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Thanksgiving Wines: Syrah

Syrah produces some of the greatest red wines in the world, and many of the greatest values, too. And its peppery flavor goes perfectly with all kinds of Thanksgiving dishes.

I'm not one to rush out and man the barricades of an unpopular position just for the heck of it, but I love Syrah. Maybe that's because one of the first bottles that lured me into the wine world was a Syrah (a 1995 Ojai Roll Ranch Vineyard, purchased at a wine shop in Palo Alto, California, for a whopping $22). Maybe it's because Syrah is a great vehicle for both the fruity and the savory characteristics in red wine—it leads with flavors of ripe blackberries and raspberries, and follows up with all those other notes: smoke, black pepper, violets and so on. And Syrah pairs beautifully with the Thanksgiving meal. But in case you're not convinced to try Syrah, I gave the matter a bit more thought and came up with the following reasons.

My Top Three Reasons to Drink Syrah:

1. People who buy Syrah are independent and smart.

They're independent because a lot of people aren't buying Syrah these days. They're smart because they're ignoring what everybody else does and concentrating on how delicious Syrah is.

2. Cool-climate Syrahs are exceptionally food-friendly.

High-end sommeliers tend to put down American Syrah in particular, dismissing it as bulky, ponderous, alcoholic and sweet. But cooler-climate regions in California and Washington make streamlined, evocative, spicy, aromatic, food-friendly Syrahs.

3. Syrah is one of the safest bets around.

If you're looking for a bottle of red under $20, Syrah is a far better choice than Pinot. Finding good Pinot at that price is like finding diamonds in your gravel driveway. Finding delicious under-$20 Syrah is like finding diamonds in a diamond mine.

Key Syrah Terms to Know

Syrah One of the great red wine varieties of the world, it originated in Southeast France.

Petite Sirah The US term for the French grape Durif, so not Syrah at all; it makes big, spicy, blueberry-inflected reds.

Shiraz This is the Australian term for Syrah; Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape.

Rotundone The naturally occurring compound that gives many Syrahs their peppery character.

Rhône Rangers The winemakers in the late 1980s who were among the first in California to promote Rhône varieties.

Hermitagé The 19th-century practice in France of adding Syrah to subpar Bordeaux to boost color and flavor intensity.

Plus: Thanksgiving Wines & Recipes

Published November 2010
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