The most important grape of the Northern Rhone Valley, Syrah is quickly becoming one of the most noted grapes planted in America. America's best bottlings hail from the Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Syrah displays a spicy blend of black pepper and raspberries, with dark fruit undertones; full-bodied with smoke, tar and tannins. It is made into a few magnificent varietally labeled wines, but is also often the base grape for Rhone-style blends. There are those who believe that the Napa Valley should be planted mostly to Syrah, for it thrives in warm growing regions. In Australia, where it is the most-planted red variety, and in South Africa, the grape is known as Shiraz. While viticulturally identical with Syrah, Shiraz grown in Australia is typically sweeter and riper, with more chocolately notes than pepper and spices.
Commercial Australian winemaking first thrived here in 1825. "The Hunter," as it's known locally, is 100 miles from Sydney, the best known of NSW's wine districts and a popular tourist destination. The lower Hunter Valley is hot and damp and frankly better suited for cattle than grapes. Nonetheless it is known for Semillon, Shiraz and Chardonnay. The Upper Hunter Valley also produces Chardonnay, Semillon, and others; the dry whites are known for their richness and depth.