The best Syrahs from the 2020 Global Wine Masters

A more affordable rival to ‘king’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah should not be discounted when it comes to top-quality red wine, and there are an increasing number of countries making excellent expressions, writes Patrick Schmitt MW.

There was an element of surprise from the judges as we concluded this year’s Global Syrah Masters, and it concerned both the quality and style of entries – the wines were not only better than expected, but also more balanced.

This exposed an issue of image for this noble variety – it is not considered as great as say, king of grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, nor as refined stylistically. But, as the results of our 2020 competition showed, Syrah, even as a varietal wine, can yield something fine, and with finesse. Its hallmarks may differ from Cabernet, but it can attain the same high standard. And, thrillingly, it can take on a range of characteristics depending on where its grown, although it favours granitic soils and warm so-called Mediterranean climes, even though cooler-climate Syrah is in vogue.

In short, Syrah can, on its own, produce wines that are complete. At entry-level prices, it can be fresh, fruity and pleasing. Move up to something more expensive, and it can be juicy, spicy, and structured, carrying new oak influence with ease. And when it comes to fine wine territory, Syrah can be hedonistic, age-worthy, layered and refreshing. Plus, the sources of greatness are expanding beyond the two famous outposts of top Syrah, which are the northern Rhône, above all Hermitage, and south Australia, particularly the Barossa Valley.

So where did we find brilliance in 2020? It depends on the level you are considering, but one thing we picked up on this year is Syrah’s ability to deliver good wines at bargain prices – with two Gold medals awarded for wines under £10. One of these hailed from De Bortoli Wines in Australia – which, as a country well practised at making inexpensive Shiraz, should provide no shock – but the other was more astonishing, with a wonderfully bright, fleshy Syrah coming from Banat in Romania, made by the impressive Cramele Recas.

Over £10, however, and the number of Golds were numerous, and over £20 we had 10 Masters – these are only awarded to outstanding examples of their type. With so many standout wines, it’s best to see the producers and sources in the tables, but for me, there were a few wines worth mentioning in particular.

Among these were a couple from Chile, a country that I believe is brilliantly suited to Syrah, a view now supported by three Gold medals in this blind tasting against more conventional sources of this grape. One was the affordable, structured, gently pepper and blackcurrant-scented sample from Cono Sur, under its 20 Barrels brand, and using grapes from the northern coastal area of Limarí. high-level reds Another was also from Limarí, this time with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Made by Sutil, this is, in my view, one of Chile’s best value high-level reds, and a benchmark for sub-£20 Syrah.

A final exciting fine wine find is called Pangea, hailing from Colchagua, home to so much great Carmenère, and using Ventisquero’s vineyards in the Apalta sub-region, now a DO in its own right. This was a taut but powerful style of Syrah that was enticing now and, even though it was from the 2014 vintage, it clearly has many years ahead of it. Such quality is perhaps not amazing when one learns that John Duval is the winemaking consultant – the man who used to make Penfolds Grange.

Outside of Chile, Australia shone. Be it Adelaide, Barossa, Clare or McLaren Vale, we had Master-winning Syrahs, with notably good samples from, to deal with these regions in turn, Bird in Hand, Château Tanunda, Wakefield/Taylors and Hickinbotham.

Finally, a couple of further countries should be mentioned here. One of these is New Zealand, where Hawke’s Bay has proved a relatively new source of first-rate Syrah, in a pleasingly peppery mould, with Church Road and Elephant Hill two producers of note.

The other is Argentina, where it appears possible to produce great results, with masses of colour and spice, similar in that regard to Malbec, which, of course, the country is far better known for.

So, look through the results and take your pick to enjoy the established, and explore the newer sources of excellent Syrah, safe in the knowledge it’s been quality assessed in a blind tasting by professionals. Also, please bear in mind when considering fine wine options that there’s more on offer than Bordeaux blends when it comes to great, powerful, long-lived reds. Syrah is a reliable provider of serious wines. Not only that, but a good-value choice, even at its uppermost prices.

See the tables below, which feature all the medallists from this year’s competition.

