The biggest curveball in the Pol Roger 60th anniversary blind wine tasting between Oxford and Cambridge last month was the extraordinary 2009 Kongsgaard Syrah, Hudson Vineyard, California. An inky syrah of peppery violety intensity, it was the only New World syrah to sit alongside the other 11 classic wines. Tasted blind, it was a particularly tough nut to crack because there's now so much superb syrah produced in so many countries.
Or should that be shiraz? It was Australia that adopted the shiraz name for the Rhône's syrah grape and almost all its regions stick firmly to the shiraz name. The 2011 Harvey Nichols Shiraz, £15, is a full-bodied example from Kilikanoon, a South Australian red whose plump, spicy plum and cherry fruit is lined with a rich, chocolatey veneer.
With the 2009 John Duval Entity Barossa Valley Shiraz, £26.50-£29.99, winedirect.co.uk, Bennetts (01608 661409), Noel Young (01223 844744), the former Grange winemaker goes a step further in making one of Australia's great shirazes, a wine of sleek, spicy intensity of black-fruit flavours with a savoury freshness.
To differentiate its own burgeoning Rhône-style reds, New Zealand plumps for syrah, as in the 2010 Mission Estate Saint Mary's Syrah, £14.49, Laithwaites, whose spice and pepper fragrance is underpinned by subtle oak and blackberry fruit. Other New World countries seem confused as to whether to call syrah by its French name or play to its New World credentials.
Perhaps because of the success of its cooler-climate styles, Chile is heading down the syrah route. The 2011 Viña Leyda Reserve Syrah, £9.99, or buy two = £6.99 until Monday, Majestic, is an example of a typically fragrant and black-peppery red with the sweet, smoky, camphor spice and black-fruits character of the cool climate style.
South Africa is split down the middle, often with a greater emphasis on shiraz, perhaps because its largely warmer-climate vineyards are generally closer to the southern than northern Rhône. In that context, Adi Badenhorst's 2011 Duiker Shiraz Cinsault Mourvèdre, Swartland, £9.99, buy 2 = £7.99, Majestic, is a dark-hearted Cape meets Côtes du Rhône blend with fine fresh acidity, while on the other hand the more refined 2008 Pillars Syrah, Haskell Vineyards, Stellenbosch, £37.50, Lea & Sandeman, is superbly textured with mulberry spiciness.
Back in the northern Rhône, offers of the 2011 vintage are now in full cry. Among a star-studded line-up of Côte Rôtie and Hermitage from Berry Bros (bbr.com/rhone), the fragrant and spicy 2011 Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine des Lises from Maxime Graillot, £126 a case in bond, and the voluptuously intense 2011 Seyssuel, L'Esprit d'Antan, Domaine Pierre-Jean Villa, £135 six-bottle case, are both outstanding value. Enough to make you forget shiraz. Almost but not quite.Reuse content