Yes, syrah and shiraz are the same grape. Australians call their version shiraz, the most famous of which is probably Penfolds Grange, the wine that first put Oz on the world's radar screen. Californians tend to take after Rhone Valley producers and call theirs syrah, but allow a little wiggle room. Aussie style tends towards big, jammy wines that whomp your palate with hugely dense fruit, Californians veer a bit towards a less overripe style. Each has its adherents and detractors.

I say, drink 'em all!

Alban Vineyards Syrah Edna Valley 1996 (Prodigal Hawaiians): Opinions on this wine varied, from Callahan's "Yuck!" to Oleg's "This isn't syrah!" to Joe's "This hurts my nose just to smell it!" I tend to agree with Joe, as the nose is brutally toasty-oaky, with a band-aidy undercurrent that hits you like a dental drill right between the eyes. In the mouth it starts out with a nice attack of rich smoky red fruit, but within a second or two the fruit segues into a weird, extremely bitter aftertaste, leaving me a little breathless. Freaky. (1/15/00)

Aussie Island Wines Shiraz Australia 'Dinky Do' 2002 ($7) (Boatloads IV): It was either this or the slightly dumber-sounding "Woop Woop." Smells purple, like grape jelly and shoe polish. Tastes very much like smells, spiked grape Kool-Aidª with an odd rubber-tire/chemical aftertaste. Blech, hard to gag down: the cat ends up drinking most of this. [Buy again? NO NO NO.] (6/05)

The Australian Premium Wine Collection Shiraz Western Australia 66%/South Australia 34% 'The Wishing Tree' 2004 ($8) (Boatloads VI): Okay, I don't think I've seen an appellation broken up by percentages before, but what the hey. Big jammy plum-blackberry-tar aromatics, tastes soft and squishily ripe, a juicy wine that tastes a bit like pre-set plum Jell-Oª that has been slightly scorched. I know that doesn't sound terribly appetizing, but oddly the overall effect isn't unpleasant, a simple broad-beamed quaffer with just a hint of acidity that would probably please most shiraz-seekers who want a squishy fruitbomb. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Um... actually, yes. I think, if I was throwing a party for nongeeks, maybe.] (12/05)

Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 1994 ($70) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Deep purply-garnet color. Velvety-spicy nose, plum-pepper-blackberry, toastiness, hint of orange rind. Rich to taste, plush and ripe, but quite crisp and spiney. Long licorice purpley-peppery finish. An unreconstructed bigass hootie but one with decent integration & a sense of balance. Might be a bit of VA, but it's well buried under plum-peppery dark fruit--finishes clovey-tarry. Nice: over the top, but cheerfully so. (11/04)

Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 1995 ($70) (Aussie Blowout): Darkest garnet yet; lighter on the nose; dark spicy, earthiness, hint of black cherry, maybe a touch of stewed tomato; on the palate YIKES this is a beast. Easily the densest wine of the night, just fierce & rich & seamless. Blackfruit monster, rich, smoky, blackberry, meaty flavors, meaty texture in the mouth, very firm tannins clamp down on the sweet finish. Too tannic? Well, probably not, with all that concentration... Really tasty & kind of exciting. Both Lisa's & my winner of the big-boy shiraz tasting. Along with the Grange, the best shiraz I've ever had. I really look forward to seeing how it will age. (3/7/99)

Jim Barry Shiraz Clare Valley The Armagh 1995 ($70) (Foodies 2): A side note: this is a wine that Lisa and I enjoyed at our very first geek event amidst a host of other Aussie shirobelisks; since then we'd been afraid to open another one, our tastes having strayed a great deal from the path of shiraz. Would it seem like a huge ungainly freak to us now, or would our early impressions still hold true? It's time to bite the bullet and find out. I pour some into my glass and take a sniff...

Uh, oh.

Smells of India ink and plum and blackberry suffused with woodshop aromas and coconut, like fresh-cut lumber rubbed down with suntan lotion and plum jam. "Tastes like purple... purple coconut," mutters Eden. Smells of sawdust, tastes of coal dust. The wine is well balanced for such a big thing, crisp and not spikily acidic, but the flavors are profoundly disagreeable in a wine-jerky kind of way. Lisa likes it marginally more than I do (she can actually finish a glass), but she too is dismayed. Ah, the folly of youth: where is the shiraz of yesteryear? Anybody want to buy some of this, this... um, "flavorful" stuff? (2/03)

Jim Barry McCrae Wood Shiraz Clare Valley 1996 ($32): Dense, blackish matte-purple. Hoo-boy, this smells way jammy--blackberry/plum jam on toasted-coconut oak bread. Hints of pepper and menthol, but just jam city. It tastes much like it smells, fat jammy fruit, vanilla & toasty, turning dusty and licoricey on the finish, with some pointy acidity poking through the fat fruit like a tack in a pat of butter. Not too good. I'm generally a fan of Barry's 'The Armagh,' and I expected a bit more from this wine (even at one-third the price), but it has all the oak and none of the concentration and depth. As it is, it's fairly generic overripe, overoaked shiraz. (1/29/00)

Best's Great Western Thomson Family Shiraz 1997 (Robin in the Big City): Best Western? I think I've stayed with them... Anyway, it's a deep purply-black color, plummy vanilla, toasty coconut, yup it's shiraz all right. Chocolatey-plum-pepper in the mouth, forward and oaky and typical. The notion that this is a 'restrained style of shiraz' leads Robin towards musings on the relative nature of the word 'restrained'--"After all, who's more restrained, Bozo or Clarabelle?" (2/7/00)

Wolf Blass President's Selection Shiraz Barossa 1995 ($15) -- Deep purple, almost black. Tons of backbone, a mouthful of woody tannins, but nice, full-but-not-up-front fruit too. Undercurrent of espresso/baking chocolate bitter tang. Deep, chewy and dark, great wine with London broil. A bit reminiscent of the '85 L'Arrosee in the tarry, coffee quality, but not nearly as refined or balanced. THIS is more along the lines of what I expect Aussie Shiraz to be--rough and woody. (7/98)

Bonny Doon Vineyard 'Domaine des Blagueurs' Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 2002 ($10) (Boatloads I): Light whiff of gaminess right up front, underneath there's blackberry-grape and peppery hints. Recognizably syrah at least, but tastes like overcropped and indistinct syrah. Not bad, I guess, but a little watery and loose, with a hint of prune on the abrupt finish. Stick with the Big House Red. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nah.] (8/04)

