Wine black humor: “What is difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia? You can get rid of a case of pneumonia.”

A decade ago, Syrah/Shiraz (same grape) rode wave of popularity generated by Yellow Tail/Australia Barossa Valley Shiraz boom and California Rhône Ranger rampage (Left Coast plantings went from 867 acres in 1992 to almost 13,000 in 2000).

But, surprise, Syrah/Shiraz budding out in all those different soils and climates, and vinted by vintners of varying visions produced a ruckus of results.

When you buy Syrah or Shiraz now, what are you getting? Who knows? Thus marketing horror.

When Syrah comes from northern Rhône, it is savory, inky abyss, aggressively masculine with leather, blackberries, roasted meats and spices, often impossible to drink before at least five years of tannin-taming aging.

Further south, Syrah is a blending grape, adding muscle and tannin to complement Grenache in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, achieving distinction through marriage instead of standing out by itself.

In California and Australia, Syrah/Shiraz absorbs the laid-back Zeitgeist and emerges a thicker, softer, almost syrupy, ripe fruit rival to Merlot for those unready for big red leagues of Cabernet Sauvignon—or northern Rhône Syrahs, for that matter.

When wine buyers don’t know what they are getting, they usually take a pass. That’s the Syrah/Shiraz problem, and reason for the black humor.

Solution: Use different spellings to mean something. Northern Rhône style, call it Syrah. Barossa Valley/Rhône Ranger, call it Shiraz.

Suggested by several wine experts, trick will be pulling it off.


• Fess Parker Syrah. Solid Santa Barbara style; soft berries, medium body. California. $19

• Domaine de Couron. Classic dark fruits, creamy mouth, robust. Côtes du Rhône. $21

• Thorn-Clarke Shiraz Shotfire Ridge. Ripe blue and black berries, toasty oak. Australia. $24

• Sur Luchtel Page Nord Vineyard Syrah. Complex, black fruits, full bodied. Napa. $26

• Barton & Guestier Châteauneuf du Pape.
Cherries, entry-level Châtenauneuf. France. $26

• Perrin et Fils Gigondas La Gille. Strawberries, raspberries, full body. France. $34