Top 10 Syrah Producers

And how they put their best work into each bottle


Syrah has a problem. Actually, it’s a crisis- an identity crisis. While producing world class Syrah (Shiraz), they have failed to capture the imaginations of many consumers. But why?

Mostly because Syrah, like it’s duel name implies, is many things to many people. In fact, producers have almost tried to make it all wines to all people, from sweet to austere, fruity to meaty. And therein lies its second problem. While it is easy to produce fairly fruity Syrah, one of the variety’s defining features is the way it reveals its terroir in a generally meaty, spicy and not particularly fruity way.

That savoriness can be off-putting to people as can the overt sweetness that anchors the opposite end of the Syrah spectrum.

While you might not always be sure of what you’re getting from Syrah, you can be sure that these top 10 producers are always putting their best work in the bottle!

Photo courtesy Cortes de Cima via Flickr/CC

Edmunds St John

Steve Edmunds makes his wine in sunny California, but you’re likely to be fooled into thinking it comes from a continent away.

Always rather reserved, the Edmunds St. John Syrahs have stood as a beacon of shining light, showing what California can achieve with this rather fungible grape variety. Steve’s wines are light, elegant and transparent, with a succulence that is rare. They are often a bit angry in their youth since they carry little baby fat, but if a middle aged swimmer sounds like an attractive analogy, you should check these out.

By middle age swimmer, I’m talking Dana Torres!

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Mike Officer makes great Zinfandels, I’ve said that before, but the first Carlisle wine I ever tasted was his Bennett Valley Syrah. Unlike Edmunds St. John, Mike’s wines embrace the power and richness that California effortlessly offers. These tend to be big wines. They are intense and not afraid of alcohol or the impression of sweetness, but at the same time, remain very well balanced and deliver an uncannily pure expression of Syrah, redolent of smoked meats and black fruits. What really seals the deal with these wines is their texture. Carlisle wines are the definition of seamless and these Syrahs carry their weight quite elegantly.

We’ve got some Vida Guerra going on here!

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Washington State is emerging as a significant producer of quality Syrah. While Cayuse has received the top accolades, I’m beginning to think that Betz is the house to watch. Betz combines rich, ripe New World fruit with a deep savory core of briar, meat and pepper. The wines tend to offer up a nice combination of blue and red fruits in a firm and somewhat restrained style. Really lovely wines, and the best part is their ability to come out on top at blind tastings!

I’m feeling a little Halle Berry over this.

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While some of the excesses of the past decade can be directly attributed to Australia, they are adept at moving with the marketplace. The wholesale shift in wine making styles of not only Shiraz, but also Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, leaves them poised to regain lost luster.

But some producers never diverged from their ideals. Penfolds has continued to turn out remarkably consistent wines as far as style goes right through the go-go nineties and ‘oughts. That might be due to Penfolds having produced one of the world’s benchmark Syrahs: Grange Hermitage. Grange is a wine that commands top dollar, but the Penfolds style and quality trickles down to their more affordable wines. St. Henri bottling is sort of a baby Grange, very pure and expressing the essence of Shiraz. I actually prefer it to Grange.

Think of it as the Evangeline Lilly of Syrah!

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D’Arenberg is another of my favorite producers of Shiraz and like Penfolds, they remained true to their house style when many competitors went over the top in the hunt for points. D’Arenberg’s wines tend to deliver exceptionally balanced and intense flavors of spicy black fruit, meat and peppery spice notes. While D’Arenberg’s wines are great, it is hard to ignore their pricing structure. These are wines for everyone and as such, they have great Shiraz priced from $10 to about $60 a bottle. That high-end wine, The Dead Arm, is a top-flight example of the beauty of Shiraz!

I’m thinking Salma Hayek is in the house!

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