Syrah. Rhodanien Treasure.

Syrah and Shiraz: are they the same? Yes, they are indeed, but you know how it is with wine: one person’s lean and refined Loire Sauvignon Blanc bears little resemblance to the tastebud-tingling fruit-bombs that emanate from Marlborough. However, we digress; we’re meant to be talking here about the legendary red grape, Syrah.

Many grape varieties and their wines have a spiritual home, and Syrah’s benchmark location is the Hermitage appellation in France’s northern Rhône Valley. The famed Hermitage hill, complete with iconic chapel atop its crest, sits as a backdrop to the village of Tain l’Hermitage, the home of Valrhona chocolate. Indeed, a session involving well-matured Syrah and Valrhona chocolate is not easily forgotten. Around the globe, winemakers pay homage to the legendary Syrahs of Hermitage, for they are indeed the world’s greatest. Lavish and haunting aromatics accompany intricate, smoky layers of blackberry, black currant, liquorice and coffee interwoven in a near-perfect union.

New Zealand’s Syrahs have far more in common with those from the northern Rhône than they do with our Australian neighbours and their ubiquitous Shiraz wines. The Aussie version of Syrah tends to conjure up an abundance of warm, juicy red fruits, voluptous tannins and a rich, creamy palate, descriptors that are far from what New Zealand’s expressions are all about. American wine critic Stephen Tanzer categorizes our Syrah wines thus: ‘In weight and level of ripeness, think of Crozes-Hermitage or Saint-Joseph rather than Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage … fresh, firm and food-friendly.’

While Syrah only constitutes 0.5% of the total wine produced in New Zealand, it is creating a bigger name for itself than that volume might suggest. If you’re a Syrah grape residing here, Hawkes Bay is the place to be, with 70% of the plantings found there. Excellent wines, though, are also coming out of Waiheke Island, and Marlborough’s Fromm winery is leading a resilient if somewhat solitary charge in those parts. While Syrah is not new to our shores, the international reputation our expressions are amassing and a recent string of brilliant vintages means there has never been a better time to jump on in and try them.

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