Grant Burge Shiraz Barossa 'Barossa Vines' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads IV): Barossa jam, really. If this were boiled down about 25% it would taste like some of those weird Marquis-Phillips potions; as it is it's merely spoofulated shiraz, corpulently ripe plum-jammy fruit hung onto a frame of weird spiky acidity. Bit of bug-spray in the nose doesn't help convince me much, either. On the bright side, it's quite flavorful in a big, jammy way, although the flavors turn otherwordly again as the finish grinds to an abrupt halt. With some air the bugspray fades and the wine turns more routine and less freaky, but still very little of interest besides jammy ripeness. Did I mention it was jammy? [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Grant Burge Shiraz 'Meshach' 1990 (Aussie Blowout): A nice wine, but seems to pale in this company--light, cassis/cherry, earthy/peppery nose, touch of cranberry & tar on the midpalate; smooth & crisp, medium-bodied, pleasant, well-knit, but unexciting. (3/7/99)

Cape Mentelle Shiraz 1996 ($17): I expected a big beast from down under and it was almost subdued, fruity, with notes of grapiness and firm tannins. Still dense, but not a monster, not so much wood and bitter coffee; subtler, with good backbone and lots of forward fruit, with an interesting fleshy, meaty kind of texture and smooth tannins. (7/98)

Carina Cellars Syrah Santa Barbara County 2003 ($12) (Boatloads XI): Medium-dark saturated purply-garnet color, this smells ripe and shirazzy, dark raspberry and plum laced with toastiness. Tastes generously candy-oaky, almost sweet-tasting, clumsy and broad and with very little finesse. Being fond of Santa Barbara in general terms (both of my siblings went to school there), I bought this as a counterpoint to the Shadow, despite it being a bit pricier. To speak plain, this strikes me as striving for pointiness: the fruit is uncomfortably ripe, there's too much wood and not a whole lot of structure. Well, with air a bit more tanginess emerges in middle, but there's still too much jammy redfruit surrounding it. Were it zinfandel I'd probably cut it more slack, but this is no way to treat syrah, boys. Santa Barbara shiraz. [Buy again? No.] (11/07)

Clarendon Hills Shiraz Astralis 1996 ($175)(Aussie Blowout): Light in the nose (*sigh*--next time I'll bring Riedels), pepper, redfruit; in the mouth sweet, forward fruit, plenty of loose oakiness floating about, nice black tarry/licorice quality in the middle that hangs on through some rough tannins that kick in on the finish. Nothing to write home about, probably a fine wine, but pales in this company (at the big Aussie Shiraz Blowout). (3/7/99)

Clarendon Hills Shiraz Liandra 1997 ($70) (Misplaced Weekend I): Almost fascinatingly horrid, something cooked up in a fiendish "points"-crazed mad scientist's laboratory. Plum jam & pruneskins, soy sauce, pepper, all boiled down until it's a thick, overpoweringly flavorful purple sauce. Flabby and spiky at the same time, meaty/matte-textured and despicable. Gasps of shock and horror follow it around the room, which is actually pretty cool. (5/2/04)

D'Arenberg Shiraz Mclaren Vale The Dead Arm 1995 ($50) (Mystery Wine): Very dark purply-red, not quite dead opaque, but almost. Swirl a bit, the purply streaks stain the glass... rich, dense aromas are gathered in the bowl of the glass, purplefruit, stony graphite, streak of green herbiness--what? Oregano? Dill? Solid cedary notes as well; slightly muddy quality to the nose--muted, not crisp. My first thought from the nose was that it might be some kind of monster Bordeaux, but a taste quickly put that notion down for good--sweet & dark & thick fruit, blackberry & a touch of ice-blue mintiness, then fierce tannins; high-octane stuff. Plenty of nice acidity & so much going on that you don't mind the tannic rush too much. Juicy & stuffed, but a little disjointed. Also a heckuva lot of sediment--the last inch of wine in the bottle looked like certain parts of New York harbor. A really interesting wine, but I was kind of stumped as to what kind of wine it might be, finally guessing Oz grenache. Never had this one before, but I plan to again, in, oh... about ten years. (5/99)

D'Arenberg Shiraz McLaren Vale The Dead Arm 1995 ($50) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Dark garnet color. Smells spicy, blackberry-plum, earth, shoyu, graphite and old cedar. Touch of something high up, either mint or VA. Dark and matte, ripe and chewy, with tangy red fruit and slightly spiky acidity. Holds together pretty well for such an overstuffed wine, tarry on the finish, but there's a certain lightness on its size-fourteen feet that serves it well; it's aging pretty well. Lots of sediment. (11/04)

D'Arenberg Shiraz Mclaren Vale The Dead Arm 1996 ($50)(Quiz Show II): This is an unreconstructed bigass hootie of a wine, redolent of spicy creamy-coconut and vanilla-laced plum and blackberry. Some people claim to detect gobs, but nothing is confirmed. Oddly enough, we had just had the 95 a few days before, and this is bigger and denser but also more monolithic and unyielding. Tastes slightly candied at first, plenty of generously-oaked dense red and black fruit with plummy-toasty overtones, tangy and crisp without any spiky acidity, actually balanced rather well for all of its boisterousness. After an hour in the glass the candied aspect is gone, the wine has turned matte and spread, a rough beast slouching towards earthiness. It's a big, silly wine that goes happily over the top, and I like it. (4/15/00)

D'Arenberg Shiraz McLaren Vale The Dead Arm 1996 ($50) (McNetta 2002): Dark asphalt-black color. Smells intense: shoyu, plum, shoe polish, licorice, more plum. Tastes as big and dark as it smells, matte mouthfeel, nice balance of acidity for such a big wine, purply-black fruit with a eucalyptus high note emerging to hover over the middle. Smoky shoyu-plum-coaldust finish. Yes, it's a big silly brute of a wine, but a few years in bottle have been kind, allowing it to come together and open up. Despite the size there is a good balance here and it's hard not to like, even at this early hour. I declare that it's quite drinkable and am immediately hooted at and pelted with scraps of wheat toast and packets of grape jelly. Bounders. (6/02)

D'Arenberg Shiraz McLaren Vale Old Vines 'The Footbolt' 1996 ($13): Deep purple, grapey color, opaque. Musky, blackberry, plummy, grapey nose. Dense, round feel in the mouth, flavors of blueberries, plums, pepper & spices--firm tannins & dash of crisp acidity, dash of oaky flavor segues into nice, long finish with a touch of heat. Thick and jammy with some rough edges. Kind of a fleshy mouthfeel. A pleasure, especially at this price. Note to self: I keep being pleasurably surprised by the quality and depth of flavors in relatively inexpensive Oz reds. There's even a nice story on the back label for all you bottle readers out there in vinoland.

