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Que Syrah, Syrah… or Shiraz?

Until Australia’s inventive winemakers decided to call their Syrah-based wines ‘Shiraz’, the original historically correct and generally blended wines – grown in the Rhône Valley in southeastern France – were quietly sinking into comparative obscurity.

Today, the best-selling Shiraz wines in British Columbia are consistently ‘Cellared in Canada’ blends of imported and domestic wines.

Most wine writers overlook these upstart and affordable wines on the grounds that they are chimeras – monsters from Greek mythology that breathe fire and have a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a snake’s tail – a bit muddled?

Unpretentious wine lovers looking for a real deal can sometimes find amazingly priced wines like Screw It! Shiraz (208801) $5.88 in certain private wine shops. Tough to say for sure where the grapes are from in this ‘Cellared in Canada’ bargain. But it delivers a rich mouthful of plum and bumbleberry flavours.

South America occasionally offers almost as affordable deals in Syrah.  Start with relatively inexpensive and endless hectares of vine-friendly land and add affordable labour costs and Chile and Argentina consistently deliver over-the-top-values.

From Argentina, Finca Flichman Syrah (713305) $6.99 completely over delivers for a red wine at this price.

Dusky, ripe blackberry aromas lead into a taut, earthy medley of blueberry, blackberry and prune flavours finishing with a touch of peppery spice, vanilla and caramel oak notes.

When winemakers call their wines Syrah rather than Shiraz, they believe their wine reflects the dry, spicy, food friendly style of French reds grown in the Rhône Valley in southeastern France.

If winemakers choose to call their wines Shiraz rather than Syrah, they believe their wines are more fruit driven, sweeter  – wines that are everyday aperitifs that don’t need food to show their best.

When Yellow Tail Shiraz (624544) $11.79 made its amazing debut in North America in 2001, it shook the wine world. By 2003 it was by far the best selling imported wine and by 2005 it had sales of 7.5 million cases in North America. An overwhelming number of wine lovers obviously liked the sweeter, fruitier style of Yellow Tail Shiraz.

The phenomenal success of Yellow Tail Shiraz encouraged countless wine lovers – who had previously been enjoying reds from California, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy – to explore the vast range of red wines that Australia had to offer.

Most of these wines were either straight Shiraz or blends based on Shiraz, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Best known for its classic cassis and mint flavoured Cabernet Sauvignons, the Coonawarra region – close to the border between the states South Australia and Victoria, south of Adelaide – also produces some remarkable Shiraz from its rich red terra rossa soils.

After 13 months in new and used French oak barriques and hogsheads, Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Shiraz (690263) $31.99 is well worth seeking out. Raspberry and blackberry aromas explode from the glass and set the stage for spicy, rich dark berry and plum flavours with vanilla oak and subtle notes of dark chocolate in the finish.

Here in British Columbia we’ve recently been acknowledged internationally as a hot-bed of world-class Syrah. Named after its address at 1775 Naramata Road, Bench 1775 produces a wide range of elegant and perfectly balanced wines including a Syrah that recently won the title of Best Syrah in B.C. at the 2016 Okanagan Wine Festivals B.C. Best of Varietal Awards.

Bench 1775 Syrah (441741) $26.99 is grown in Oxbow Vineyard, on the original ‘Golden Mile’ in Osoyoos. This darkly ripe expression of Syrah simmers with sage and sun-baked anise, savoury herb sliding into dusty new leather and bright blueberry fruit notes.

Chris Jentsch had been growing grapes for decades when he and a group of friends pondered what they would do differently if they could go back 40 years …and the answers were all the same – take more risks. This stayed with Chris and fuelled the fire to turn his estate grown fruit into good, honest wine.

Grown in the Eugenio vineyard of Betty Jentsch’s parents on the Black Sage Bench with its unique gravel, loam soils and blessed with long warm evenings C.C. Jentsch Syrah (524868) $32.99 oozes oodles of brambly black fruits with a touch of toasty wood and sweet baking spices. No surprise that this wine won Gold at the 2016 National Wine Awards.

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