The great cépage of the Rhône valley, where in the environs of Hermitage, St. Joseph, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie, Syrah has been famous since Roman times and is resposible for some of the finest red wines in the world. Productive and resistant to both heat and cold, Syrah can be made into a wide range of styles from simple and fruity to complex, brooding and powerful. One of her greatest attributes is to retain a certain peppery characteristic no matter where the roots have taken hold. Aromas and flavors in Old World versions can range from black fruits and white pepper to any "earthy" descriptor that you like including mushrooms, bacon, leather, game and especially, burnt rubber. Versions from Australia, South Africa and the United States tend towards a sweeter and more fruit-forward style, usually with a plush mid-palete feel and medium tannins.
Syrah from the northern Rhône can be intense and closed in youth but has the ability to age gracefully for many years. In the southern Rhône it is a useful blending partner with Grenache in the great wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In other areas of southern France Syrah has become a star, often blended with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and even Cabernet Sauvignon. Look to the areas of Languedoc-Rousillon, Provence and Vin de Pays for fine wines that are often great bargains. Italy, Spain and even Switzerland is also home to some fine Syrahs, but it is the new world that is at the center of Syrah's recent success. The wine industry in Australia is based upon this varietal with both mass market appeal (Yellow Tail) and small-batch stunners (Grange, Elderton Command and d'Arenberg Dead Arm) leading the way. Syrah is partly responsible for the increase in the quality of South African red wines as they move away from Pinotage. In the United States a few hardy souls tried their hand at Syrah and other Rhône varietals in the 1980s, much to the derision of many of their peers. Today a collective of growers known as the Rhône Rangers have proven that these wines are here to stay, a fact driven home by the success of Syrah. Washington State will be the next great area for Syrah, as many acres have been recently planted with vines still too young to produce wine.