Six days later: dense purply-black, more nose in a decent glass--prune & sweet oak & pepper, touch of menthol. On the palate sweet blackfruit, licorice, prune & tar; dense & smooth, soft tannins; sweet, dark, smoky finish. Seems to have smoothed, come forward & integrated a bit. It does seem much better on its own. (3/7/99)

Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah (Shiraz) Paso Robles 1995 ($18): I just love the label on this one, with it's choice of perspective between northern (syrah)/southern (shiraz) hemispheres, with the southern version being, of course, upside down. Anyway, the wine had a rich, juicy nose of peppery, plummy fruit with hints of cassis & pepper--very rich, full aromas, hints of prunes & sweet oak. Medium-dark garnet, not opaque, but deeply colored; slightly tart on the tongue, medium-bodied, meaty texture, muted earthy, smoky cassis flavors, slight wateriness around the middle, medium-long, smooth smoky finish, very light tannins. Very drinkable, but does lack a real core of either tannins or acidity; little bit of flab around the middle. That said, I'll probably buy it again. (2/11/99)

Edmunds St. John Syrah California 2001 ($25) (Age-Related Drunkenness): Smells of dark plum, smoke and iodine, with some candied hints that someone (Jeff G.?) dubs 'Bubble Yum.' A sip, and there's a bit of a reduced character to it, it's dark and rich but also rather limpid, it just kind of lays there in my mouth until it rolls over and finishes with a touch of bitterness. Uninspiring wine from a producer I usually dig. Ah well, the sun don't shine on the same dog's ass every day. (9/17/03)

Edmunds St. John Syrah El Dorado Fenaughty Vineyard 1997 ($30) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Dark purply-garnet color. Rich, meaty nose, dark blackberry-plumskin fruit, hints of smoked meat and black raspberry, traces of eucalyptus. Silky-meaty and balanced, tartly darkfruity, fine glassy tannins aren't bothersome. Balanced, expressive, complex and honest. (11/04)

Edmunds St. John Syrah El Dorado County Wylie-Fenaughty 2000 ($30) (Unclear Identities): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells quiet, blackberry-raspberry, tar, maybe some licorice, just a bit of, what is that, black olive? Tastes smooth and richly blackberried, but also rather squishy and vague in the middle. There's a nice warm surge of smoky blackfruit right up front that turns earthy and shy halfway through, then finishes with a bit more assertiveness. The acidity seems missing at first, but comes around a bit in the middle. It's friendly wine, but the character is more than a little indistinct. (8/8/04)

Edmunds St. John Syrah Sonoma Valley Durell Vineyard 1994 ($30) (MoJoe): Smells of blackberry, smoke, smoked meat, menthol, grilled plum. Grilled plum? Sure why not, adjectives are still free. This has quieted down a lot over the past few years and seems a little shy tonight. Muted, quiet syrah, not particularly expressive but layered and smooth, with enough acidity. Shutting down? Even reticent, it's honest wine with character. Five and a half juicy Prongs carved from slabs of gyro meat, rubbed down with Vick's Vaporub and that weird green algae that chicks eat, then buried in Leo Sayer's backyard. (9/23/02)

Edmunds St. John Syrah Sonoma Valley Durell Vineyard 1996 ($30) (I Get the Shakes): Inky dark garnet, purple at the rim. Ripe smoky-plum nose, hints of smoked meat and menthol. Rich and ripe tasting, but quite well balanced and racy, with a tarry tang emerging on the finish along with some slightly astringent tannins. Were I tasting this blind, I suspect I'd guess it a Rhone wine. Fine Cal syrah with a lot of expressiveness and balance, still needs time. (6/6/00)

Eight Songs Shiraz Barossa 1996 (Of Bass and Men): Smells of plum, smoke and toast, toast, toast. Tastes of toast, toast, toast, with a candied plum-blackberry jam spread on it. There's smoky tarry-plum fruit on the nose, but candied oak is all you get when you taste it. A confection. Supporters say "It's typical jammy, oaky shiraz, what do you expect?" while a certain distaff critic calls it a "Big, fat, fucking ugly overblown monstrosity" that tastes of "nothing but oak, oak, oak," and "oak jam candy" with "more oak" and still more "oak" added in. (2/01)

Elderton Shiraz, Barossa Valley Command 1992 ($45)(Aussie Blowout): Another fairly light nose (is everything working up there?); light aromas of blackfruit & earthy/plumminess, with clear touches of oak; more interesting in the mouth, sweet, cinnamony very forward fruitiness (red hots?). Smooth, round & spicy--peppery, tangy, full-bodied & lush, more redfruity than some of the others. A friendly wine, and that cinnamon quality is quite beguiling... group winner of the Big Aussie Shiraz Blowout, but I feel it was significantly outclassed by the Grange and the Armagh. (3/7/99)

Elderton Shiraz Barossa Valley 'Command' 1994 ($50) (Winterfest 2003): Dark purple-black color. Big, gruff purple plum-smoky nose, smells of shoyu, tar, plum jam suffused with scorched black sod, all ground up in a pestle and poured on a pile of wood chips. A sip, and there's a wash of limpid purple-black peppery-spicy-toasty fruit, a chewy purple tar pit with a ton of spicy smoked wood that turns gritty on the plum-jam finish. A brutish wine with a heavy, cloying mouthfeel, it clings to your tongue like burnt motor oil and won't let go, then it's all wood, wood, wood. There's actually a strange fascination for me here--it's just so over-the-top thick and vastly overoaked that I can't stop sipping at it out of sheer amazement that such a wine could be stitched together and somehow animated. (2/03)

Excelsior Shiraz Robertson (South Africa) 'Paddock' 2004 ($8) (Boatloads VII): Medium dark, almost dark garnet color, hint of purpling at the rim. Smells purplespicy, clove and liquorice hints, then dark plum-blackberry fruit. Dense and chewy with some firm supporting acidity. Rather coarse and broad, but appealingly rich shiraz with pretty good balance. There's a burnt flavor in that arises after the initial creamyfruit wave, but it fades and is almost gone by the time the liquoricey finish finishes. Amiable hefty shiraz that stays reasonably light of foot, neither elegant nor complex but raffishly charming. [Buy again? Yep.] (4/06)

Gallo Syrah Vin de Pays d'Oc 'Red Bicyclette' 2003 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium to medium-dark garnet, hint of purple at the rim. Peppery purplefruit aromatics, plums and red grapes. Tastes pretty much like it smells, pepper and plum and grapeyness, medium acidity and loosely-wrapped purplefleshy fruit. Decent weight and medium-plain acidity, bland but correct and enjoyable if you aren't looking for much more than a cheap, decent quaffer with a Velveetized edge to it. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Gallo of Sonoma Syrah Sonoma County Reserve 2002 ($10) (Boatloads VIII): Medium-dark garnet, blackish at the core, lots of sediment. Smells of ripe blackberries laced with smoked meat and dust. Tastes dark and earthy, plum-blackberry fruit, slightly overassertive acidity, unusual combination of glossy mouthfeel with gritty tannins on the finish. Interesting wine, certainly by-the-numbers, but well made and robust, almost chewy. A ton of sediment at the bottom and stuck to the inside of the bottle. Lots of richness and substance here, some small measure of complexity as well. [Buy again? Yup.] (9/06)

