Wine of the Week: Winter is the best time to break out the syrah

Whether you say syrah or shiraz, nothing warms the soul quite like the dark red wine made from one of the top 10 grown grape varietals in the world. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/michelsass)

Lately, it has been so cold that even my dog doesn’t want to go outside! So it’s time to do what any decent red-blooded red wine consumer would do: break out the king of big red wines — syrah.

Whether you say syrah or shiraz, nothing warms the soul quite like the dark red wine made from one of the top 10 grown grape varietals in the world.

Today, the syrah grape can be found in the warm, sunny climates of California, Washington state, Chile, France, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and, of course, Australia, where it is known as shiraz (pronounced “shee-rahz”).

On its own, syrah produces single varietal wines of remarkable distinction, but it knows how to play well with others in legendary blends too.

Of course, the French wine regions of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Cornas in the northern Rhone Valley are famous for their syrah wines — the best fetch over $500 per bottle.

But many enthusiasts believe that Australia — particularly McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Barossa Valley — and California’s Central Coast have caught up with the Old World in terms of quality and ageability.

Regardless of what region the syrah label flies under, you can count on wines that can show power and finesse at the same time.

A good friend of mine describes syrah as “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” While the characteristics can vary widely based on soil and climate, the general traits include darker fruit flavors (blackberry and plum) with notes of mocha, roasted coffee, tobacco, chocolate and, of course, black pepper.

Winemaking techniques can impart flavors of toasted oak and vanilla too.

I think that they are best enjoyed on cold nights with heartier fare such as beef or lamb stew, grilled steaks and game, but personally, I like to drink them all year long.

The 2015 Opolo Estate Syrah from Paso Robles is a full-bodied syrah that is bright and lively in the nose with scents of black plum, black cherry and spicy pepper. In the mouth, it exhibits rich flavors of black fruit framed by sweet tannins and balanced acidity.

Creamy vanilla and peppercorn on the mid-palate enhance the solid core of dark, rich fruit while additional notes of black pepper provide a deep and complex finish. $30

Another domestic choice hails from the remarkable Central Coast region of California. The 2018 Stolpman Syrah from Santa Ynez features a striking nose of black fruit, saddle leather and roasted meat is intriguing and lingering.

The palate is filled with flavors of black cherry, dark plum, roasted game and smoke that glide over the tongue and onto the finish. Hints of mocha mingle with soft tannins to provide a medium-bodied finish. $30

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