Syrah or Shiraz – what’s in a name? Well, in this case nothing, because the two words refer to exactly the same type of grape.
You should be aware that different parts of the world – Australia in particular – most often bottle their wine as Shiraz, while most others use the Syrah designation. I’m finding, however, that more and more North American winemakers seem to be changing their labels from Syrah to Shiraz; perhaps because many Aussie Shirazes are earning critical acclaim and wine marketers hope the word modification will equate with an improvement in quality.
Regardless of this, if you’re a staunch Merlot or Cabernet drinker I think you’ll find the varietal to be an enjoyable alternative. Syrahs (or Shirazes) – especially those made outside of Europe – tend to be a bit more fruit-forward and sometimes exhibit a nice spicy quality which adds to their flavor and complexity.
Here are some selections I recently tried that you might find worth a taste:
McWilliams Hanwood Estate 2004 Shiraz (about $11) – This affordable Australian red has plenty of berry and plum flavors, with a pleasant, understated layer of chocolate-covered cherry on the finish.
Francis Coppola 2004 Syrah-Shiraz (about $15) – There’s no mistaking the name, because both variations appear on the label. Dense and chewy flavors of black currant, coffee and licorice make this California wine a natural to pair with barbeque beef or pork.
Terra Blanca 2001 Syrah (about $22) – This stunning Syrah from Washington’s Red Mountain appellation begins with aromas of fresh raspberries and rose petals followed by loads of blueberry and blackberry flavors. The wine’s acidity helps to balance the fruit flavors, and gentle tannins give it a soft finish. I recently picked up a bottle on sale at the Fairhaven Haggen store for only about $15. You can also purchase it online through the winery website at www.terrablanca.com