Geyser Peak Winery Shiraz Sonoma County 2001 ($14) (Boatloads IX): Dark garnet color, purpling at the rim. Rich smelling, spicy plum-blackberry-shoe polish-toast aromatics. Tastes smooth, velvety, kinda glossy. Medium low acidity, simple, rich, velvety-smooth, blandly ripe but well built, rich without being overblown. Decent enough, not quite interesting. [Buy again? No.] (11/06)

Joel Gott Syrah California 2005 ($13) (Boatloads XI): Smoky aromatics, seared coconut meat mingling with blackberry/black cherry/vanilla candle hints. Tastes glossy and candied, robust and bumptious, medium acidity does what it can. A bit overblown, a bit hot, a bit tannic, more than a bit generic. Disappointingly pointyish stuff. [Buy again? No. No.] (11/07)

Grande River Vineyards Syrah Colorado 1997 ($18)(Sitting Jeebis): Bit of nail polish or plastic over smoked candy-cherry fruit. Seems interesting upon first tastage, somewhat anemic candied cherry fruit hits your tongue, but veers into a ravine of astringency and bitter wood tannins. Not good. (3/31/01)

Le Grand Noir Cabernet-Shiraz Vin de Pays d'Oc 2002 ($10) (Boatloads V): Soft, innocuous, gently peppery-spicy, watery in the middle. A nebbish of a wine, shy and bland. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.] (10/05)

Hardy's Eileen Hardy Shiraz Padthaway-Mclaren Vale-Clare Valley 1993 ($50) (Walt Begs for Mercy): Big and smelly, redolent of raspberry-plum, pepper and eucalyptus. Tastes richly fruity and primary, smoky-tarry-oaky and ripe. A big boisterous woody shiraz, simple and robust, that Miller pegs as "a decent barbeque wine." (5/01)

Hayman Hill Shiraz-Viognier Monterey County Reserve Selection 2002 (93% shiraz, 7% viognier) ($12) (Boatloads VIII): Yikes, it's shiraz all right--smells purple, plum and blackberry mingled with an odd cementdust note and persistent burnt-tarry streak. Tastes thick and concentrated, reduced really, plum preserves, grittily tannic, an overconcentrated bullyboy of a wine. No finesse, but plenty of rich fruity-smokiness. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Henschke Mt. Edelstone Old Vines Shiraz, Barossa Ranges 1994 (Aussie Blowout): Sweet cherry-red nose, hint of leather & pepper; concentrated & powerful but also smooth & contained--nice; in the mouth plum/black cherry/licorice, dark oaky notes, full acidity, smooth, clean tannins, silky finish. (3/7/99)

Hewitson Shiraz Fleurieu Peninsula 'L'Oizeau' 1996 ($27): Can't tell the color by oil-lamplight, but it looks pretty dark; smooth nose of dark peppery plum and plenty of sawdusty oak. Fairly dense, but straightforward & simple in the mouth, with tastes that echo the nose, some nice jammy dense fruit, decent acidity & light, brisk tannins. With some air the texture turns a bit meatier and the new wood devils emerge and dance in triumph around the plummy fruit. Too expensive. (8/99)

Indaba Shiraz Wine of Western Cape (South Africa) 2003 ($9) (Boatloads II): Plum-blackberry and shoe polish on the nose, touch of menthol. Smooth, bland and plummy-toasted, loose and decently structured, with some sandy aggressive tannins on the finish. Slightly confected-tasting but not bad, it's drinkable in a picnicky sense. On a personal note, repeatedly seeing 'Wine of Western Cape' on a wine label makes me itch. Where's the article, Kenneth?! FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Maybe.] (11/04)

Indaba Shiraz South Africa 2004 ($7) (Boatloads VI): Medium-light garnet color, oddly pale for 'shiraz.' Touch of plum-berry, touch of acetone, hint of mint, vague ripe aromatics. Tastes bland and squishy, soft and industrial-generic wine, vague and sterile. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (12/05)

Jacob's Creek Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon South Eastern Australia 2001 ($7) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Candied plum-blackberry aromatics, trace of tarriness. Glossy, soft and simply ripe, with a sprinkling of plum-pepper spiciness. Not very interesting, but tonight my standards are collapsing like last night's soufflé ; this is at least quaffable and is by far the best of this lot. (5/03)

Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County 1997 ($17) (Swedes Invade): Medium dark purply-garnet. Raspeberry, black pepper and soy sauce on the nose. Crisp in the mouth, good structure, good solid syrah fruit that has a nice racy leanness to it and comes to a pleasant purply-licorice finish. Not having had much luck with Cal syrah lately, I'm pleasantly surprised by the balance of this wine and the fact that some rich but not overly ripe fruit hasn't been smothered in new oak. Good. (3/24/00)

Jasper Hill, Georgia's Paddock Shiraz, Heathcote 1996 (Aussie Blowout): Dark garnet; aromatically light, earth/plum/pepper/cranberry, but not very rich; on the palate it has a nice full mouthfeel, full-bodied, plummy & dark tarry notes that segue into a long finish with gritty tannins. (3/7/99)

Jaffurs Wine Cellars Syrah Santa Barbara County 2003 ($22) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smoky-blackberry-raspberry & iodine, ripe and dark and peppery. Tastes like a Northern Rh™ne wine on steroids, riper and darker and more muscular, but the flavor and aromatic profile is the same. In other words, this is California syrah that tastes the way syrah ought. Firm acidity is buried a bit beneath ripe smoky-dark fruit, but it's there all right. Matte, slightly gritty mouthfeel, roughish around the edges, but nicely composed and focused, real nice wine. Who are these guys? Not to be a Philistine, but I enjoy drinking this more than I do the subtler and doubtless more sublime Chave. Does that make me a bad person? Or perhaps Kane? (11/06)

Kiss Chasey Cabernet Shiraz Merlot Western Australia 2004 (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): Hmm, looks like Kane is digging into his sample bin. Let's see, focus now. Hmmm... it's ripe. Ripe and purple. Ripe, purple fat industrial wine product, richly flavored and bland as Velveeta, with an abrasive finish. On the good side, it's deeply colored, a pretty shade of saturated purply-black. (7/06)

Liberty School Syrah California 2001 ($10) (Boatloads V): Dark purply-garnet color, smells big and woody--plum, raspberry and fresh-sawed coconut husk. Tastes dark, creamy and slightly candied... no, more than slightly, glossy red-black syrah, simple and hefty-shiny. The wine is impressively concentrated, but seems rather steroided, brawny in the wrong places, very little athletic ability. The dark shiny fruit has some interest at first, but soon seems candied and monotonal. [Buy again? No.] (10/05)

