In the beginning there was syrah. Start again. In the beginning there was bordeaux and burgundy. Rhône barely registered across the palate until the American writer Robert Parker wrote a book extolling its virtues.
Syrah today has taken its rightful place alongside bordeaux's cabernet sauvignon and Burgundy's pinot noir in the pantheon of grape fame; from voluptuous drink-me-now Crozes-Hermitage, such as the cracked pepper and blackberryish 2011 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers, £13.71-£16.20, The Drink Shop, Tanners, Sainsbury's Fine Wine, to the heights of a violet-scented 2010 Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses, £39.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, all rosemary, tapenade and crushed peppercorns.
The Aussies have been plugging away with it under the name of shiraz for some time – Penfolds' Max Schubert, for instance, producing the first Grange in 1951. Australian red is all about shiraz, often coupled with viognier, as in the easy-drinking level of wines such as the 2011 Willunga 100 Shiraz Viognier, £11.79-99, Noel Young Wines, Oz Wines, with its sweetly ripe, almost chocolatey, dark berry, mint-tinged fruit.
But some cooler-climate producers are reverting to syrah in recognition of the style and it shows in the 2010 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Syrah, around £19, Peter Graham Wines, Vinoteca, Planet of the Grapes, an aromatic, tar-and pepper-spice red which has enough black-fruit richness behind the herbal, savoury notes to deliver a satisfying Oz-meets-St Joseph style.
As other New World producers realised that this was a grape that could potentially produce wonderfully scented, spicy reds more easily and more profitably than either cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir, syrah has spread throughout the southern hemisphere like wildfire. But what to call it? New Zealand calls almost all of its rhône-style reds syrah, deliberately to distinguish them from Aussie shiraz. Typical of the style is the 2011 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, £12.50/12, in bond, Farr Vintners, a fragrant paprika- and liquorice-scented red full of juicy, savoury, dark-berry fruits.
The northern Rhône name is increasingly the default in Chile's coastal regions, such as Elqui Valley, where the 2010 Viña Mayu Syrah Reserva, £10.99, Sainsbury's, is from. It is made high in the hills inland from the Pacific in Chile's north, with spice and tarry-scented blackberry fruit, flecked with cracked pepper, the elegant tannins giving it a Crozes-Hermitage-like flavour.
The Cape started out big on shiraz, but as the style has refined and become more elegant, we're finding South Africans increasingly plumping for syrah, from the vivid spicy, rich 2011 Bellingham The Bernard Series Syrah, £11.99, Sainsbury's, Tesco, at the commercial level, to the 2011 Mullineux Syrah, around £18.95, Swig, Vincisive, a beautiful red with smooth-textured, dark-cherry richness tinged with pepper spice and rosemary and a beguiling succulence of texture and freshness.