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Move over, merlot: This bold red is growing in popularity. 

Que Syrah, Sirah

Syrah (or Sirah) is the name of a grape that flourishes in the northern Rh“ne region of France as well as in California and Australia's Hunter Valley. Syrah is the grape that goes into making the famous reds of the Rh“ne, such as Hermitage, C“te R“tie and others. In Australia, the grape — and the wines made from it — is called Shiraz, and the down-under version tends to be more assertive (with forward fruit and spice flavors) than the French and California versions. (Petite Sirah, by the way, is an offspring of Syrah; it's not exactly the same, genetically, but has many similar characteristics as Syrah.) California Syrahs might be described as somewhere in between the powerful Aussie Shiraz and the more refined, leaner French Sirahs. But no matter where Syrah comes from, it's a big, aggressive, in-your-face wine that tends to go well with game, red meats, grilled foods, and some spicy fare. Although Syrahs aren't usually as tannic as Cabernet Sauvignons, they're still a little too powerful to sip as an apéritif (unless your name is Crocodile Dundee). Syrahs range from earthy to elegant. Try them all, and see which suits your taste best.

1998 Hermitage Road South Australia Shiraz, $9. Intense, concentrated, and replete with bold blackberry and anise flavors, this medium-bodied wine with supple tannins is great with grilled leg of lamb.

1997 Qupe Syrah, $17.99. Ripe plums, spice and anise aromas lead into a mouth-filling, fruit-juicy wine that's got plenty of elegance and finesse. Beautifully balanced and not overwhelming, this California Syrah is a terrific match to pork loin or strip steaks.

1996 Cuvée Gaby Crozes-Hermitage Domaine du Colombier, $14.99. If a Syrah could be considered "light," this would be an example. Made in France, it's lean, elegant and filled with flavors of ripe raspberries. Yummy with rotisserie-cooked organic or Kosher chickens.

1995 Flichman Syrah, $6.99. This easygoing, full-bodied wine from Mendoza in South America is a bargain. Serve it at your next big gathering that involves steaks or burgers on the grill.

1996 Peter Lehmann Barossa Shiraz, $12.99. Wow! This dense, concentrated Australian wine is garnet red with a distinct spicy licorice-y nose. This is not for sissies. Pour a glass with pepper steak or grilled lamb
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