Marquis Philips Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2002 ($15) (Age-Related Drunkenness): Dark purply-black color. Hmmmm... lots of unusual "fruit," the kind of "fruit" that takes the pitiably drab fruit found in nature and ratchets it up a few notches. Rich aromatics of pnooquat jam, flumskin reduction sauce and treathery-smooth jadmaniper berry, all swirled up in a snocko-spicy package: a wine that might have been concocted by Dr. Seuss's evil twin. In the piehole it's dense, creamy and limpid, resembling nothing so much as cough syrup infused with beef broth and soy sauce, turning towards an aquarium-charcoal note on the finish. Quite unpleasant to drink, but... somehow... compelling, in a traffic-accident kind of way. I can't stop nosing at it incredulously. Mesmerizingly overtasty stuff, although (mandatory disclaimer) doubtless delicious if you're partial to the particular "fruity" style involved. (9/17/03)

Marquis Philips Sarah's Blend South Eastern Australia 2002 ($15) (Age-Related Drunkenness): Same dark purply-black color. Smells a bit less freaky (or am I just getting acclimated?), purply-red, shoe-polishey and spicy. Tastes fat and ripe, chock full of lusty ersatz flavors, medium-low acidity, densely chewy texture, lots of toasty wood, falls down dead on the finish. More drinkable than the last: this isn't entirely unpleasant, but one's imagination flits inevitably to the notion of it being manufactured on an assembly line out of overripe, uninteresting grapes with Liquid Smoke, beef broth and a dash of MSG added to give it that savory-spicy character. A very peculiar concoction. (9/17/03)

McGuigan Shiraz South Eastern Australia "The Black Label" 2003 ($7) (Boatloads V): "The flavour of Australia!" Damn, who knew that Australia tastes like plum jam mixed with black shoe polish. No, no, I am unkind. Well, except it's sort of true. Smells like a burnt plum pie, soft and gentle aromatics. Tastes like a slightly sweet plum-pomegranate beverage, almost spineless but friendly and light-bodied for such a jammy thing. A strange combination of broad, squishy jamminess and watery looseness makes for an impressively inconsequential wine. No, really, it tastes like soda or something, it's just so utterly beveragelike, not like wine as I think of it. I have a Paul B-like vision of the vast Matrixlike factory complexes where the final product is assembled, Soylent Green Shiraz. The odd thing is, the wine isn't undrinkable, it's just a Yellow Taillike product that I have a deep and unreasonable loathing for. [Buy again? Only with a gun at my head and my balls in a vise.] (10/05)

Domaine Monte de Luz Syrah San Jose (Uruguay) 2005 ($6) (Boatloads VIII): Smoky dark purpleberry and blackfruit aromatics, light smoked meat hints, simple but kind of comfortable smells. Tastes juicy and tangy, two-dimensional but with a certain rough-edged rusticity that I find charming. The acidity is surprisingly assertive and the wine is on the lean side, giving the wine some decent mouthgrab. For six bucks you could do a lot worse. [Buy again? Yup.] (9/06)

Mount Horrocks Shiraz Clare Valley 1996 (Quiz Show II): Hints of eucalyptus in the plum-cassis nose, hints of earthiness running darkly under the fruit, mingling with dark toast. Decent balance, not terribly giving but not unpleasant, finishes a bit rough, turning towards a licorice quality. After some time in the glass the fruit seems to be moving towards more redness than blackness, turning towards a cranberry-tinged plumminess. Seems like a pretty decent, but somewhat generic shiraz. (4/15/00)

Navarro Correa Syrah Mendoza 1991 (Nonoffensive Notes): Medium-light garnet. Plenty of sweet vanillin oakiness here, along with white peppery red fruit. Light, smooth and tangy, simple but decent, with a bit too much unintegrated oak for my tastes. (3/20/00)

Ojai Vineyards Syrah California 1992 (Blind Syrah): Slightly more reddish-garnet; plum, menthol, light burnt rubber on the nose. In the mouth a bit softer, not as jammy as the Rosemount Balmoral 95. Pleasant, slightly crisp, medium-weight. Shrug. Napa? (8/16/99)

Ojai Vineyards Syrah Bien Nacido 1996(Of Bass and Men): I take a sniff and get a big dose of the pronounced menthol-eucalyptus that I often get from Ojai syrahs. I rather like it, but some find it "medicinal, witch hazel" and "like a locker room" or "like Ben-Gay." There's dark chewy fruit that seems pleasantly unmanipulated, some smokiness that isn't distracting, a little bit of a disjointedness towards the finish, but really quite a "decent" meaty-dark syrah. Even the cranky hardcore leaf-and-dirt-drinkers give grudging assent, allowing generously that it's "almost wine." (2/01)

Ojai Vineyards Syrah California 1996 ($20) went well with beef stew--very strong blackberry flavors with an undercurrent of menthol(!) that Susan first picked out as sort of an ammonia-like taste. Kind of cough-droppy. Strange, but not unpleasant to me. Very forward fruit, bigass flavors, and a lot of backbone and tannin, as well as a high acidity level and a good, mid-long finish. Not subtle, but a good, strong, tasty vino that held up very well against a thick beef stew. Good individual style. And that menthol... beguiling.... (11/98)

Paringa Shiraz South Australia 'Individual Vineyard' 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): Nice to see that the movement towards vineyard branding has hit the generic phase. Yup, it's shiraz--plum and black shoe polish, blah blah blah, you know the drill. Slightly watery in the middle, but otherwise as purply-generic as if it were piping hot off the assembly line. [Buy again? Bleh.] (10/05)

Penfolds Grange Shiraz Bin 95 South Australia 1992 ($175) (Aussie Blowout): Very dark garnet. Oh my oh my, this one has THE NOSE. I do a quick survey of the rest of my glasses, and this one has the killer nose, in a landslide. Is this the Grange? Rich, smooth, opulent nose of black cherry, smoky-meaty-barbeque, leather, pepper & oak just leaps out of the glass and salutes. On the palate it isn't quite as dense as I would have expected from the nose, but wonderfully smooth & polished. Full-bodied, rich & crisp, touch of cranberry tang in the mix with the black cherry/meaty flavors. Slightly sandy tannins; long, smooth finish. Very nice, very balanced and complete. Lovely. Tied numerically with the Armagh for my top spot in the big Aussie Shiraz blowout, took second by decision. (3/7/99)

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 ($10): Earthy nose, muted scents of red and black fruit--blackberries, perhaps. Zap with the tannins on the tongue right away--big, rough wine--tannins not really integrated, but at this price who cares? Nice, fairly concentrated, thick juice. Taste of pepper, touch of licorice & smoke; long, nice finish. A nicely priced QPR winner! I will acquire more. (12/98)

Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet Bin 389 South Australia 1994 ($21): Dark garnet, deep, rich color. Sweet plummy nose with toasty coconut-oil overtones & peppery notes--speaks more to shiraz than cab. Round & plummy in the mouth, with light acidity & firm, gritty tannins that are a little intrusive. Needs time for the tannins to calm down, but plummy & dense. After a day in the fridge, interestingly enough, more cabernet character is evident; brighter redfruit/cassis hints seem to come into the mix, and the tannin is not so pronounced--the wine as a whole is smoother & more well-knit. Good stuff, with a lot more depth & character than most wines in this price range. (4/14/99)

