gave way for dark black cherries and ultimately peppery spices coming through at the end. With milder tannins than some of our other options, this wine was quite drinkable on its own, but might have benefited from some food, such as a juicy burger.

Old World Winners

The French Syrahs we tried were much drier, with pronounced acidity and earthiness when compared to their New World counterparts.

The E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2006 ($13 for 375ml) was a savory wine with distinct notes of black olive and tobacco. Unlike our New World wines, this bottle was far from fruity with only hints of black cherry or unripe blackberry. And at 5 years old, the tannins had smoothed out nicely while still maintaining the wine's structure. This bottle would be best served with food—lasagna or other dishes with a rich tomato sauce—as the strong acidity practically wipes your palate clean.

The second French Syrah of note was the Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009 ($32). This wine had a complex, inviting scent that some described as a campfire with some coppery notes as well. The acidity was vibrant but well balanced. This bottle was very dry (especially compared to the rest of the lot) and offered powerful, firm tannins—serve this wine with a meaty dish or a hard cheese.

Value Wines

The 2up Shiraz Mclaren Vale 2010 ($12) smelled sweet and almost chocolaty. Once we tasted it, this wine started with bright cherry flavors balanced by a little spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg. This wine is definitely easy drinking with smooth tannins and a relatively quick finish. A solid option for a weekday dinner.

At only $9 a bottle, the Castle Rock Syrah Columbia Valley 2009 from Washington State was another drinkable value option. The nose had a distinct woody, cedar-like flavor, which in the mouth came through like Christmas in a glass. The wine tasted as if it were spiced with ginger and cloves, with a sweet (a little too sweet for some tasters) fruity core of plums and Bing cherries. Serve it with barbecue and don't think too hard about it.

The Rest

The Domaine d'Andezon Cotes du Rhône Rouge 2010 ($13) tasted more like a New World wine than we were expecting—quite ripe and sweet with plummy fruit and mellow tannins. With 14.5% alcohol, this wine caused bit of a burn in the back of our throats. That said, this would be a nice wine with a rich and juicy stew.

From Argentina, the Bodegas Callia Alta Shiraz 2010 ($9) had a fruity scent that reminded us of berries and apples. This wine tasted almost syrupy sweet but finished with warm spices like apple pie. The tannins in this wine gave it solid structure, though the finish dropped off quickly.

Our sole wine from Israel, the Recanati Diamond Shiraz Mevushal 2010 ($15), was an novel addition to the bunch. The citrusy acidity of this wine was balanced by sweet notes and a smoky richness that one taster thought was reminiscent of smoked fish.

Our final addition from Australia, the Cupcake Vineyards Shiraz Barossa Valley 2010 ($9), was a sweet wine without much complexity. The scent reminded us of strawberry jam, and the flavor made us think of the fruit found in blueberry muffins or frozen waffles. For $9, it's drinkable and fine for a party, but we preferred the 2up and the Castle Rock.

What about you? Did you drink Syrah along with us? Are there any bottles you've tried recently and want to recommend to us? (Or warn us about?) Do you drink New World Shiraz or Old World Syrah? Let us know in the comments section!

About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

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