Randall Graham, a founding member of Californian wine group, The Rhône Rangers, once claimed it was more difficult to get rid of a case of syrah than the clap. Nice. Indeed, the variety is a hard sell, falling out of favour with drinkers since the heady days of the 1980s' Rhône renaissance.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons why syrah makes up less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's total vineyard area. The international wine media can't get enough of New Zealand syrah and have been urging producers to plant more yet the Kiwi industry has not responded to their calls.
But times they are-a-changing. In an interview with UK trade magazine, The Drinks Business, Brancott Estate's chief winemaker, Patrick Materman, said syrah could become New Zealand's third most important grape variety after sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
"In the past Hawke's Bay was all about Bordeaux blends, with a lot of cabernet sauvignon and merlot plantings, but those vines are being uprooted and replaced with syrah", he said. "It is going to become more and more dominant in New Zealand".
So, why are Materman and the international media getting so excited about the variety? New Zealand syrah is unique. It has the unmistakeable peppery character of the northern Rhône combined with ripe, New World blackberry fruit. The finest examples from Waiheke Island and Hawke's Bay have an elegance and streak of acidity rarely seen in the New World.
2009 Mission Estate Syrah, Hawke's Bay ($13-18, New World, Countdown).
It's not often you find a characterful wine at this price. It's packed with juicy black cherries and freshly ground pepper. It's smooth in the mouth with mouthwatering acidity on the finish.
2009 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah ($30, Caros, Glengarrys, Regional wines, Scenic Cellars, Fine Wine Delivery Co).
This is incredibly youthful and tightly woven, so if you have the willpower, buy it and leave it to mature for a year or three. At the moment, it has lots of sweet vanilla spice and firm mouthcoating tannins but these will soften, ceding to the complex, leather, spice and smoky notes found on the long finish.
2008 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah ($34, Liquor King)
Trinity Hill's flagship wine, Homage, is delicious but I'd rather have 3 bottles of this for the same price. Red cherry and raspberry fruits combine with floral and white pepper notes, providing the classic New Zealand syrah experience.