Penfolds Shiraz-Cabernet Bin 389 South Australia 1996 ($24): Rich, dark red color; lush, velvety nose of plum & cassis, tinged with pizza herbs and rounded out with a hint of creamy oakiness, not as much as the past few years, though. On first taste a rush of dense, monolithic tangy plum/cassis fruit, buoyed along with a nice dose of acidity, turning tarry on the finish with some very quiet tannins, making me think this older than it was. Dense little critter, needs time, but seems like a lot of stuffing. (11/99)

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Australia Bin 389 1998 ($25) (All CNN Wines): Medium-dark to dark garnet color. Plumskin and blackberry jam on the nose, smells more of shiraz than cab. Rather weighty mouthfeel, fat black earthy fruit with spiky acidity, finishing with gritty-sandy harsh tannins. Bit disjointed, bit medicinal--not up to past efforts, but not objectionable. Six small gelatin Prongs arranged in the shape of a pentagram, the largest in the middle being on a small raised wooden dais or platform, while the entire arrangement rests somewhat haphazardly on a tarnished metal breakfast tray. (11/11/01)

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Australia Bin 389 2000 ($20) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Quite startlingly oaky at first, coconut and vanilla, smells like suntan lotion. Oh wait, I'm sorry--make that "sunscreen." Blackberry-plum aromatics, light trace of graphite minerality underneath. A big, glossy-ripe wine that's fairly dense but decently crisp as well, without the spiky acidity that has plagued several recent vintages. Quite tannic, but reallly a very decent wine if you don't mind gratuitous overoaking. Hold for five years, then drink. (5/03)

Penner-Ash Cellars Syrah Oregon 2001 ($30) (Oregon): Lightly candied purplefruit hints, plum and a trace of pepper (the cheese?) with minerally undertones. Tastes smooth and velvety-creamy and rather loose, a middleweight wine that carries itself well within its narrow amplitude. Just a touch of astringency on the finish. Smallish, easygoing syrah that doesn't have much to say but says it politely and with excellent diction. (5/04)

Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate 1995 ($35) (Iron Winegeeks): Medium-dark garnet; sweet-smelling candied blackberry-oaky fruit is the first impression. And actually it's the second and third impression as well. The full-bore oak is a bit of a shame, as it seems like there's some nice tangy smoky-dense syrah fruit under there somewhere calling out for help, and the wine has good balance and very respectable crispness. Pity, because the fruit seems supple and rich, to paint over it so thickly. Drink with cajun food or wood-smoked meats and it should show a bit better. Or perhaps try it after a Sine Qua Non vertical. (2/19/00)

Qupé Syrah Santa Barbara Bien Nacido Vineyard Hillside Select 1995 (Culling Me Softly): Medium-dark garnet color. This too has a hint of mucilage, are we finding an inadvertent theme? Underneath that there's some quiet duotone cherry-blackberry fruit, maybe some smoke and black olive if you're looking hard. Low acid, red-black fruit up front fades away in the middle and whimpers into a tiny finish. This seems far older than its label would indicate, but it's got some mildly interesting qualities. I could drink it, in a pinch. "Almost an interesting wine," says Joe. (9/03)

R.H. Phillips Shiraz Dunnigan Hills 2004 ($7) (Boatloads VI): I bought this thinking it was Australian shiraz, plus there's a cute little cork hanging around the bottleneck on a string with 'cork amnesty' printed on it, which I also thought was darn cute. At any rate, it's a warm, ripe smelling wine, dark cassis and plum laced with toastiness, smells simply fruitbomby, but not dopey or overwrought. Medium acidity, fleshy-textured and glossy-ripe, a puppyish party wine without any complexity to speak of but a good measure of rich juiciness and enough balance to pass muster. SCREWCAP! SACRIFICIAL CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, sure.] (12/05)

Ravenswood Sonoma County Icon 1996 ($24), a syrah/grenache blend (91% syrah, 9% grenache): florid cherry & vanilla nose, dusty cherry fruit, up-front, purply-cherry & earth, sweet silky fruit with sweet vanilla-cedar notes overlaying it. Firm purple mushroom-earth flavors bloom in the midpalate along with firm tannins. Brief finish. Nice tastes, fairly smooth & ripe. (8/99)

Ravenswood Syrah Sonoma County 'Icon' 2001 ($13) (Boatloads VIII): Dark garnet color. A good whiff of funky reductive swampiness at first, fades away quickly, then shy blackberry & eucalyptus, new-spaded sod. A sip, and it's got a glossy, slightly candied mouthfeel right up front, then suddenly turns gland-squeezingly tart, puckery-shrill and freaky. Unpleasant. [Buy again? Only if your surname is Sacher-Masoch. Didn't this wine used to cost a lot more?]

Renard Syrah Napa Valley Arroyo Vineyard Cuvée Jacques 1997 ($35) (Nonoffensive Notes): There's a cute picture of a dog's face on the label (I guess it must be 'Jacques'). A doggy cuvée, what a notion! Sweet dark smoky oak over ripe blackberry-raspberry fruit with some menthol hints. A big, ripe syrah that is a bit medicinal but takes a nice tar-licoricey turn on the finish and, for such a lush wine, has decent balance. This is a big crowd favorite among the mostly non-geeks assembled, and I can see why, as it has a certain brash charm that keeps you sipping just a little more. (3/20/00)

Château Reynella Basket-Pressed Shiraz 1994 ($20) (Blind Syrah): Soft, cherry nose, vanilla, oakiness; under the upfront cherry/vanilla a bit of herbaceousness lurks, a bit o'basil. In the mouth soft and simple, fairly spineless, medium-weight dark-cherry flavors... ZIN! Someone has brought a zin in by mistake! I do like zin, but this seems a bit out place here. (8/16/99)

Ridge Lytton Estate Syrah 1996 ($25)(Trilateral Offline): Medium-dark garnet, heading towards inkiness; a ton of sweet dark oak on the nose over a base of burnt-rubber, berry and smoke, with a hint of cheese curdiness. Very oaky, a shame. Sadly, I can no longer say I've never had a really bad wine from Ridge. (3/14/00)

Rosemount Estate Balmoral Syrah 1995 ($35) (Blind Syrah): Dark purply-garnet; jammy plum-pepper-menthol, crisp and a bit shrilly acidic, rich plummy flavors, but fairly simple, with mouth-drying tannins. Aussie all the way. (8/16/99)

Rosemount Estate Balmoral Syrah 1996 ($45) (Blind Syrah): Dark purple; rich, velvety nose, whoo-boy, A-1 steak sauce, plum, smoked meat, this is the bigass freak of the night. Medium-low acidity, firm grainy tannins. Aussie big boy? Like soy sauce, rich & concentrated. Brian calls it the 'boob-job wine' because it seems so luscious and pumped-up and voluptuous, but when you get it home and live with it on a daily basis its appeal will probably dwindle rapidly. It's very concentrated, but I feel a little steamrolled by it. Others (Mike, Lisa) love it. (8/16/99)

