When most Americans think of wines made from the classic black grape generally known as Syrah in the Old World and Shiraz in the New, they think of the robust red Shirazes from Australia. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Australian Shiraz was one of the most popular imported wines in America. While in the last six or seven years its popularity has been waning, according to USDA import statistics, America still imports more than nine million cases of red wine from Australia each year (down from a peak of nearly 13 million cases in 2005).
In line with the general trend, the amount of kosher Aussie Shiraz on the market has been falling in recent years. However, while the prices of most kosher wines have appreciatively increased of late, kosher Aussie Shiraz’s prices have remained pretty stable, with the majority costing between $6-$18.
France’s Rhône Valley, long believed to have been the birthplace of the Syrah grape, has been producing Syrah wines since Roman times. Rhône Syrah and Australian Shiraz, although genetically the same grape, produce very different wines. While both create big cherry flavors, Australian Shiraz tends to be more fruit forward and a bit smokier. Since most kosher Australian Shirazes tend to have the right sort of medium-to-full bodies to make them fine spring sippers, we decided it would be a good time to check out the current vintage.
So for this month’s Fruit of the Vine we tasted seven kosher Australian Shirazes made in 2009. While there were a few disappointments, most were good, solid, food-friendly wines.
One of the best wines in the tasting was K:Kosher Shiraz. Made by the Harvey River Bridge Estate Winery in western Australia, with a medium-to-full body and bright garnet color, this lively Shiraz has a floral nose with elements of cherries, cranberries, smoke and salad greens. Look for elements of cherries and cranberries with just a hint of sweetness. This wine should drink well for at least another 12 to 18 months.
Score B ($17.99: Available at Columbus Wine & Spirits, 730 Columbus Ave., Manhattan,  865-7070).
Also quite good was Harkham Windarra Winery’s Shiraz. Made from Shiraz grapes grown in the Hunter Valley region of southeastern Australia, this dark garnet-colored, medium-to-full bodied wine has the flavor and aroma of black cherries with a strong smoky note, and hints of herbs and cranberries. Drinking well now, this Shiraz should be able to cellar until 2014.
Score B ($16.99: Available at Chateau de Vin, 544 Central Ave., Cedarhurst, L.I.,  374-9463).
Those who prefer their wines on the sweeter side may want to try Teal Lake’s Reserve Shiraz. This smooth, slightly sweet, garnet-colored, medium-bodied wine has flavors and aromas of cherries, blackberries and blueberries. Ready to drink, this wine should continue to drink well for another two years.
Score B ($16.99: Available at Queen Anne Wine & Spirit Emporium, 247 DeGraw Ave., Teaneck, N.J.,  692-1555).
Finally, those who are looking for a bargain-priced red may want to try Altoona Hills’ Shiraz. With a bright-garnet color, and a medium body, this wine has a vegetal nose, with notes of cranberries and smoke. Look for cherry and berry flavors. The wine is unfortunately marred by a slight hint of bitterness on the finish. Drink within the next year.
Score B/B- ($5.99: Available at Shoppers Vineyard 875 Bloomfield Ave., Clifton, N.J.,  916-0707).
Like Syrahs from France and California, Australian Shiraz can compliment a wine array of foods. However, Shiraz makes a particularly nice accompaniment to rich beefy dishes. So the next time you sit down to a big, juicy, steak, think about opening a bottle of Shiraz from the land of down-under. You won’t regret it.
Please note: Wines are scored on an ‘A’-‘F’ scale where ‘A’ is excellent, ‘B’ is good, ‘C’ is flawed, ‘D’ is very flawed, and ‘F’ is undrinkable. Prices listed reflect the price at the retailer mentioned.
Fruit of the Vine appears monthly.