I love Syrah, and it would appear I am not alone. This grape has become one of the darling varieties of the wine world, with plantings in most wine regions on the planet. The vineyards of the Rhone Valley in France are deservedly the most highly regarded with a long and illustrious history, but Syrah seems to thrive everywhere. Our tasting illustrated that point, with the top three wines representing three different regions: California, Australia and Washington (no French wines were in the lineup). None are cheap but all are outstanding, this being one of the best trio we have tasted in recent memory. Here are the panel's top picks:

2005 Bell Syrah, Canteberry Vineyard, $29

The rich, ripe aromas evolve nicely in the glass and start with sweet berry, cola, vanilla and light oak, then reveal nice touches of licorice, rosemary, thyme and pepper. This is an elegantly structured wine with soft blackberry fruit that gently caresses the palate and is nicely balanced by the perfect hit of acidity. Lovely blueberry fruit comes through on the finish, along with exceptionally smooth tannins. This California Syrah is a real winner.

2005 Kaesler Stonehorse Shiraz, $28

This Barossa Valley winery boasts some of Australia's oldest vines, retaining their original 1893 plantings. Stonehouse is a bit reserved on the nose at first, but it opens up nicely, offering ripe cherry fruit accompanied by complex layers of anise, spice, coffee, chocolate, wild game and spring onions. This wine shows excellent balance and structure with concentrated berry fruit flavors and razor fine, ripe tannins. This one is another exceptional Syrah.

2004 Dunham Cellars Syrah, Columbia Valley, $45

This Syrah is a dazzling effort from winemaker Eric Dunham, one of the stars of the Walla Walla wine scene. Richly textured aromas pour from the glass, including floral blueberry, ripe raspberry, sweet spice, licorice, black olive, toffee, coffee and white pepper. All that promise is nicely fulfilled on the palate that is filled with deep, dark, ripe berry fruit balanced by tart cherry. The finish lingers on, marked by touches of rose hip and subtle, well-integrated tannins.

This week's panel: Cheyenne House, BRJ Wine Cellars; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Leslie Young.

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