We’d all love to try new wines, but how to choose? One way is to search for wines with a similar taste profile to something you know (and love). With over a thousand different wine varieties, there could be hundreds of wines that you’d love if only you knew about them!
What is it about Syrah?
To understand what defines the “yumminess” of Syrah, we took a look at Syrah’s taste profile in the Wine Folly book. Syrah wines have a wide range of potential flavors, but there are several characteristics that are fundamental:
- Full-bodied wine with balanced tannin
- A tendency to exhibit black fruit flavors (such as blackberry and even black olive)
- A sweet smokiness when Syrah is aged in toasted oak
We can use these basic tastes to find other great wines. In fact, if you’re curious, we’ve written about this before for Cabernet Sauvignon: 8 Delicious Alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoky Shiraz-like Wines
Wine keywords: sweet tobacco, cigar box, cedar, wood smoke, caramelized sugar, brown sugar, campfire, incense
Where to find it: Portugal
(“olli-kahn-teh boosh-shay”) Alicante Bouschet is a rare type of grape called a teinturier variety – both the skins and the flesh are red! It produces wines with very intense color (high in antioxidants) and the wines have a full body. The regions that produce Alicante Bouschet with the most similarity to Shiraz are mostly likely Lisboa and Alentejo in Portugal. In Portugal, the producers will often age the wine in toasted oak barrels to produce sweet smoky aromas to complement the wine’s bold black fruit flavors.
Where to find it: South Africa
(“Pee-no-taj”) It might sound like Pinot Noir in the name, but this wine is nothing like its progenitor (Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault). Wines made with Pinotage have the boldness of Syrah with fruity flavors of black cherries, plum sauce and licorice and smoky sweet tobacco finish. Pinotage grows almost exclusively in South Africa and offers outstanding value for the money. Keep your eyes peeled for Pinotage from the Western Cape sub-region of Stellenbosch.
Black-Fruit Dominant Wines
Wine keywords: Blackberry, blueberry, black currant, plum, olive, boysenberry, black cherry, açaí berry, elderberry
Where to find it: California
(“peh-teet sear-ah”) Petite Sirah is not actually the same as Syrah, but the wine definitely shares many of the same flavors. A great bottle of Petite Sirah offers up blackberry, sugarplum and jammy notes that are sometimes a bit savory, almost like kalamata olives. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Syrah, you’re absolutely right! The grape originates from southwest France, where it’s called Durif, but there are more vineyards of it in California than anywhere else in the world. Petite Sirah is incredibly high in antioxidants because it has such small berries (which increase the skin-to-juice ratio).
Where to find it: California, Australia and Spain
(“peh-tee vur-doe”) Petit Verdot was once only used as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux. This is most likely because the grape never ripened properly in the cooler French climate and thus single-varietal Petit Verdot would have tasted too herbaceous and bitter. When it was transplanted into Australia, California and Spain, winemakers were shocked by the beauty of this lowly grape and started experimenting with it as a single-varietal wine. Petit Verdot is noted for its aromas of blueberry, black currant and black cherry along with lovely floral aromas of violet and lilac. It’s not easy to find, but well worth seeking.
Mourvèdre (aka Monastrell)
Where to find it: Paso Robles (California), Bandol (France) and Spain
(“moore-ved”) Mourvèdre has made a major comeback in France and, because of this, we’re sure to see more wines made with this grape in coming years. The variety is commonly known in the South of France where it’s used as a blending grape in red Rhône blends and also in Provençal rosé. As a single varietal wine it’s peppery and somewhat earthy with deep dark fruit flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, açaí berry and olives. The best values of this wine are definitely found in Spain where the grape is more commonly labeled as Monastrell. Keep your eyes peeled for wines from the Spanish regions of Jumilla, Bullas, Yecla and Valencia, they’re delicious!
Full-Bodied Red Wines with Lower Tannin
Wine keywords: Supple, juicy, soft, round, smooth finish, lush, fine tannins
Where to find it: Piedmont, Italy
(“dole-chet-toe”) Hailing from the same region as the highly acclaimed Nebbiolo grape (think Barolo), Dolcetto is the softer, more easy-drinking daily wine for Northern Italians. Most Dolcetto (meaning “little sweet one”) will burst with fruit but finish dry with refined tannins (okay, I lied, they have some!). This combination makes for a lighter body wine but the fruit flavors are still deep and dark, mostly of plums, black cherries and blueberries. One thing to pay attention to in looking for Dolcetto from Italy is the vintage. A cooler vintage will often have more bitter and tart fruit flavors on the finish whereas a warmer one will taste sweeter. Because of the low acidity, Dolcetto wines are meant to be drunk within the first couple of years of release.
Bonarda (aka Charbono)
Where to find it: Argentina and California
The history of Argentine Bonarda is a bit confusing as the grape isn’t actually the same as Italian Bonarda (which is what everyone thought!). Turns out, the grape originates from the Savoie region in France, where it’s called Douce Noir. It has high acidity, relatively low tannin and bursts with fresh fruit flavors of blueberries, black plums, and raspberry sauce. There is a tiny amount of this wine (called Charbono) found in and around Napa, California but most of it comes from Argentina. Since it’s not that popular in America (yet) it’s still relatively hard to find, but a great alternative to Argentine Malbec as well.
Where to find it: Spain
One of the most planted grapes in central and southern Spain has only just begun appearing outside of its country of origin. These wines have delightful juicy blueberry and blackberry flavors with lovely floral aromas and a soft smooth finish. This is one of the few red wines out there that can be found with exceptional quality for under $10.
Diversity isn’t just a social thing, it’s a survival thing. The more diversity we have in our foods, the more likely they will adapt and survive in this crazy-ever-changing world. Fortunately, as a wine drinker, all you have to do to contribute to this is to continue to explore and taste new wines. So, it’s not so bad afterall 🙂
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