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Que Syrah, Syrah
Have a taste: Torbreck Barossa Valley 2008 Woodcutter's Shiraz

As one of the world’s most popular red grapes, Syrah has evolved into the grape we love to hate.

American wine makers struggle to sell it, perhaps in part to Aussie wine makers to used it as a loss leader to establish – and then undermine – their own wine market. The French wisely bottle it as Cote du Rhone, slipping it past newbies but still maintaining a substantial market.

And then there’s that name thing. In Australia, Canada and South Africa, the grape is known as Shiraz. There are reams of research, speculation and rumination on why that’s so – far more information, in fact, that I can go into here.

Regardless, Syrah or Shiraz, the grape is the same.

What is different – like with other grape varieties – is the expression of the grape that has been coaxed into the bottle by savvy wine makers.

Here are three examples, each from a different continent, that provide an ample world tour of this lush and enjoyable grape. Each earned 90 points or better from Wine Spectator.

Chave 2008 Jean–Louis C tes–du–Rh ne Mon Coeur 2008: Dark, brooding and bold, this stoic French entry walks you through the dark side of Syrah – licorice, black currant and charred wood. Give it room to breathe and you’ll find a wine that drinks brilliantly and finishes long and acidic. This one cries out for food.

Torbreck Barossa Valley 2008 Woodcutter’s Shiraz: Like all wines in the Torbreck stable, the fruit is sourced from hand-harvested and hand-tended plots throughout the northwestern Barossa Valley. It is fermented in cement, wooden and stainless steel vats for six to seven days and then basket pressed to well seasoned hogsheads and French oak foudres for 12 months. It is bottled without the use of either fining or filtration.

Foudres, by the way, are wooden vessels that vary in size but are larger than typical wine aging barrels.

Woodcutter’s Shiraz is deep garnet in color and very lush. It is mouthwatering succulent and awash in flavors of the black fruits – currant, blackberry and blackberry – and overtones of dark, decadent bittersweet chocolate. Careful fermentation in three different vessels leads to a wonderfully balanced presentation of oak and tannins. Open this one a couple of hours in advance of drinking to explore its full depth and complexity!

Novy 2006 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah: For many years the Santa Lucia Highlands were known best for Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir continues to be the “driver” for this region, but as time goes by the Syrahs are gaining increasing praise. With the outstanding 2006 vintage, Syrah may have even sprung to the forefront in press and praise.

The 2006 Novy Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah is a product of the careful blending of wine from three fantastic vineyards – the Rosella’s Vineyard, the Garys’ Vineyard, and the Susan’s Hill Vineyard. Novy is the non–Pinot Noir label of Siduri wines and, like its parent, represents the best fruit, gathered over a large range, to make a truly boutique collection of wines.

Spice drives this rich and intense wine that explodes with wild berry, blackberry, pepper, spice, sage and mineral notes. I adore the body of this wine – it’s solid and yields a lingering, satisfying finish.