There was once a time long, long ago when syrah meant the Rhône, and the Rhône alone. Still today, there is no arguing that the grape—one of the world’s most recognizable for its spectrum of flavors, from violet and herb to black olive and roasted meat—reaches its apex in the northern Rhône appellations of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas.
But these have become wines hunted with the same bloodthirsty abandon as grand cru Burgundy, leaving mere mortals to look beyond the big three for that aromatic craving that only syrah can satiate. In the Rhône, there are, thankfully, a number of appellations that offer great value (even if prices are not what they used to be). Think St.-Joseph (where you’ll find cult stars like Pierre Gonon and sought-after bottlings like Chave’s Offerus), Crozes-Hermitage and St.-Péray, as well as the tiny appellation of Brézème—home to one of the icons of natural wine, Eric Texier—once said to rival Hermitage in quality before the majority of its vines were destroyed by phylloxera; it’s only recently, and thanks to Texier, that it’s reentered the conversation. Beyond these more recognizable appellations, you can find syrah lurking in its traditional glory in the Ardèche and in a number of wines bottled under the IGP of Collines Rhodaniennes.
In short, there is no shortage of great, affordable syrah to be found in the Rhône. But what of the rest of the world? The cool Sonoma Coast has emerged as one of the grape’s great stomping grounds, where producers like Arnot-Roberts, Wind Gap, Anthill Farms and more have shown how singular and yet wholly recognizable syrah can be when it struggles to ripen along the fringes of the appellation. This is to say nothing of Australia, which has emerged to show its spectrum of stylistic takes on the grape beyond the bombast of modern Barossa shiraz. The only reason we did not include any of the New Australia syrah stars like Jamsheed and Luke Lambert, for two, is a matter of price—many of the wines from Down Under crest over our $25 cut-off.
But California (and even Chile) were represented, and even though wines from the Rhône made up the majority of the 12 we tasted (each of them chosen because they represented well on paper—more about our process via our inaugural column), we still netted an even split between New and Old World in the wines we’d want on deck when that syrah craving strikes.
For the tasting, we were joined by Joe Campanale, Beverage Director and Co-Owner of dell’anima, L’Artusi, L’Apicio and Anfora; Ashley Santoro, Wine Director at Narcissa; Megan Krigbaum, PUNCH’s contributing editor; and the rest of our editorial staff.
Without further ado, the wines:
Helfenbein Brézème 2012 | $24
When most people think of the small appellation of Brézème in the northern Rhône, they think of one name: Texier. One of the great iconoclasts of the Rhône (and natural winemaking, more generally) now has company in the young Charles Helfenbein, who has been bottling his wine since 2008 (2007 was his first vintage). This is classic northern Rhône syrah: meaty and floral with no shortage of tannic grip with a raw, compelling rusticity that recalls Texier—with more junk in the trunk. Importer: Moonlight Wine Co. [Buy]
Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Syrah 2013 | $25
A damn fine argument for just how singular and compelling Sonoma Coast syrah can be, particularly at this price point. Its rich, savory fruit has a distinct black olive salinity, paired with classic notes of violet and pepper alongside ample acidity. The talent behind the Anthill label is well documented, and this is exactly why. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines [Buy]
Faury Syrah Collines Rhodaniennes 2014 | $20
One of our longtime go-tos for traditional, affordable northern Rhône syrah, Faury’s wines manage to be dense and structured, but still eminently fresh. This entry-level syrah, hailing from younger vines planted in granite soils on a high altitude plateau, shows the more herbal side of the grape. Unfiltered and raw, with aromas of sage, flowers and meat, this is the stuff dinner table dreams are made of. Importer: Kermit Lynch [Buy]
Copain Syrah “Tous Ensemble” 2013 | $24
Another loyal standby for affordable, restrained syrah from California, Copain’s Tous Ensemble is sourced from vineyards in Mendocino County and leans on the grape’s floral side. Warm spice, dense black fruit and white flowers combine powers for a wine that is undeniably New World in its jubilant fruitiness, countered by an ample dose of acidity. Importer: Grand Cru Selections [Buy]