Unoaked 100% Syrah

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Aldi Ireland Exquisite Collection South Australia Shiraz South Australia Australia 2018 Silver
Aldi Ireland Grapevine Shiraz Jumilla Spain NV Silver
Cramele Recas Dragon Hills Syrah Banat Romania 2019 Silver

Oaked 100% Syrah

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
De Bortoli Wines DB Winemaker Selection Shiraz SE Australia Australia 2019 Gold
Cramele Recas Regno Recas Syrah Banat Romania 2019 Gold
De Bortoli Wines Woodfired Shiraz Heathcote Australia 2018 Silver
Siegel Family Wines Siegel Gran Reserva Syrah Colchagua Valley Chile 2017 Bronze
De Bortoli Wines De Bortoli Regional Reserve Shiraz Heathcote Australia 2018 Bronze
£10-£15
Langmeil Winery M&S Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Barossa Valley Australia 2019 Gold
De Bortoli Wines Deen Vat 8 Shiraz Heathcote & Hilltops Australia 2018 Gold
De Bortoli Wines Rutherglen Estate Shiraz Rutherglen Australia 2018 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Hotelier Shiraz Clare Valley Australia 2019 Silver
De Bortoli Wines Regional Classic Gunagai Shiraz Gundagai Australia 2018 Silver
Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah Maipo Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Valdivieso Valley Selection Colchagua V Chile 2018 Silver
Viña Carmen Carmen Gran Reserva Syrah Colchagua V Chile 2018 Silver
Cramele Recas Selene Syrah Banat Romania 2019 Silver
Invivo & Co Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz South Australia Australia 2017 Bronze
£15-£20
Gemtree Wines Uncut Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia 2018 Gold
Cono Sur 20 Barrels Syrah Limarí Valley Chile 2018 Gold
Bosco del Merlo Syrah Seduzione Veneto Italy 2017 Gold
Pyros Wines Pyros Appellation Syrah San Juan Argentina 2018 Gold
Bird In Hand Wines Two in the Bush Shiraz Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Gold
Valdivieso Single Vineyard Limarí Valley Chile 2018 Gold
Langmeil Winery Long Mile Shiraz Barossa Australia 2019 Gold
Schild Estate Wines Barossa Valley Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Silver
Saronsberg Cellar Saronsberg Provenance Shiraz Western Cape South Africa 2018 Silver
Viña Los Boldos Château Los Boldos Vieilles Vignes Cachapoal Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Viña Ventisquero Kalfu Sumpai Leyda Chile 2017 Silver
Alpha Estate Syrah Single Vineyard Turtles Florina Greece 2017 Bronze
£20-£30
Saronsberg Cellar Saronsberg Shiraz Western Cape South Africa 2018 Master
Langmeil Winery Valley Floor Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Master
Schild Estate Wines Ben Schild Reserve Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2017 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Aldi Special Release Shiraz Clare Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Wakefield/Taylors Wines Heritage Shiraz Clare Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Pirathon Wines Pirathon Blue Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Gold
RockBare RockBare Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia 2017 Gold
Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limarí Limarí Valley Chile 2015 Gold
Bird In Hand Wines Bird in Hand Syrah Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Gold
Bird In Hand Wines Bird in Hand Shiraz Adelaide Hills Australia 2018 Silver
Te Awanga Estate Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2018 Silver
£30-£50
Château Tanunda 50 Year Old Vines Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2017 Master
Gemtree Wines Ernest Allan Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia 2018 Gold
Pirathon Wines Pirathon Silver Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Elephant Hill Stone Syrah Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2018 Gold
Jackson Family Wines Yangarra Estate Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia 2017 Gold
Gatt Wines Gatt Wines Barossa Valley Australia 2015 Gold
Langmeil Winery Orphan Bank Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Langmeil Winery Hallowed Ground Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Ventisquero Pangea Colchagua Valley Chile 2014 Gold
Gatt Wines Gatt Wines Eden Valley Australia 2015 Silver
£50+
Château Tanunda 100 Year Old Vines Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia 2017 Master
Wakefield/Taylors Wines The Pioneer Shiraz Clare Valley Australia 2016 Master
Bird In Hand Wines Mac Shiraz Adelaide Hills Australia 2013 Master
Jackson Family Wines Hickinbotham Brooks Road McLaren Vale Australia 2017 Master
Gatt Wines Single Vineyard Old Vine Barossa Valley Australia 2015 Master
Bird In Hand Wines Nest Egg Shiraz Adelaide Hills Australia 2015 Gold
Bird In Hand Wines Nest Egg Shiraz Adelaide Hills Australia 2014 Gold
Church Road Church Road 1 Syrah Hawkes Bay New Zealand 2017 Gold
Kurt Angerer RedGranite Kamptal Austria 2015 Gold
Langmeil Winery Pure Eden Shiraz Eden Valley Australia 2018 Gold