Rosemount Estate Shiraz South Eastern Australia (Diamond Label) 1997 ($10): Grapey, jammy nose with notes of pepper and violets. Very purple in the glass, almost neon. Sweet aromas of grape juice hit you smack in the nose. Fairly robust in the mouth, very forward flavors of plum & grape with a little alcohol heat, decent crispness can't quite keep up with the lush forward fruit, meaty texture melts away into a licorice tang with firm tannins. (1/99)

Rosemount Estate Shiraz South Eastern Australia (Diamond Label) 2000 ($10) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Medium-dark garnet at the core, browning noticeably out to the rim. Curiously advanced aromatics, shoyu and bay leaf right on top, plummy-leathery core, hints of sawdustiness. Fairly low acid, turns plummier in the middle but holds on to that leathery-shoyu spiciness, finishes quickly and quietly. Weird but not actively unpleasant. (5/03)

Rosemount Estate Shiraz South Eastern Australia (Diamond Label) 2002 (magnum) ($17) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Deep purply-red. Smells much simpler than the '00, rather medicinal plum-jam aromatics laced with strange cinnamon note. Tastes rather jarring, spiky acidity, plum and blackberry-candy fruit. Finishes with an unpleasant astringency followed by a thrust of bitterness. Not good at all. Pity, as this used to be a fairly reliable cheap quaffer: off the cheapie list it goes. Tasted twice, with consistent squinchy faces. (5/03)

Sadie Family Swartland 'Columella' 2002 ($55) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): A generous local retailer who shall remain nameless found me moping around his shop on my birthday and cut me a deal on this, my very first superexpensive South African syrah (thanks, Greg!). Expressively vibrant aromatics--smoky raspberry and African violets, toast, licorice. Tastes ripe and generously wooded but there's good composure--a taut acidic core and gravel-road tannins on the finish give the dark smoky fruit some decent mouthgrab. An impressive wine in the mold of a new-wave Hermitage on steroids, it's a superb match with grilled porterhouse. Good on the South Africans! Well, except the price thing. But still, real nice wine if you're up for something muscular but not too overdone. (11/05)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2001 ($24) (Summer Mishmash): Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Velvety plum-blackberry and smoky-toast aromatics. Tastes smooth and rich, generously wooded and seemingly in what the kids like to call the 'International Style.' Well packed but not heavy, wood and fruit run alongside each other but are still a bit standoffish. Crisp and contained, very toasty finish. I like it enough to take the remains of the bottle home and stick it in my fridge, where over the course of the next three days it doesn't budge an inch. Plenty of potential, very young. Give five years, redrink. (4/03)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2001 ($24) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Medium-dark to dark garnet, touch of purpling at the rim. Lots of smoky-blackberry aromas, some fresh-sawn lumber. Plush and chewy, a raspberry-blackberry blanket of warm fruit with a firm acidic core and plenty of toasty-smoky wood. Smooth, ripe and muscular new-wave syrah, possessed of two or three gobs at the very least. (11/04)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2002 ($27) (Steamed Steaks): Saturated purply-black color. Big black-raspberry-blackberry flavors, ripe and loose, a bit watery-vague in the middle, with a lot of toasty wood. Boisterous and roasty-ripe, a warm blanket of velour fruit. I liked the '01 more in its youth--although this hasn't quite the fetal quality that it had a year or so ago, it seems a bit smoother and more of a whole, but it's also lacking a bit of the intensity of the last one. (10/2/04)

Scott-Clark Cellars Syrah Central Valley 'Sherwin-Williams' 2000 ($20) (August): A pronounced gluey streak over the light black and red fruited base. A cherry-smoky note hits you upon first sippage, but the off aromas soon dominate the midpalate and send the finish jumping off the tracks. If you've got 'em give 'em time, cause it can only go up from here. This is the flip side of the strictly noninterventionist philosophy this producer has increasingly adopted ("Minimal Process" is their new bottle motto): you can get honest, surprisingly rich wines, but you can also get weird bottles like this one. Still, it's a baby, so perhaps it just needs time. Lots of time. (8/7/01)

Scott-Clark Cellars Syrah Central Valley 'Sherwin-Williams' 2000 ($20) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Medium matte brick-purple color, full of sediment. Smells quiet and earthy, dirt mingled with plum-blackberry. More faded purple dirt in the mouth, medium-light bodied and rather soft, but smallness and lightness helps keep it together. Loosely wrapped, calm and quiet in the middle, quiet finish, a small, quiet wine that is decent in its small, quiet way. (11/04)

Seven Hills/Stringy Brae Clare Valley Shiraz 1996 ($17): Garnet lightly tinged with brown--initial whiff of grapiness blows off quickly to reveal sweet plummy/earthy aromas. In the mouth, forward ripe smooth plum notes, round mouthfeel over medium-soft acidity, soft tannins. A round, easy-drinking, medium-bodied, full-flavored wine. Nothing too exciting or complex, but a very pleasant & flavorful Oz shiraz. (4/4/99)

Sextant Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2005 ($7) (Boatloads IX): Jammy purple aromatics, plum and grapeskin, shoe polish. Tastes like ripe purple plum jam diluted with water and bootblack. Odd, only for fans of the style. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.] (11/06)

Shinas Estate Shiraz Victoria 'The Guilty' 2004 (Birthday Engorgement): Medium-dark to dark garnet color, hint of purple at the rim. Smells richly plum-clove-spicy, strangely almost like one of those huge silly California pinot noirs that Dressner was trying to pawn off on us a while back. No, really, it smells like some overripe overwooded west coast pinot noir, that freakass Beaux Freres stuff or something like that. Again strangely, this character isn't nearly as offputting in a bottle labeled 'Victoria shiraz,' where it seems kind of at home. (I guess context is the key issue here, eh? Relabel this 'Willamette Valley Pinot Noir' and I'd probably have a more negative reaction.) Medium well-knit acidity, decently structured, a pool of blackberry-plum fruit dusted lavishly with clove, as well as lighter hints of toast and licorice. It's actually a well composed bigass hootie of a wine, none of the elements are out of large balance, you could probably do a lot worse in the shiraz aisle. It even has a little bit of a finish of sorts, dark inkiness lingering momentarily. For twenty bucks, this does a good impression of far gobbier and pointier wines that cost a lot more. (6/06)

Sine Qua Non 'Against the Wall' Red Table Wine 1996 ($60) (Cult Madness): Apparently mostly syrah, although the bottle just says 'red table wine.' A dark wine, with a big, lush nose of smoked meat and leather, dark red fruit and plenty of smoky oak. I had my qualms about this one after the horrorshow that was the 'Twisted and Bent,' but this dark red smoky syrah fruit is much better at handling the full-bore oak dosage than that poor sad white was, shrugging off a good deal of planking and emerging on the palate despite the attempted quercicide. A dense, meaty wine with some good dark red gamy character that can't be entirely buried under the wood. (2/8/00)

