The World's Best Syrahs

The roasted slopes of the northern Rh?ne are home to some of the greatest Syrahs of all.
© Guigal | The roasted slopes of the northern Rh?ne are home to some of the greatest Syrahs of all.
Syrah is frequently overshadowed by other red varieties, but it can be epically rewarding in its own right.
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Thursday, 29-Oct-2020

It's hard to imagine a grape being unwelcome anywhere it travels, but there are few more well-hailed varieties than Syrah.

This immediately approachable, attractive grape is surely the ultimate everyman, offering flavor, structure and rewarding wines pretty much wherever it goes. Undoubtedly a star in its native Rhône Valley and at the opposite end of the earth in Australia, it can sometimes struggle a little elsewhere, especially by comparison with heavyweights like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

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Why this should be is a mystery. After all, Syrah can offer sublime wines that manage to combine both power and finesse in the same glass and it tends to be much more forgiving in the vineyard. It rarely offers the kind of green notes that Cabernet can give off if underripe and it doesn't need the same miraculous combination of altitude, aspect, climate, clone, terroir and technique required to coax wine from the famously finicky Pinot.

Syrah's attractions – and the attraction of a reliable grape that can offer cool-climate spice and poise alongside warmer-climate power and fruit is hard to overstate – mean that it is something of a winemaker favorite and it explains the grape's wide geographic spread.

From making rich, spicy reds in the Rh?ne, it has spread widely – not least in the old days, where Rh?ne wines were used to beef up underpowered vintages in Bordeaux – and it can now be found from the sub-Andean vineyards of Chile to California's Central Coast and even the bucolic farmland of New Zealand's Hawke's Bay.

Internationalism is something of a key to Syrah. Wherever it has gone it has settled in so well as a guest that it has become like a member of the family, as it were. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Australia where, under its adoptive name of Shiraz, it has become the backbone of the wine industry.

It has also become the absolute standout grape among the wines of that country. We'll be running a list of Australia's best wines soon and you'll see what I mean; Shiraz dominates the proceedings to the same level that Cabernet dominates in Napa.

It's because of that unique affinity between the grape and the country that we've decided to separate out Australian Shiraz from Syrah for the purposes of this story. It's a little unfair to compare them, given the variance in style between Syrah and Shiraz and, in any case, there's little doubt that the list of Australia's best wines will also just about double as a list of the best Shirazes.

Beyond Australia, though, it seems California is the place that is really taking up the Rh?ne banner and running with it. The efforts of the state's loose collection of so-called Rh?ne Rangers have clearly paid dividends, given the scores that some California producers have attracted for their wines; and it's these scores that we base our "best of" hierarchy on.

Let's get the housekeeping out of the way first, and talk about how we arrive at our scores. Wine-Searcher collates scores from a wide range of critics, from influential single palates like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson to publications like Wine Spectator, all adjusted for the 100-point scale. To generate a wine's aggregate score, Wine-Searcher uses a Bayesian methodology to calculate a weighted average, since not all critics are equal. This score is calculated for specific vintages of a wine, as well as across all vintages.

The World's Best Syrahs on Wine-Searcher:

Well, there's no surprise with the top wines there, really. C?te R?tie and Hermitage are Syrah central and where some of the absolute top examples of the variety come from. It's really a surprise that there is only one of Guigal's three La-La wines on the list and that Jaboulet's Hermitage la Chapelle isn't there at all.

The American entries are interesting too, if only for the geographical spread; from Sta Rita Hills in the south to Walla Walla Valley is quite a stretch. And then there's value. With the exception of the SQN wine (and that's almost inevitable when it comes to that winery), none of these wines are beyond the reach of ordinary consumers, even if they're hardly what you'd call inexpensive.

Not just a good mixer, but a relatively cheap date, too.

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