Unoaked Blend (minimum 50% Syrah)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Aldi Ireland Kooliburra Australian Reserve Shiraz South Australia Australia 2018 Bronze
Aldi Ireland Kooliburra Australian Shiraz Cabernet SE Australia Australia 2018 Bronze

Oaked Blend (minimum 50% Syrah)

Company Wine Name Region Country Vintage Medal
Under £10
Trentham Estate Hope Shiraz Reserve SE Australia Australia 2019 Silver
£10-£15
Barton & Guestier Héritage No. 294 Rhône France 2018 Gold
De Bortoli Wines Rutherglen Estate Red Shiraz Durif Rutherglen Australia 2018 Gold
Viña Los Boldos Château Los Boldos Grande Réserve Cachapoal Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Syrah Maule Valley Chile 2018 Silver
Le Nez Français Classique Rouge Pays d’Oc France 2019 Silver
Santa Rita Medalla Real Syrah Limarí Valley Chile 2018 Silver
McPherson Wines MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Central Victoria Australia 2018 Silver
£15-£20
Viña Sutil Limited Release Syrah Limarí Valley Chile 2018 Gold
Church Road McDonald Series Syrah Hawkes Bay New Zealand 2019 Gold
Trullo Flaminio Syne Puglia Italy 2018 Silver
Mancura Mancura Leyenda Casablanca Valley Chile 2017 Silver
Alpha Estate Axia Florina Greece 2017 Bronze
£20-£30
Saronsberg Cellar Saronsberg Full Circle Western Cape South Africa 2018 Master
Berton Vineyards Bonsai Shiraz Eden Valley Australia 2018 Gold
Elephant Hill Estate Syrah Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2018 Silver
Church Road Grand Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2018 Silver
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Reserve Shiraz Okanagan Valley Canada 2017 Silver
Alpha Estate S.M.X. Florina Greece 2017 Silver
£30-£50
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Terroir Collection Border Vista Syrah Okanagan Valley Canada 2017 Master
£50+
Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah Hawke’s Bay New Zealand 2018 Gold
Viña Casas del Bosque La Trampa Casablanca Valley Chile 2018 Silver

About the competition

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Global Syrah Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from the great vineyards of Europe or lesser-known winemaking areas of the world. The 2020 competition was judged over two days in November at the Novotel London Bridge Hotel.

The judges were Andrea Briccarello, Patrick Schmitt MW, and Patricia Stefanowicz MW.

The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Syrah Master.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

Judge’s comment: Patricia Stefanowicz MW

Patricia Stefanowicz MW tasting with Patrick Schmitt MW

Judging the Syrah Masters is an event not to be missed. Each year seems to surpass the previous one in terms of quality and diversity. The 2020 Syrah Masters is no exception. The phenomenal number of wines receiving Silver, Gold and Master awards is to be celebrated.

In 2020, as often the case, the Australian Shiraz wines reached soaring heights. While keeping all that lovely blueberry, blackberry and black pepper, elegance seems to be on the rise, with delicious freshness and supple tannins in exquisite balance with concentrated flavour and integration of slightly less oak. Fine wines can be found everywhere, whether juicy Barossa, stylish South Australia or leathery Hunter.

Hawkes Bay in New Zealand demonstrates just how suited the region is for Syrah, with the wines showing distinctive blackberry and morello cherry fruit, and nicely judged oak, elegance and persistence.

It is fantastic to see Chile becoming better at producing juicy, lively versions of Syrah with subtle wood in support, and with less evidence of capisicum and peppermint.

Much further north, the Syrah wines of the Okanagan Valley are lovely: vibrant blackfruits and chocolate oak notes framed by zippy acidity and silky tannins.

There were some delightful surprises from Romania and at very affordable prices; these wines are perfect for everyday drinking.

At stratospheric price levels many of the wines were stunningly delicious, with great fruit, appropriate oak accents, lively acidity and velvet-textured tannins. It was almost impossible not to award Golds and Masters to these wines, and a few were ‘practically perfect in every way’.