Solario Syrah Central Valley (Chile) 2005 ($6) (Boatloads VIII): Grapey blackberry, shoe polish hints. Simple, juicy and medium-bodied, a sort of syrah nouveau-style wine. There's middling acidity, a light smoky flavor in the middle, more grapey-blackberry flavors on the finish. There's actually a pleasant substance to the flavors, simple as they may be, and a bit of structure, including a tannic buzz at the end. For six bucks you could do worse. [Buy again? Sure.] (9/06)

St. Hallett Shiraz Barossa Valley 'Blackwell' 1996 ($23) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Medium garnet color. Quiet nose, light plum and red berry hints. Elegant in the piehole, tangy and light. Blackberry and smoke in the middle. Plumskin. Racy and sternly tannic. Quite balanced, although lightly candied, bit of cherry cough syrup. Tight, closed, but seemingly promising in time. (11/04)

Swanson Syrah Napa Valley 1994 (Blind Syrah): Different kind of nose. Blackberry and a very rich vein of cinnamon, spicy and interesting, with hints of cedar. My first impression is that this might be old world, but the last time I came across a real cinnamony streak like this was in the '92 Elderton Command Shiraz, so I'm a little baffled. Dunno what it is, but it's tasty. (8/16/99)

Sean Thackrey Napa Valley Old Vines 'Orion' 1990 (Fridge): A noseful of menthol. Then more menthol. Then a hint of blackberry and Band-Aid brand bandage strips that puts me in mind of an over-the-hill tannat. Then more menthol. Strangely monoaromatic--Manuel grimaces, "Smells like a koala's underpants." Tastes tired and thin, leathery dark blackberry fruit tinged with vanilla, tannins and wood on the finish. Seems to be over the hill syrah of some kind, clearly new world but it doesn't seem like it was ever ripe and jammy in the California fashion, so I guess Oregon or Washington. Frankly, I'd also have guessed that it was about ten years older. (5/12/02)

Sean Thackrey Napa Valley Old Vines 'Orion' 1994 (Unclear Identities): Blackberry and menthol aromatics Blackberry-earthy flavors, bit of plumminess in the middle, a pool of dark matte-black fruit. Large, limp, dull, coming unglued. SFJoe points out that he brought it for me, a verbal cue that means he's uncovered some long-forgotten monstrosity in his closet and said "What the hell was I thinking? Oh wait, I'll get Coad to drink it, he'll drink anything!" (8/8/04)

Turkey Flat Shiraz Barossa 1997 ($35)(Motor Oil): Deep purply-garnet, this looks promisingly motor-oily. Smells ripe and big and plum-blackberry fruity, peppery and smoky. Tastes like purple Robitussin, plum and blackberry cough syrup, with a dash of vanilla thrown in. Nice and flabby-round, with spiky acidity emerging from the chubby fruit to poke you in the piehole. Actively unpleasant, although the weird acidity is more vexing to me than the oakiness. As this goes around the room, everyone can only say "Wow." A HUGE! motor-oil thick spiky flabfest, made from hundred-fifty-three year old vines. (6/29/00)

Twin Fin Shiraz California 2002 ($10) (Boatloads III): Okay, I normally avoid wines that look like their marketing budget is higher than their winemaking costs, but something about this puts me in mind of Bonny Doon (is it the corrugated screwcap?) or Three Thieves, so I suppress my instinctive aversion. Good call. It's a big peppery-plummy smelling jamboat, squishy and purplefruity and perfectly decent with my classic burnt burgers. Very frooty-forward, plum jam up front, plum jam and pepper in the middle, plum jam and licorice on the finish. Medium-low acidity, but it's so loose the limited structure is sufficient to keep it rather lively. Much in the mold of the Three Thieves wines, actually, amiable and silly-fruity, a good ripe quaffer for a picnic or just when you have that gotta-have-jam craving that we all get but don't like to talk about in public. Well, except Connell. Okay, and a few others, you know who you are. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Yes.] (2/05)

Vinum Cellars Syrah San Benito County Vista Verde Vineyard 2002 ($22) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Smoky raspberry aromatics, candied redfruit with a smoky edge. Generously toasty-oaky, plump and plush, lots of flavor but a bit watery in the middle and with the air of a GIBR about it. I generally like these guys' approach, but this is overdone syrah for today's modern EXTREME!!! consumer, broad and poofy-dopey tasting. (11/06)

Alice White Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2001 ($6) (Boatloads I): Light plum, shoe polish and burnt-toast hints, touch of acetone volatility. Soft, ripe and squishy, yet rather diffuse as well, like an overripe C™tes du Rh™ne. Not painful, per se, but not interesting, just slightly plump spineless burger wine. Drinkable in a pinch. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No, unless I'm on a plane or something.] (8/04)

Wild Duck Creek Estate Heathcote Spring Flat Shiraz 1997 (Blind Syrah): Plum, pepper beast. Big plummy-shirazzy nose, tart, bit sharp. Rich ripe, pleasant, tangy. (8/16/99)

Wayward Pilgrims of the Vine Syrah California 'The Shadow' 2002 ($12) (Boatloads IX): Phew. Smells darkly leatherberried, smoky-hued ripe raspberry-blackberry plushness. Tastes velvety, possessed of a gentle smoky-plumpness, it's Californian all the way, but in a restrained way. Medium-firm acidity supports the ripeness, nice depth of flavor, subtle dark notes in the middle add a dollop of complexity. Medium-length finish, with some quiet tannins giving a bit of rasp. After an hour or so the plushness has receded, leaving a more structured, leaner impression. Very nice syrah, a blend of old world styling and new world juiciness. Not one I'd age for too long, but drinking very well now. I'm told this is really an Edmunds St. John wine, which would explain the startling quality, but the label gives no hint of that except an URL listing in small print at the bottom. A lot of wine for the money, a living example for those who assume California wine is invariably overpriced and overgobbified. FAKE CORK NEEDED! [Buy again? Despite the poor corked-to-pristine ratio, I bought three more right away.] (11/06)

Yellow Tail Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2002 ($7) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Medium-dark garnet. Smells like plum candy rolled in shoe polish, tastes like purple pleather. Simple, slightly medicinal and rather like a chemistry project, with a touch of sweetness giving an odd candy-fakey edge to the blackberry-plum fruit. The finish (if you can call it that) is short and bitter. What the hell? I had expected something jammy and fun and fruit-punchy, but this is pretty lame. Slightly sweet, grapey and fake-tasting. I hear the kids love this stuff, but frankly, I'd take the Gossamer Bay from the plane over this. Of course, this doesn't cost five bucks for a .187, does it? Still, this is the best we can do with mass-market wine? Eeegah. (5/03)

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