Surprising Syrah

Hooray for chilly nights! There’s no more need to apologize for diving into those wines as thick and rich as meat and as deep as a well. Of course, this means Syrah, the favorite red of the Romanov tsars, who knew a few things about getting through cold weather with style. Today is a particularly good time to be a Syrah lover: The popular stampede toward Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon has positively stalled Syrah prices, but there are enough collectors and winemakers who love the noble grape that a world of Syrah still flourishes: Some classically meaty and bold, others all graphite and pie, and still others blended with grapes the tsars would rub their eyes with disbelief over, like rustic Italian Nero d’Avola. So bring on fall’s chill, and never apologize for being bolder than popular. —D.M.G.

Domaine des Cantarelles, Syrah de Fayel, Costières de Nîmes France, 2007

That it’s mineral, muscular, and energetic tells you it’s French, the way that this spark is balanced out by a bit of fat lush blackberry makes it devourable. This Syrah, brought in by famed importer Bobby Kacher, proves that there are still great French values if you know where to look—and he does. available: Solo Vino in St. Paul ($12)

Cusumano, Benuara, Nero D’Avola/Syrah, 2006

This blend of the usually rustic oddball grape Nero d’Avola (which makes 70 percent of this blend) and Syrah (30 percent) strengthens the idea that Sicily is the next great hope: The wine is thick, inky, mushroomy, meaty, cigar-like, chewy, a little Madeira-like, and both unique and enjoyable. available: Haskell’s ($13)

Nugan Estate, Shiraz, Riverina, Australia 2007

Down under Syrah is called Shiraz (call it the “duck, duck, gray duck” of wine.) Many French Syrah fans pooh-pooh Shiraz as too rich and ripe, but this restrained and complexly developed easy drinker combines the lush chocolate side of Australian Shiraz with some nice earthy and meaty notes. available: The Wine Shop in Minnetonka. ($14)

Qupé, Syrah, Central Coast California, 2007

Winemaker Bob Lindquist was one of the original Rhône Rangers, pioneering the planting of French Rhône varietals such as Syrah in America. His basic Syrah is as good as a wine under $20 gets: Profoundly deep, alive, sending forth from the glass little searching tendrils of black pepper and blackberry. available: Surdyk’s. ($18)